Uzbekistan's first railway tunnel, built by a Chinese company in 900 days, is contributing to the country's economic development which in turn is improving people's living standards, increasing ethnic unity and helping fight terrorism in Central Asia, observers said.
The 19.2-kilometer Kamchiq tunnel, a key and difficult section in the construction of the 169- kilometer Angren-Pap railway, passes through the Qurama Mountains, Central Asia's longest mountain range, in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The China Railway Tunnel Group (CRTG) began construction of the tunnel on September 5, 2013 and completed it on February 25, 2016, Wang Jian, Party secretary of the Qamchiq tunnel project of the CRTG, told the People's Daily. The entire railway was completed in June 2016.
Journalists from the People's Daily recently took a tour of the tunnel to witness the change and convenience it has brought to the country.
A railway station manager at Andijan, located in east Uzbekistan, praised the work of the Chinese construction team and the railway which has transformed transportation.
"It takes 900 seconds for a train to pass through the tunnel, and Chinese workers spent 900 days to realize the miracle," the station manager was quoted as saying by the People's Daily.
The country has only one other tunnel for a highway, which is 1 kilometer in length.
Gao Fei, a professor of international relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that the project is proof that China's Belt and Road Initiative is designed to promote common development and is not being used by China to generate political influence.
"The railway tunnel for the first time connects two regions separated by mountains in Uzbekistan, and greatly improves its economy," Gao said. The new railway passes three densely populated eastern regions of Uzbekistan, and connects several large cities. The country's old railway followed a circuitous route around the mountains by passing through neighboring countries.
"The project in the long run will help combat terrorism and extremism in Central Asia, as Uzbekistan, a country with multiple ethnic minorities, is plagued by ethnic conflicts," Gao said. The project would help eliminate poverty, which often creates fertile ground for terrorists.
Construction of the tunnel was first planned when the country was part of the former Soviet Union, and experts at that time estimated that the construction would take 25 years, said the railway station manager.
During a worldwide tendering process, several Western construction companies estimated it would take five years to construct the tunnel.
Wang said construction of the Kamchiq tunnel faced great geological difficulties, such as frequent rock falls and many fracture zones, but still the CRTG was able to complete construction 100 days ahead of schedule.
The CRTG organized several transnational conferences to work out plans to ensure crew safety during construction.
Chinese equipment also contributed to the high efficiency, as the CRTG invested 200 million yuan ($31 million) to purchase equipment including five rock drilling platforms, 51 large construction vehicles and 24 concrete trucks, Wang said.
Chen Fengying, an expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said China has rich experience and advanced technology in infrastructure construction, a highlight of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The ongoing projects with Central Asian countries under the Belt and Road Initiative also provide those countries with greater connectivity and provide incentives to resolve conflicts which in turn contribute to regional stability and prosperity, Gao said.