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Afghanistan's Minerals Await Vital Railroads

The country struggles to transport its vast natural resources

At the Naibabad freight terminal near the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif, workers rush to unload wheat and construction materials from Uzbekistan that have arrived on Afghanistan’s only railroad. Trucks will have to carry the cargo through the icy Hindu Kush mountains to the rest of the country because Afghanistan, which encompasses almost 252,000 square miles, has only 47 miles of train track.

The government has grand plans to change that by constructing a 2,237-mile national rail line to transport not just food and other goods but something more vital to the struggling nation’s economy: its vast natural resources, including iron, copper, and gold. In 2010 the Pentagon estimated Afghanistan is sitting on mineral deposits worth about $1 trillion. In 2011 the Afghan government put the value at $3 trillion. This potential wealth has remained largely untapped, because there’s no way to safely and reliably ship the minerals from the country’s mines.

To cash in on its wealth of minerals, Afghanistan must build a multibillion-dollar national rail network to transport them through mountainous country that’s home to armed militants