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Prior to 1921, Mongolia had a primitive transportation system consisting primarily of horse relay stations along ancient caravan routes. Arad households supported this relay system by paying a horse-relay duty. Draft animals carried passengers and cargo. There were no hard surface roads, railroads, or air transportation. Efforts to introduce a modern transportation system began in 1925, when the government established a state transportation committee with twelve trucks. Soviet aid to Mongolia's transportation sector was inaugurated the same year, with agreements for road repair and bridge building, water transportation by the Soviet Selenge State Shipping Line on the Selenge and the Orhon rivers, and establishment of Mongolian air transport linking Ulaanbaatar and Troitskosavsk in the Soviet Union. Construction of hard surface roads also began in the late 1920s. In 19-29 the Fifth National Great Hural nationalized the transportation network and established the joint motor transport monopoly, Mongoltrans, with the Soviet Union. The Soviet share of Mongoltrans devolved to Mongolia in 1936. Railroad construction started in the late 1930s. A 43-kilometer, narrow-gauge (1.435 meters) railroad linking Ulaanbaatar and the Nalayh coal mine opened in 1938; the next year the Soviets built a 236-kilometer broad-gauge (1.524 meters) line connecting Choybalsan with Borzya, Soviet Union, on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The first asphalt road, linking Ulaanbaatar and Suhbaatar, was built in 1940. Development of the transportation system reached a plateau in the early 1940s, when the outbreak of World War II effectively interrupted Soviet assistance. Despite the modernization of this sector, draft animals remained the predominant form of transportation; in the mid-1940s animals carried 70 percent of the freight, and motor transport the rest.

In 2004 only 1700 km of the roughly 49200 km roads are paved. This road is about 50 km south of Ulaanbaatar. Photo courtesy G. Berger.

Rapid development of the transportation sector resumed in the late 1940s and the 1950s. In 1947 Soviet-aided railroad construction was resumed with the building of the north-south trans-Mongolia line. The first segment of this line, connecting Ulan Ude, Soviet Union, with Ulaanbaatar, became operational in 1950. The second segment, linking the capital and the Chinese border, was completed in 1955. The opening of the trans-Mongolia line significantly altered transportation patterns in Mongolia: the railroads assumed the bulk of freight transportation, freed large numbers of motor vehicles and draft animals for use in other parts of the country, and permitted the abolition of the horse-relay duty in 1950. Because this line cut across the economic center of the country, the economic benefits of its opening were considerable. In the late 1950s, China rendered Mongolia considerable assistance in road construction.

Since the 1960s, modernization of the transportation system has been incremental compared with advances in previous decades. Efforts have focused on extending hard-surface roadways, on constructing railroad spurs to industrial facilities, on improving rolling stock, on upgrading facilities, and on increasing the capacity and the productivity of all forms of transportation.

Transportation, 1989.

Last Update: 2010-12-07