EghtesadOnline: The rail link between Astara in Azerbaijan and the Iranian namesake city was officially inaugurated in a ceremony held on March 29.
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan participated via a video link from the Iran-Azerbaijan Business Forum they were attending in Baku, British business journal Railway Gazette International reported.
Around 7,600 tons of freight have already been carried on the route since the operation of the first freight train on Feb. 8.
The 10-km extension of Azerbaijan’s 1,524-mm gauge rail network runs for around 8.5 km in Azerbaijan and 1.5 km in Iran, including a bridge over Astarachay River that is 82.5 meters long, 8 meters high and 11.8 meters wide, which forms the border. It was built at a cost of around $60 million, financed by Azerbaijan, including a 35-hectare freight transhipment facility that will be operated by Azerbaijan’s national railroad ADY under a 25-year BOT agreement with Iran’s national rail entity IRIR, according to Financial Tribune.
The new line forms part of the International North-South Transport Corridor that is being developed to link northern Europe with the Indian Ocean. Azerbaijan is investing $500 million in the construction of a 167-km standard gauge line to link the Astara terminal with the Iranian rail network in Rasht.
INSTC will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic ports and give Russia rail connectivity to both Persian Gulf and the Indian rail network. This means goods could be carried from Mumbai in India to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and further to Baku. They could then pass across the Russian border into Astrakhan before proceeding to Moscow and St. Petersburg, before entering Europe.
The corridor would substantially cut the travel time for everything from Asian consumer goods to Central Eurasia’s natural resources to advanced European exports.
When completed, INSTC is expected to increase the volume of commodities currently traded between Iran and Azerbaijan from 600,000 tons to 5 million tons per year, dramatically increasing bilateral trade from the current $500 million per year.
“The North-South transit route, which the two countries are currently participating in as part of the implementation of the Rasht-Astara Railroad project, means a more convenient, cheaper and shorter route for the two countries, countries of the region and even for Asia, Europe and Africa, indicating that our cooperation is in the interest of the peoples of the region and the world,” President Rouhani said.
President Aliyev noted that the Rasht-Astara Railroad would be “built in a short span of time, opening new opportunities for the entire Eurasian region”.
According to Abbas Nazari, director general of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways’ International Affairs Office, Iran is also in talks with Azerbaijani and Russian rail officials to run passenger trains from Astara to Moscow on the Astara-Astara route, in addition to commercial trains.
INSTC’s other missing link, the 164-kilometer-long railroad to connect the two Iranian cities of Qazvin and Rasht, has made more than 80% progress and is scheduled to come on stream during the second month of the Iranian year (April 21-May 21), according to an official with the Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company affiliated with the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development.
“The track-laying of the 164-kilometer-long project will be completed by the end of the current Iranian fiscal (March 20, 2019). So far, 14.6 trillion rials (close to $325 million) worth of investments have gone into Qazvin-Rasht Railroad that needs an additional $55.64 million to be completed,” Ali Akbar Mardi was also quoted as saying by IRNA in February.
Rouhani’s visit to Azerbaijan came after Mustafayev led a delegation of Azerbaijani officials and businesspeople to Tehran last month to attend and co-chair the 12th meeting of joint economic cooperation commission of the two countries.
Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Masoud Karbasian was the other co-chairman of the commission.