"Baku-Tbilisi-Kars is part of a big Silk Road and it's important that we have implemented this project using our own funds", Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said at the railway's inauguration ceremony attended by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
In a statement, the European Union called the opening of the rail link "a major step in transport interconnections linking the European Union, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia".
The project would help the three countries expand their economic and trade ties and contribute to regional stability, Kvirikashvili said, according to Georgia Today.
Around 79 kilometers of the BTK Railway pass through Turkey, while 246 kilometers pass through Georgia and 504 kilometers through Azerbaijan. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan sent delegations to the ceremony.
Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey have launched a rail link connecting the three countries, establishing a freight and passenger link between Europe and China that bypasses Russian Federation and Armenia.
Construction began in 2008 and the project was originally scheduled for completion in 2010, but the opening date has been repeatedly pushed back. A trade volume of $120 million is expected with this move and trade with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which is an exclave in Azerbaijan bordering Armenia, Turkey and Iran, will be done in Turkish lira. It failed to win financial backing from the United States and the European Union because the railway deliberately avoided passing through Armenia, whose Soviet-era track would have offered the most direct route to Turkey. The line was shut down in the early 1990s, forcing Armenians bound for Istanbul to take a long detour through Georgia.
Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey were already linked by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas line. "It is planned to carry five million tons of cargo in the first stage and 17 million tons in the next stage", he declared.
The project's total cost rose to more than $1 billion from an initial estimate of about $400 million.