Around 35 countries have operational railway systems in Asia contributing to more than 30% of the worlds railway network. More than 90% of the total passenger transportation is produced in China, India, Japan and Russia and more than 85% of the freight transportation output is accounted by China, Russia, India and Kazakhstan. In spite of an important role played by these five railways, there is a lack of efforts both at bilateral and multilateral levels, reflected in an unbalanced rail development in the region.
Intra-Asia trade projections of 2005-25 indicate that the highest percentage growth will be between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Also, the future projection of container traffic, which is today the unit of international trade, supports the trend. The intra-Asia container traffic is projected to go up by 3.5 times by 2025 from the 2007 level of 16 million TEUs and the movement between Asia-Europe is likely to go up by 2.5 times in the same time frame from 15.5 million TEUs. As India-China-Asean triangle accounts for a majority of Asias merchandise trade, a positive approach beyond political compulsion will be required for international rail corridor development and containerisation in the region. Not only rail corridors on Asean-China-Europe and Asean-India-Europe routes will have to be made a reality but growing trade between the two Asian giants also requires a thought on possible Indo-China rail link.In the future, adoption of new technology for enhancing the railways capability and reducing the cost of operation will be a key focus area for a balanced rail development. The future for Asian Railways indicates an environment full of opportunities; however a broader vision will be required for balanced regional development.
The author is head of Asia Regional Office, International Union of Railways