Monday, 10 January 2022

Ashgabat’s Quirky Monorail System

By Stijn Mitzer
The Soviet Union is famous for the extravagant metro systems constructed in the cities of a number of Soviet republics. Major cities like Minsk, Tashkent, Moscow and Baku are all home to metro lines with lavishly decorated stations. The capitals of Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were simply too small to make the construction and operation of expensive metro systems feasible. This still holds true for most cities in Central Asia today, with many cities still relying on buses and marshrutkas (shared taxis) to get from one place to another.
One exception to this rule is Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Ashgabat has the interesting record of having the world's highest density of buildings made from white marble, earning it the nickname of 'white city'. [1] In addition to a number newly-constructed highways crisscrossing the city (in which black cars are banned), Ashgabat features a quirky monorail system constructed by a firm from the microstate of Lichtenstein. Unfortunately for the city's estimated population of some one million, the monorail system only serves the Olympic Complex.

The concept for the $5 billion worth(!) Olympic Complex was prepared by the Turkish Polimeks construction company and constructed by a number of international engineering companies during the mid-2010s. [2] Polimeks has designed and constructed a number of large projects in Turkmenistan, including the capital's falcon-shaped international airport. To transport guests between the different venues, a 5,2 kilometer monorail system was constructed by the Lichtenstein-based Intamin company, which also supplied the rolling stock. [3]
The Ashgabat monorail features automatic trains of the type P30 with a maximum capacity of 90 passengers each, serving eight stations along the line. [4] Each train consists of four cars, including one control car with motors and power equipment and three passenger cars. The Ashgabat monorail came into operation in May 2017, well before the 2017 Olympic Games began in September the same year. [4] Footage of the monorail system can be viewed here.

The P30 People Mover in service on the Ashgabat monorail.

The Ashgabat Olympic Complex is a multi-purpose sports facility specifically designed for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Set within a landscaped park around the existing Olympic Stadium (which was torn down and completely rebuilt), the complex features 30 venues for sporting events connected by the monorail system. The new Olympic Stadium has a capacity of 60,000 and also serves as the home stadium for the Turkmenistan national football team. The complex additionally houses shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, shops, a car park and of course, the monorail system, all for the sum of 5 billion USD. [2]

Renderings of Ashgabat's Olympic Complex (the design that was ultimately constructed features some differences). The line for the monorail system is clearly visible in the second image.

The line single-track line has a length of 5,2 kilometres with eight stations and two bridges. It starts at the depot, nearby the Olympic Village. From the depot, it can quickly reach all the venues located around the Olympic Complex. It is unknown if the monorail still sees day-to-day use today, and its operations are possibly limited to event days only (similar to the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro line in Mecca that operates for just seven days a year during Hajj).

The passenger information system in the trains and on the station platforms was designed by the Turkish company Aviteng. [5]

Perhaps one day Ashgabat will feature a dedicated monorail system for the benefit of all the capital's citizens, connecting the various parts of the city through a number of lines and stations. Rest assured, these stations will surely be just as lavishly decorated as the Soviet-era metro stations mentioned in the introductory text of this article.
[1] Turkmenistan's Capital Named World's 'White-Marble' City
[3] Ashgabat Modern Public Transport and landmark at the Olympic site in Ashgabat
[5] Ashgabat Olympic Complex - Monorail 
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