The 1011km line will link the capital Astana with Almaty, which with a population of 1.4 million is the largest city in Kazakhstan. The 1520mm-gauge single-track line will have a maximum speed of 250km/h. It will include a 10km viaduct across Lake Balkhash and will have a desert section of about 300km. The railway will have to cope with a temperature range of up to 75oC between winter and summer.

KTZ plans to operate six round trips a day with a journey time of 5h 30min. It plans to procure the trains for the new line through the Tulpar-Talgo joint venture in Kazakstan. KTZ is currently procuring 220 coaches from the joint venture. These will be introduced between Almaty and Atyrau on the Caspian Sea in June and from Astana to Atyrau in November.

"These specific technical issues and a tight four-year deadline for completion of the design and construction phases present a major challenge," says Systra. The line is due to commissioned in Spring 2017 to coincide with the 2017 World Expo being staged in Astana.