The Mongolian rail network comprises 1,815 km of broad gauge track, of which 1,110 km are on the main line linking Russia to China, 238 km are on an separate network in Eastern Mongolia that has its own link to the Russian railway, and the remaining 477 km are branches from the main line.
A program of repairs and track upgrading, including installation of heavier rail and concrete sleepers is now underway. Maximum train weights have now reached 6,000 gross tons.
Transit rail freight has increased from about 15 percent of total rail freight ton km in 1990 to about 25 percent by 2005, and it now provides an even larger share of railway freight revenue. With the additional new prospect of transporting significant mining output to China, there is some concern that the existing single track railway linking Russia to China through Ulaanbaatar might not have sufficient capacity to transport all the available freight.
In addition to mining outputs, the railway is the preferred means of transport for most of Mongolia’s international trade. The current dominance is likely to reduce when the paved road is completed to compete with the railway from Ulanbaataar to the Chinese border at Zamyn Uud. The Chinese authorities require that some Mongolian products, especially animal products including cashmere, be transported by road within China. But even given these disincentives, the railway should be able to retain a cost advantage over road transport over this distance, particularly if road transport from Ulaanbaatar to Zamyn Uud is expected to contribute to its infrastructure development and maintenance cost in a way comparable to that of the railway.