EghtesadOnline: A freight train arrived in Iran’s northern border city of Astara from Russia’s St. Petersburg on Thursday, marking the inauguration of a cross-border strand of the International North-South Transportation Corridor.
The train made its journey through Azerbaijan, using the so-called Astara-Astara Railroad, which connects the Iranian city of Astara with an eponymous city from across the border.
Governor of Iran’s Astara Younes Ranjkesh told IRNA that the train’s six wagons carried 55 tons of MDF sheets.
According to director general of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways’ International Affairs Office, Abbas Nazari, the Astara-Astara route will officially be inaugurated in the first month of the upcoming Iranian year (March 21-Arpril 20) in the presence of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, Financial Tribune reported.
“IRIR is also in talks with Azerbaijani and Russian rail officials to run passenger trains from Astara to Moscow on this route, in addition to commercial trains,” Nazari said.
The Astara-Astara Railroad runs 8 kilometers in Azerbaijan up to the border from where it extends 2 km to Iran’s port city of Astara.
The project also includes a bridge on Astarachay River, which stretches along the border. Tehran and Baku are working to connect their railroads as part of the INSTC project, which is aimed at connecting Northern Europe with Southeast Asia.
INSTC will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic ports and give Russia rail connectivity to both the 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, the 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 corridor’s missing links in Iran include a railroad connecting the cities of Qazvin and Rasht as well as another connecting Rasht to Astara.
According to the deputy head of IRIR, Nourollah Beiranvand, Iran and Azerbaijan plan to sign an agreement for financing the Rasht-Astara Railroad project in February.
Iran’s Deputy Roads and Urban Development Minister Asghar Fakhrieh-Kashan said the Rasht-Astara project will be jointly implemented by Iran and Azerbaijan, each providing 50% of the required finances, noting that Azerbaijan will fund $500 million and Iran will invest the same amount.
Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi said in January that the 164-kilometer-long Qazvin-Rasht rail connection will be completed in the next three months.
Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Kheirollah Khademi said last month that more than $300 million have been invested on this route and some $150 million more are needed for it to become operational, adding that construction work on the railroad has made 80% progress.
A completed section of the railroad was tested in March 2017 after a train set off on a maiden journey from Azerbaijan’s Astara. The train travelled 8 kilometers to the border from where it entered the Iranian section of the route.