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Transport in Mongolia

Mongolia MapSquare Down Arrow Icon Roads and Highways
Square Down Arrow Icon Urban Transport
Square Down Arrow Icon Railways
Square Down Arrow Icon Inland Waterways
Square Down Arrow Icon Ports and Shipping
Square Down Arrow Icon Air Transport

Mongolia’s transport sector, in common with most other economic sectors, bears little resemblance to that at the beginning of the country’s transition to a market economy. Prior to the transition, most transport services were provided by state-owned companies at heavily subsidized tariffs. Now, road passenger and freight transport, urban passenger transport and aviation services have either been privatized and/or private operators are in competition with the state owned operators.

There has been one significant change in the external context, the massive increase in trade with China, which will impact on the pattern of demands for transport infrastructure and services in the next decades.

There are constraints on development with substantial financial support from the former Soviet Union. Assistance from international and bilateral lending institutions are available, however, there are signs that these sources are becoming less willing to lend for transport infrastructure and are putting more emphasis on institutional issues.

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Roads and Highways

The main objective of the domestic road network is to provide connectivity between aimag centers and Ulaanbaatar, and between aimag centers and their surrounding region. To achieve this, Mongolia has a state road network of just over 11,200 km, of which only about 1,500 km are paved, 1,440 km has a gravel surface and 1,346 km has an improved earth surface. Over 6,900 km is earth tracks. On the state road network there are 364 bridges with a total length of just over 13,500 meters (an average length of 37 meters). But of these, 178 are of wooden construction and account for about 20 percent of the total length.
Mongolia TransportA second objective is to provide connectivity between aimag centers and their surrounding regions, and this is achieved by a local road network of about 38,000 km, of which only 400 km is paved and 500 km have a gravel surface, so about 96 percent of this network comprises earth tracks.

The third objective is to provide links to neighboring countries. At present only one paved road leads to a border post, the road from Ulaanbaatar to the Russian border, but the road to the Chinese border at Zamyn Uud is nearing completion. A third paved border road, in Western Mongolia linking China to Russia, is under consideration.

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Urban Transport

Ulaanbaatar has a road network of 464 km, of which about 78 percent is paved, the remainder being mostly earth tracks within ger districts. Of the 50 bridges in Ulaanbaatar, almost 90 percent are of concrete construction. The paved road network has remained largely unchanged in length for two decades, during which time the vehicle fleet has more than doubled.

There are 450 km of sidewalks and 203,600 m2 of designated parking areas in the city. At an average of 100 m2 per parking place this gives only just over 2,000 parking spaces for the estimated 10,000 cars that enter the city each working day. The city roads are generally in a poor condition with extensive cracking, potholes and subsidence. This condition results from substandard quality of the original design and construction with inadequate drainage, and subsequent lack of maintenance, annual, routine and periodic.

Mongolia TransportLack of annual maintenance results in a permanence of surface water, as there is widespread loss of grilles covering drains, leading to blockage of the drains themselves. There is inadequate capacity of the storm water drainage system to cope with even normal rainfall. Lack of snow or ice clearing in winter and no system of sanding or gritting road surfaces leads to ice formation that lasts for a long time and slows traffic and increases accidents.

There are only 103 km of roads, mostly compacted earth, in the ger areas that have a population in excess of 400,000. The roads are substandard, with narrow carriageways and lack of even basic maintenance. Travel on these roads by vehicles is difficult if not impossible, so public transport vehicles; water tankers and other public service vehicles have difficulty entering the ger areas.  Even pedestrians have difficulty walking on uneven and narrow streets, often surrounded by uninterrupted wooden fences on both sides and sometimes blocked at one end.

Of the 210 road junctions in the city of Ulaanbaatar, only 48 have traffic signals. The Trolleybus and Illumination State Owned Enterprise is responsible for maintaining road lighting traffic signals in Ulaanbaatar. A Traffic Management Project undertaken by the Municipality in 2005 showed that of the 2,800 traffic lights in Ulaanbaatar only 75 per cent were in service, and many of these were poorly illuminated.

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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.

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Inland Waterways

Inland waterway transport is very limited. At present there is the "Sukhbaatar" ship, three barges and over 30 motorboats on Khuvsugul Lake. There are also more than 20 motor-boats in operation in Khovd, Dornod and Selenge aimags.

Ports and Shipping

As a land-locked country, Mongolia does not have any external ports.

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Air Transport

Due to the sparse population, and the severe weather conditions during winter, surface transportation by road and railway is not well developed in Mongolia. Air transport therefore plays an important role in the Mongolian economy, especially for tourists. More than 98 percent of international air transport services use the Genghis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, while domestic aviation has 17 airports available with runways suitable for un-pressurized turbo-prop aircraft.

The international airport faces frequent closures because of strong winds, sand or snow storms or unacceptable visibility because of excessive air pollution.  The runway is relatively short for a full service international airport.  Consideration is being given to construction of a new airport in a more appropriate location, but this would be very expensive for the relatively small number of passengers who would use it.

Few domestic airports have infrastructure that complies with the International Civic Aviation Organization standards, but they mostly have sufficient infrastructure to accommodate the few scheduled domestic services that operate. Only four have paved runways, and only these and one other have runway lighting. All four paved runways exceed 2,440 m in length and the thirteen gravel runways exceed 1,800 m. Gravel runways are adequate for operations by un-pressurized turbo-prop aircraft, such as have been used on domestic services for the last three decades, but are likely to cause damage to pressurized jet powered aircraft now beginning to be used on domestic routes.

Domestic air traffic control services were upgraded through an Asian Development Bank loan during the 1990s and are generally now adequate.

More Information:
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 Country Assistance Strategy
blue arrow Millennium Development Goals
blue arrow Country Website

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