The Central Asian Republics inherited fairly extensive and highly integrated transport networks from the USSR, which were built with little regard for their then administrative borders and mostly oriented towards the Russian Federation. There were many examples of railways and roads crossing back and forth over borders in Central Asia. At the same time, their transport links with non-FSU (Former Soviet Union) neighboring countries – such as Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey – were poorly developed, with a few direct routes, most of which were in very poor condition.



Transportation in Central Asia

The transport sector plays a relatively marginal rôle in the Central Asia Republics (CAR) in terms of its contribution to aggregate output and employment, accounting for 3-8% of GDP and 2-5% of total employment. Yet, it is crucial for the participation of the CARs in international trade and their integration into the global economy. Moreover, the degree and nature of participation of a CAR in international trade depends not only on its own transport sector but also the transport sector of its neighbors, including the other CARs, as well as on the degree of compatibility and integration of its transport sector with those of the neighbors. This is because all the CARs are landlocked and heavily rely on transporting goods by land through neighboring countries in trade with noncontiguous countries, and – to various degrees – serve each other as transit countries. Deficiencies of the transport sector in one CAR are often compounded by deficiencies of the transport sector in another CAR. This largely explains why transport costs are high and transit times are long and unpredictable for international shipments to and from the CARs.


The availability, quality, and costs of transport services in the CARs compare unfavorably with many other countries. Lack of competition is one of the main reasons for the low quality and high costs of rail, air, and international road transport services. Competition is stiff in the market for domestic road transport services. The cost of these services is relatively low, but the quality is not high either. The share of own account transport is very high, which is an impediment to the development of markets for transport services. The availability of multi-modal transport operations is limited and costs of international transport services for small cargo are relatively high due largely to the underdevelopment of logistics infrastructure and services. This is a serious obstacle to the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises, which have been an engine of employment generation, export expansion, and economic growth in many other countries.

There have been a number of regional cooperation initiatives aimed at removing the deficiencies of transport infrastructure and services and facilitating cross-border and transit traffic in the CARs and neighboring countries.

Notably, the CAREC member countries have recently agreed on the Regional Transport Sector Road Map, which formulates the strategic priorities for regional cooperation in the transport sector and addresses most of the deficiencies of rail and road transport in Central Asia. The CARs and other CAREC member countries now need to develop and carry out a detailed time-bound action plan to implement the Road Map. They should also consider extending the Road Map to address deficiencies of air transport in Central Asia.