While Russia is accomplishing gigantic feats of railroad building in northern Asia, including not only the great trans-Siberian line, but also the line across Manchuria to Peking and the Yellow Sea, as described in the preceding article. there are railway projects in western Asia almost equally interesting, though far less advanced. Russia has been comparatively free, in her railroad building, from international complications, because she was working in the main upon her own soil, was doing the work, as a government enterprise, and had a clear justification, from the commercial as well as from the military and imperial point of view. When it came to the great branch line across Chinese territory to the Yellow Sea, there was only one power to deal with, and Russian diplomacy at Peking was equal to the task of obtaining the necessary franchises.
In India, in like manner, the British Government has had ample reasons, commercial and political, for creating the important system of lines that now exists, and that is to be further extended northwestward toward Afghanistan, northeastward into the Yang- tse-Kiang Valley, and ultimately westward across Arabia and Persia to join the Egyptian lines, also under British control. The Russian line across Central Asia beyond the Caspian was constructed in connection with the gradual extension of permanent Russian dominion in Turkestan.
The most interesting field that remains for railway exploitation is that part of Asia which lies south of the Black and Caspian seas and east of the Red Sea, into the very heart of which the Persian Gulf juts up from the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. At the head of the Persian Gulf, where those great parallel streams the Euphrates and the Tigris empty their united waters, modern conditions have made it inevitable that there should be an important seaport and railway rendezvous.
Thus, nearly all the great powers of Europe have been intensely interested of late in what is called the Koweit question. That question grows out of the dispute as to whom sovereignty at the head of the Persian Gulf really belongs. According to all standard atlases, the shore line in question belongs to the Turkish empire. England, however, now puts in claims on the strength of an alleged protectorate over local Arab tribes inhabiting the neighborhood. Practically, those tribes have exercised control without much reference to Turkey; but technically they are under the suzerainty of the Sultan. The only proper solution is for Turkey and Persia alike to refuse exclusive port and terminal privileges, but to welcome railway builders from all directions and steamships under every flag.
Whatever the precise details,. it is reasonably certain that the main demands of the German company will be granted. These have to do with the right to build the eighty-mile extension of the road from Busra to deep water on the Persian Gulf at Koweit; the absolute right to build five branches, and an optional right to build seven others, with further port privileges on the Persian Gulf coast; and, finally, with the right to work mines within a certain distance from the railway lines. Turkey is further asked to help the enterprise by guaranteeing interest on a bond issue. The main line (in addition to the several hundred miles of road now in operation), to be built from Konieh to Koweit, will be something over fourteen hundred miles in extent.
As we have intimated, the scheme has been worked out with characteristic thoroughness by excellent engineers and men prominent in German financial circles who are close in the councils of the German empire. These Germans have studied thoroughly the commercial bearings of their undertaking, and they count upon the creation, in the heart of European Turkey, of very productive new areas of cereals and cotton, and also of a large export crop of wool, together with an almost incalculable wealth of petroleum and other products of an agricultural and mineral character. It is estimated that the main line will cost not far from $120,000,000.
Originally published in The American Review of Reviews. December 1901.