Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement

The Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement is an agreement signed on 10 November 2006, by seventeen Asian nations as part of a United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) effort to build a transcontinental railway network between Europe and Pacific ports in China.[1] The plan has sometimes been called the “Iron Silk Road” in reference to the historical Silk Road trade routes.[2] UNESCAP’s Transport & Tourism Division began work on the initiative in 1992 when it launched the Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development project.

The agreement formally came into force on 11 June 2009.


The Trans-Asian Railway system will consist of four main railway routes. The existing Trans-Siberian railway, which connects Moscow to Vladivostok, will be used for a portion of the network in Russia.[5] Another corridor to be included will connect China to Korea, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan.[6] In 2003, the president of Kazakhstan proposed building a standard gauge link from Dostyk (on the Chinese border) to Gorgan in Iran; it has not yet been built.[7]


Complicating the plan is the differences in rail gauges currently in use across the continent. While China, Iran and Turkey use 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 instandard gauge tracks, tracks of Russia and Central Asia are gauged at 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in). India’s and Pakistan’s tracks are 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) gauge, the tracks of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia are 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 inmetre gauge gauge with some dual gauge track near the China–Vietnam border and within Bangladesh, and tracks in Indonesia and Japan are 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge.[3] This leads to time-consuming interchanges or reloading to handle the break of gauge at main connecting points in the network.

Other standards to consider include allowing for interoperability:

  • Railway electrification – 25 kV AC the world standard for new long distance and heavy duty construction since the 1950s.
  • Couplings – buffers and chains, Alliance, or SA3. Some dual couplings and adapters[8] or barrier vehicles are possible.
  • Brakes – air, with or without electronically controlled pneumatic brakes (ECP).
  • Loading gauge and structure gauge – able to take tallest possible shipping container. Possible double stacking.
  • Signalling systems – where signals are electronic, not physically visible, and must be ‘read’ by equipment in the locomotives, or where the train must interact in different ways with the infrastructure
  • Electromagnetic interference – where radio waves (noise) from electric motors can interact with different signalling systems
  • Rules and regulations.
  • Language, including Seaspeak.
  • Break of gauge devices, such as dual gauge, Train on Train piggybacking or variable gauge axles.