Mongolia hosted official activities held by the Mongolian government as part of the “Mongolia Transport Week 2023” in early November 2023. Participating in the “week” were the nation’s prime minister, the Speaker of the State Great Khural, the Minister and Vice Minister of Road and Transport Development, representatives of major foreign and Mongolian corporations, the Civil Aviation Authority of Mongolia, the Russian-Mongolian JSC Ulaanbaatar Railways, and “Mongolian Railway” State owned Shareholding Company.
It makes sense to take into account the forum’s objective of drawing in new investors for the nation’s economy in light of the nation’s improving investment climate and its aspirational plans to expand its transportation infrastructure, the implementation of which will lower the cost of both internal and external logistics and help bring in new, promising mineral deposits.
The development of Mongolia’s railway network, which will be crucial to the nation’s economic growth in the upcoming years and decades, was the primary topic of discussion at Transport Week. For example, during his speech, Sandag Byambatsogt, Mongolia’s minister of road and transport development, assessed the status of possible projects in the sector and described the goals of the country for the growth of its railway network.
First and foremost, the minister encouraged the potential global growth of Mongolia’s transit, noting a rise in trade turnover in 2022 between China and the EU of up to 850 billion dollars and Russia of up to 190 billion dollars. Byambatsogt views favorably the commencement of one of Mongolia’s most ambitious and promising railway transport projects, the Western Corridor, and the directive from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the government to come up with a plan for establishing a transit corridor from Mongolia to China. Additionally, he notes significant progress in the building of the Kuragino-Kyzyl railway line and its ability to provide access to the Mongolian border.
The Western Railway Corridor route between Russia and China was suggested by Mongolian specialists during Transport Week in relation to the aforementioned project’s participation by the Russian authorities in the Siberia development plan: Kuragino – Kyzyl – Tsagaan Tolgoi , further along Mongolia (Artssuur-Nariinsukhayt-Shivee Khuren) and China (Sekhee-Dalain Hob).
The minister also voiced the Mongolian vision of the Eastern transit corridor, which is seen by the Minister of Roads and Transport Development as a highway between Borzia-Solovyovsk-Erentsav-Choibalsan-Huut-Bichigt, Zuun-Khatavch-Ulan Haad-Chaoyanaar; and further to the seaports of the North-East of China. This statement, however, ignored Russia’s disapproval of the alternate route because it does not take into account the decline in Russian-Chinese transit across the Chinese border (Zabaikalsk-Manzhouli). For instance, Zabaikalsk handles 29% of the rail traffic traveling from China to Europe, which is one-third higher than what presently travels through Mongolia. It is projected that each of the Eastern and Western Corridors can handle 25–30 million tons annually.
The fact that Mongolia is actively researching the possibility of establishing a connection between its border railway stations and foreign seaports is also worth mentioning. Plans to enhance the country’s transportation infrastructure include references to routes that lead to the ports of Vanino, Vostochny, Nakhodka, Vladivostok, Posyet, and Zarubino, among other ports in China, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. In this regard, colleagues from Mongolia are becoming more and more interested in building Russian-Mongolian transportation routes that can guarantee Mongolia’s extra-regional mineral exports, diversify the geography of their supplies to third countries, and give Mongolia a platform to interact with the SCO countries regarding the issues facing landlocked nations.
The length of the railway network would triple and the capacity of Mongolia’s railway border crossings will reach 160 million tons of freight by 2030 if the projects and initiatives unveiled during Transport Week are effectively carried out.
The amount of cargo passing through Mongolia rose by 40% in 2023 compared to the previous year. But it was just 3.6 million tons, a negligible portion of the total freight volume transported between Russia and China and the whole cargo load carried by Mongolian railways. By 2030, the Mongolian government predicts that transit volume would increase to 40 million tons, or 25% of all rail freight turnover handled in the country.
During Transportation Week, speakers highlighted the country’s approval of projects this year for rail checkpoints on its southern border. Therefore, agreements have already been reached by Mongolia and China for the building of railway lines and freight terminals next to the borders at Shiveekhuren-Sekhee, Gashuunsukhait-Gantsmod and Bichigt-Zuun-Khatavch border points in 2023. Here, Mongolian colleagues called attention to the ongoing coordination of building and rebuilding border points on the border with Russia, which is currently falling behind the southern direction. This is, at least, because Russia is less interested than China in maximizing the import of mining raw materials from Mongolia.
During the week, the Bogdhaan project, promoted by Mongolia was introduced. It entails building a new 145-kilometer branch line that ends and begins on the existing Ulaanbaatar railroad. According to Mongolian experts, this line will increase the capacity of the prospective Central Railway Corridor and divert hazardous and dangerous cargo from the nation’s capital. It is intended to build a new railroad line that will pass through the Chinggishaan international airport, link the Ulaanbaatar railroad’s Bagahangai and Mandal stations with a new route, and connect it to the new international transport “hub” in the Khushig valley and Ulaanbaatar’s satellite city.
In addition, the construction of the 384-kilometer Ulaanbaatar-Kharkhorin (Karakorum) railroad was announced. Its purpose is to link the nation’s largest city and current capital with the new capital, or rather, the revived old capital. The program for its creation was approved this year. Based on the data available, the highway’s “mileage” indicates that a preliminary design for this roadway exists in Mongolia.
The Minister also discussed the anticipations of the Mongolian government for the execution of encouraging road transportation projects. As a result, plans call for the construction of five international road corridors that would connect China and Russia via Mongolian territory, the expansion of road border crossings to 21 (six of which will have access to seaports), and the signing of agreements for road connections with 24 nations. Truck terminals at road border crossing points in Mongolia should be able to handle 120 million tons of cargo annually.
The Minister of Transport and Road Development of Mongolia and the Chairman of the Organization for Cooperation of Railways had discussions during Transport Week, in addition to remarks by important members of the administration.
Therefore, Transport Week served as a platform for presenting Mongolia’s objectives for the development of both national and sub-regional transport networks to the larger international community, as well as a summary of the nation’s recent achievements in expanding its transportation infrastructure.
Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.