Uzbekistan shows off Central Asia's first high-speed train

The Central Asian state of Uzbekistan on Tuesday showcased the region's first high-speed train which will connect the capital Tashkent with the nation's second largest city of Samarkand.

Made by the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo, the train will take passengers on the 344-kilometer (213-mile) journey in two hours and 10 minutes at speeds reaching 254 kilometers per hour (157 miles per hour).

Under the deal worth 38 million euros (55 million dollars) between the Uzbek state-run railway company Uzbekistan Temir Yullari and Spain's Patentes Talgo S.A. signed in 2009, the Spanish company supplied the first Talgo AVE 250 train on July 22. The second train is expected next month.

"Thanks to the personal initiative of President Islam Karimov this project was implemented in our country and is the only of its kind in Central Asia," a deputy prime minister Batyr Khodjayev told journalists in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

The line is scheduled to open in early September.

Named after Afrasiyab, the oldest part of the ancient and medieval city of Samarkand, the high-speed rail link will boost the tourism industry in Uzbekistan, which is rich in ancient history, officials hope.

Two VIP cars in the 8-car train offer passengers giant leather seats, free cold drinks, hot meals and Uzbek wine and cognac at the ticket price of 46 dollars one way.

Uzbekistan upgraded its Soviet-era rail road infrastructure at the total cost of 116.8 million dollars. The Uzbek railways said with the assistance from the Asian Development Bank, it plans to open similar routes to another ancient city, Bukhara.

The train's first ride last week took officials and foreign dignitaries to the opening ceremony of the international festival of Oriental Melodies in the Silk Route city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan's second largest city.

"The US has one of the world's oldest railways. But still we don't have such high-speed train", George Krol, the US ambassador to Uzbekistan and one of the first passengers, told Uzbek national TV.

Gas-rich Uzbekistan became independent from the Soviet Union on September 1, 1991 and has been ruled by Karimov ever since.

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