24.10.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

Transport in Mongolia: Three Transit Railway Corridors

Transport in Mongolia: Three Transit Railway Corridors

The first article in the series on the development of transport infrastructure in Mongolia described Mongolia’s projects in the field of railway transport implemented in 2022-2023. This second article provides a brief overview of the projects of Mongolian colleagues in the same field, which are currently being developed and have not yet reached the construction stage.

The Mongolian long-term rail construction program up to the year 2030 is included in the country’s overall development programme “Long-Term Vision – 2030”, which, in turn, is a more detailed and structured part of the “Long-Term Vision – 2050” program. As part of the 2030 program (the projects described in the previous article were also part of it, but they belonged to the early stage of its implementation), it is planned to commission nearly 4,000 kilometres of railways in Mongolia. The so-called “Three Corridors” are recognized as fundamental projects, designed to provide Mongolia with an important place in the continental railway transit along the Asia-Europe route and, at the same time, to take on the growing traffic load associated with increasing volumes of Mongolia’s mining exports to China.

These “Three Corridors” include such railway trunk projects as the “Eastern Corridor”, “Western Corridor” and “Central Corridor” with associated railway border crossings at the Mongolian-Chinese and Mongolian-Russian borders. This article will briefly describe the essence of all three corridors and the degree of their technical and economic elaboration.

The “Central Railway Corridor” is a de facto existing railway, the Trans-Mongolian Railway, opened in the early 1950s, running from north to south through the country’s capital along the route Sukhbaatar – Zamyn-Uud (length 1,100 kilometres). Ulaanbaatar Railway Joint-Stock Company, established under the 1949 Soviet-Mongolian Agreement, is the owner of this railway and all related infrastructure. The government of the Russian Federation holds a 50 per cent stake in the Ulaanbaatar Railway Joint-Stock Company, and the remaining 50 per cent stake belongs to the government of Mongolia.

Despite the fact that the railway line has physically existed for more than half a century, it is currently far from its final image called the “Central Corridor” in Mongolia’s development strategies. The Mongolian vision of the future “Central Corridor” is to create a second railway track and implement the so-called “Bogdhan” project, a line duplicating the main railway line, designed to ensure the transit of potentially harmful and dangerous goods bypassing the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, located along the Trans-Mongolian Railway.

The first initiative is based on the fact that the current railway has very few sections where trains moving in opposite directions can be diverted. This causes significant congestion on the main railway line, greatly limiting the rail capacity. Also, this problem makes it difficult to ensure passenger rail capacity since the railway is already overloaded with freight trains. And the Ulaanbaatar railway has such potential since it passes through populated areas where almost two-thirds of the country’s population lives, and also connects the Mongolian capital with a number of large cities in the Russian Federation and China.

The implementation of the second initiative, the Bogdhan bypass railway line, is currently faced with the need to attract foreign investment. In this matter, the Mongolian side puts its hopes mainly on Russia and China, which, according to the Mongolian Ministry of Transport, will benefit from the construction of such a railway. Nevertheless, the assumptions of Mongolian colleagues that a railway line starting and ending at the stations along the main route of the Ulaanbaatar Railway will help to significantly optimize cargo transportation along this main route, and that such a line has sufficient commercial potential, are questioned by a number of analysts.

Regarding the section of the main railway line, which will be duplicated by the Bogdhan line, this is also a point of contention. The Mongolian authorities say that it will be preserved due to the need for urban warehouses, wholesale depots and thermal power plants to have access to the railway. However, modernization of this section of the line (or rejection of modernization) is still a matter of debate.

Also, Mongolia is now actively promoting the creation of the so-called “Eastern Railway Corridor”, a new railway line designed to take on part of the load within the trilateral Russian-Chinese-Mongolian economic corridor, whose creation program was adopted by the leaders of the three countries in 2014. This route is a kind of alternative route to the Russian-Chinese bilateral route Zabaikalsk-Beijing and, in general, is capable of taking on part of the transit in the directions China-Russia, Russia-China and, to a lesser extent, China-Europe, thereby lessening the burden on both the Trans-Baikal railway line and the Trans-Mongolian railway line, passing through the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, which is part of the shortest railway route from Moscow to Beijing.

As of mid-2023, the railway on the Erentsav-Bayantumen section is being reconstructed as part of the “Eastern Corridor” project, and a Mongolian contractor is preparing a feasibility study for the Choibalsan-Khuut Bichigt-Zuunhatavch railway.

In 2023, a discussion was also initiated on the prospects of creating the “Western Railway Corridor”, which would pass through the least economically developed, outermost and high mountain areas of Mongolia, connecting Russia and China along another route. Currently, it is planned to create Artssuuri-Nariinsukhait-Shiveekhuren railway, which will serve as this corridor. Due to the lack of basic infrastructure on a significant section of this route, its landscape complexity, as well as the presence of more competitive alternative railway routes in the China-Europe direction through Central Asia and Russia, the prospects for the creation of this corridor remain at the moment the vaguest of all three, provided for by national development programs.

This brief description of these projects shows that all of them are focused not so much on the development of the railway transport network in Mongolia as on ensuring the international transit of goods through Mongolia. The priority development of such projects up to the year 2030 is expected to be more effective due to the increasing interest of Mongolia’s neighbours in them and, therefore, the high probability of their financial participation in their implementation, as well as due to the large size of the potential “transit rent” by Mongolia for the ever-growing flow of cargo along the routes “Russia-China”, “China-Russia” and “China-Europe through Russia”.


Boris KUSHKHOV, Department of Korea and Mongolia, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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