Afghanistan is a country with a very limited rail heritage and well documented political, security and infrastructure challenges. However with Mazar-e-Sharif becoming the first Afghan city to be connected to the outside world by rail, the country is beginning to see the start of a planned nationwide rail system that is seen as essential to the nation’s economic growth. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) rail advisory teams have been working for years to help Afghanistan develop the regulations and skills needed for a national rail network.
But with ISAF forces pulling out the emphasis is shifting to local officials and engineers to lead the development of a rail network. A rail network that connects not only Afghan cities but also trading points in neighbouring countries is viewed as essential for development of the country. Especially considering the country’s large mineral deposits that include iron ore, gold, coal and oil which remain largely untapped. The potential for Afghanistan is huge, according to government reports, it is estimated that there is in excess of $1 trillion of iron ore in the ground and rail is seen as essential to its transport and by extension the future of the country. Today SmartRail World gains an insight into the work of the US military with the development of Afghan rail with a guest contribution from Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Lawn (US Army) in an article originally published on a US military news website.
“JOINT COMBAT OUTPOST, HAIRATAN, Afghanistan – The 1st Theater Sustainment Command Afghan Rail Advisory team conducted a train, advise and assist mission by teaching a core railroad foundation documentation course to Afghan Railway Authority students. The course is custom designed for the newly-created Afghan rail authority, to help the students better comprehend the basics of railway practices, methods and documentation.
It offers the Afghans a plethora of proven methods on managing a more efficient railway, and offers possibilities of future railroad revenue generation. The core program also takes into account that Afghanistan has no functioning railway experience.
“Basically, It is an introduction to railroad revenue … ,” said Maj. Timothy Christensen, a native of Manchester, Conn., director, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, Afghan railway advisory team. It is a “part of the train, advise, assist mission designated by the ISAF commander, and is part of the ISAF nation building mission.”
Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war, Afghanistan had no quantifiable railroad. The existing Afghan rail network was initiated by the Soviets during the war, for transporting wartime cargo.
The Afghan government realized rail was necessary for Afghanistan’s economic stability and growth; they sought outside assistance and received a follow-on grant in 2011 by the Asian Development Bank, partnering Afghanistan with Uzbekistan to build 75 kilometers of rail network from the Uzbek border to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Economically the rail is a necessity to the countries stability and growth. According to the Afghan government, it is loosely estimated that there is more than $1 trillion of Iron Ore in the ground. A deal was struck with a public-private Indian consortium, AFISCO in 2011 to begin mining operations at what is believed to be the world’s second largest Iron ore deposit located in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan.
The $1 trillion of unmined ore is realized to be a loose estimate, and does not take into account other potential mines or sources of mining revenue, such as copper, gems and precious metals. They government realized the only efficient way to get the ore, or other minerals from the ground to the global market is through a developed rail network.
The stark reality of Afghanistan’s future economic development lies in rail infrastructure that hasn’t been developed yet. This reality led the International Security Assistance Force command to create an ARAT. Brig. Gen Edward Dorman, the former Army chief of transportation recognized the coalition’s needed a dedicated rail team to meet the coalition’s strategic needs, and directed the first team development.
The soldiers of the ARAT team were hand selected by Maj. Timothy Christensen, director of the Afghanistan railroad advisory team, and Master Sgt. Brian Hakey, senior enlisted rail team adviser, of Boiling Spring Lakes, N.C., both of whom have decades of civilian and military railroad experience and business knowledge.
The ARAT’s mission is two-fold; the soldiers take their individual sets of knowledge and experiences, and develop a program to assist and mentor the employees of the Afghan Railway Authority. The second part of the mission is and to assist the Afghans in developing their own railway, regulations, and authorities, with the ultimate goal of becoming a member of the Organization for Co-operation between Railways, OSJD, and be able to compete in the global market.
“The development of the Afghan regulations, and authorities, is similar to the code of Federal Regulations and U.S. laws that affect the U.S. railroad industry,” said Hakey.
Hakey leads the training team; the rest of the team consists of Capt. Donald Moyer, a native of Memphis, Tenn., and logistician expert; 1st Lt. Johnathan Ranschaert, a native of Williamsburg, Va., and Staff Sgt, Nathan Pfhol, native of Boiling Springs Lakes, N.C., both of whom have years of operational rail experience.
Hakey and the rest of the ARAT team, in effect, developed a railroad 101 mini-university course with the core curriculum loosely based on each individual team members level of rail road experience, and then condensing the material to a novice level for the Afghan’s students. The team also based the training on baseline requirements of the United States, American Association of Railroads, and the OSJD. The end goal will potentially help the Afghans develop their own railroad authority and become an active member of the current 24 member countries in the OSJD.
