Issue 6, 2016. December-January



A plan to move the central railway line from the middle of Tbilisi has resumed after a three-year suspension. The new route will free 78 hectares of land in central Tbilisi for development.

Lika Jorjoliani

The Tbilisi Railway Bypass project is getting a reboot: three years after it was suspended due to rising costs, the government has tasked its Partnership Fund and the Georgian Railways to complete the $350 million construction project by 2018.

The details of the plan remain largely unchanged: the railway lines that crisscross central Tbilisi will be dismantled, and trains will bypass the city using new track that runs near the Tbilisi Sea.

The new route will branch off the current line at Zahesi, pass through the Tbilisi suburbs of Avchala and Gladni and head north to the Tbilisi Sea, joining the existing Kakheti railway line near Lilo, according to Georgian Railway Head Mamuka Bakhtadze. The Kakheti line will be upgraded to double track by refurbishment of the existing single track and adding a second new track.

Bakhtadze added that Tbilisi Central Station will stop functioning as a railway station, and passengers will use either Didube (trains heading west) or Navtlugi (trains heading east) station.

Tbilisi Central will continue operating as a shopping mall.

Both Didube and Navtlugi stations are slated for renovation, he said, and the railway tracks that currently connect them will be dismantled, freeing up 73 hectares of land in the city center for development.

Concerns about Cost

Head of the Transport Corridor Research Center Paata Tsagareishvili argues, however, that the project does not benefit the railway.

Calling it a "no-win project" for Georgian Railways, Tsagareishvili said research has shown the bypass will increase costs and decrease capacity.

But Bakhtadze said the railway has worked with Tbilisi City Hall to improve the project's design and the new version is more efficient and less costly. "We are ready to start works on transferring of the railway this year, using an updated project and design," he said, noting that the new design keeps costs down and will make the bypass more efficient.

Bakhtadze added that the construction, which is being handled by China Railway 23 Bureau Group, should be completed in 18 months.

The same company also worked on the original project in 2013, and the new version of the bypass utilizes work that was completed three years ago, he said.

Reportedly, about 65 percent of the necessary construction has already been completed.

New life for Tbilisi's Left Bank

The new version of the bypass plan is the most cost-effective option, agrees the CEO of City Institute Georgia, Mamuka Salukvadze.

Now the city has to decide what to do with 78 hectares of land in the center of the city, once it is free of railway track. When the bypass was originally planned, the swath of freed land was slated to become Tbilisi's new business district, with an eye on reducing traffic on the right bank. Salukvadze said the territory is currently being considered for a "second center" for Tbilisi and a recreational zone.

Once the railway tracks and infrastructure are removed, the city will be able to create "connections" between the right and left banks of Tbilisi.

There are just two "connections" between the two halves of the city today; once the left bank is developed, there will be eight, he added.

Plans for the left bank of the city will be included in the new master development plan, which outlines urban development in Tbilisi for 2020-2030, Salukvadze said.

The plan is set to be completed in April 2017.

Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania has said the city's plans to develop the 78 hectares will be submitted "as soon as possible."