“The railroad course is just meant to be an overview, not in-depth,” said Hakey. He emphasized, the individual students attending each of the training sessions will be the future of Afghanistan’s rail. Most of the attendees have a very high level of education but in the same breath, Hakey admitted that none of them had any real railroad experience.
“They need vision, structure, a foundation and knowledge,” said Hakey.
He added, the ARAT mission is to assist the Afghans in developing future Afghan railroad regulations, not build a pile of regulations and hand it to them. The ARAT team felt this would be best developed through a university styled format. The course is uniquely designed and focused on training the future trainer.
In order to achieve an enduring training program, the ARAT Team, has developed and compartmentalized the training into a three-step program, which is designed as an open forum, and encourages student-mentor interaction.
The students will learn about existing railroad practices, methods and documentation and how to maintain visibility with what will occur within the Afghan rail industry.
The second step of the course is under development by an outside contractor. The contracting firm takes all previously created ARAT curriculum, specifications, and recommendations, and creates a layered training program which cumulates into a final third step.
This final step ends when the contracting company credentials the successful ARA students and mentors them in their program, where they will be expected to train and mentor their own employees.
The ARAT will teach core basic documentation which will allow the Afghans to keep track of their own railway system, some of the core documents they will cover include; mechanical, accounting, train management, this includes rail yard and crews, car clerking, customs processes, maintenance and future rail development.
The first step of the course was initiated and held at the Ministry of Public Works in Kabul city Nov. 9, which is where the ARA headquarters is located.
Follow-on classes moved to JCOP Hairatan, and were conducted Nov. 22 through 26. Hairatan was chosen for its close proximity to the regional ARA office is in Mazar-e Sharif. Hairatan has a key rail spur crossing the Uzbek border. The Northern rail port area has been designated as a future key hub of Afghan exports.
At JCOP Hairatan, Nov. 23, the ARAT team had ten excited Afghan students arrive, looking forward to absorbing railroad knowledge. Greetings were offered; the team had hot Chai Tea and sweets ready, a cultural must before conducting business.
After the meet and greet finished, Hakey opened the class with an operations brief. He stressed the importance of communication and how a successful rail effort must have proper communication in order to be effective.
Ranschaert took over and described the types and classes of railroad rolling stock, car numbering, documentation, cargos, and prevention of cargo theft, cargo repairs and fees. At the end of the brief, he quizzed the students on the different rolling stock they may encounter, and their basic utilities.
Pfhol, a locomotive engineer, joined Ranschaert in the discussion about “on the spot repairs.” He discussed the benefits of repair revenue and the capability to conduct running, or “on-the-spot,” repairs and how they can generate immediate revenue for the rail.
With each presentation, the Afghan students, engaged each other in discussion, demonstrating their enthusiasm with the material. Several of the Afghans spoke English and helped off-set the need for the interpreter. After the class, a couple Afghan students commented on what they learned.
One student, Abdul Ghafoor, Frogh described how much the training meant to him. He works for the Ministry of Public Works and oversees two international companies conducting business in Afghanistan. He pointed out that he liked the discussion about maintenance and operations. He told the story of heavy flood damage that had occurred on a stretch of rail line, and how it affected the network. The flood had washed out a spur and some culverts, to Humayon, if the rails fail and products can’t be shipped, everyone loses, he said.
“Hopefully we will have a chance to practice this training,” said Frogh.
Frogh really appreciated the session on the Waybill. The Waybill is the “five w’s,” or the; who, what, where, when and why … of a document that is used for the shipment of a piece of equipment or container, it lists the origin of and destination cargo being shipped, who the shipper is and the contents and weight.
After learning about the operations, rail cars, Waybills, and more, the class ended with a question and answer session. The Afghan students took about another 30 minutes of the instructor’s time, peppering instructors with questions. For some of the students, there are a several unanswered questions and not enough time. The ARAT team reminded the students they still had another day, and future classes.
Ranschaert, created a checklist and spent time writing down the ARA student questions, so that they can address them at a later date, or even provide future training opportunities. Some of the questions the students asked; how to - verify reports, where to get or make a checklist to track repairs, how to monitor and enforce shipping Waybills, and more.
Several students best summed-up their level of gratitude to the instructors by voicing their appreciation and allowing them to express their concerns and ideas. In the past they had received classes, usually dictated … Now, they honestly felt as if they were part of their planning process.
As the classes concluded, students and staff gathered for a group photo. During a photo session, the students acknowledged the fact that the future of Afghanistan’s railroad is in their hands. They are thrilled at such an opportunity and truly do care about Afghanistan’s growth.
The 1st Theater Sustainment Command Afghanistan Railroad Assistance Team has mentored, trained, advised and assisted the Afghanistan Railway Authority. The team’s goal, to impart knowledge and some of their operational experience on the students, but ultimately it is the Afghans railroad, their future and their country.
Thanks to Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Lawn and the US Army for permission to use this article to read the original article click here.