EghtesadOnline: The 132-kilometer-long Mianeh-Bostanabad railroad was inaugurated by President Hassan Rouhani in Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan Province on Wednesday.
The railroad is part of the longer Mianeh-Tabriz project connecting East Azarbaijan Province to the national rail network, IRNA reported.
The newly-inaugurated route is an important link along Iran’s East-West Transit Corridor—part of the famed Silk Road, according to the head of the Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company of Iran, Kheirollah Khademi.
Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami says Mianeh-Bostanabad-Tabriz railroad is a “golden link” for the international transit corridors that pass through the Iranian territory, according to Financial Tribune.
“By expanding the rail network across the country’s northwest, we aim to increase cargo and passenger transport efficiency, connect to our western neighbors, namely Turkey and Azerbaijan, and accelerate cargo transits though international East-West transit corridors that stretch from Iran's northeastern and southeastern borders to Asia in the east and Europe in the west,” he said.
A train was flagged off by President Rouhani in its maiden journey from Tabriz to the holy city of Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi Province.
Abbas Khatibi, the deputy head of Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company of Iran, told Fars News Agency that the Mianeh-Bostanabad railroad will help save 16 million liters of fuel and reduce the damage caused by environmental pollutants by 140 billion rials ($1.2 million) per year.
He also noted that passenger and cargo trains will commute at a speed of 160 km/hr and 120 km/hr respectively on this route.
“A total of 14.14 trillion rials [$114.49 million] worth of investments have been made in this project, which will reduce Tehran-Tabriz travel distance and time by 114 kilometers and 5.5 hours respectively compared with the old route. A total of 29 bridges (7,055 kilometers long) and 12 tunnels (6,662 kilometers) connect different parts along the route,” the official was quoted as saying.
The construction of the railroad started in the fiscal 2001-2.
“The second phase of this rail route from Mianeh to Tabriz, which is part of a corridor that helps connect East Asia to West Asia and Europe, has made an 85% progress and will come on stream by the end of the next Iranian year [March 20, 2020],” Khatibi said.
According to IRNA, for the railroad to reach Tabriz a further 70 kilometers of railroad have to be laid at a cost of 13,000 billion rials ($105 million).
Domestically Produced UIC60 Rails
Notably, the UIC60 rails used on the Mianeh-Bostanabad route have been produced domestically.
Esfahan Steel Company (ESCO) supplied the Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company with the first batch of domestically produced 60E1 (UIC60) rails in September.
The rails were loaded and transported to East Azarbaijan Province for the Mianeh-Bostanabad railroad.
“Tens of specialists have worked on this project for more than 20 years. The research stage for the production of domestic rail has taken years to complete and today efforts by ESCO and the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade have borne fruit,” Eslami was quoted as saying at the time.
The 60E1 (UIC60) rail model is manufactured according to the European standard EN 13674-1. It is a T section rail that is also known as flat bottom rails with a 60.21 kg mass per meter.
Based on the goals of the Sixth Five-Year Development Plan (2017-22), Iran is to expand its railroads to 25,000 kilometers, with every 10 kilometers requiring 500 tons of rails.
The idea of a large-scale domestic rail production was first floated back in 2005. It was triggered when the ruling government thwarted a deal to import 100,000 tons of rails from Spain, arguing that imports should be curbed so that domestic production can thrive.
This led to the signing of a deal between ESCO and the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways. The company’s rails, however, received a lukewarm reception due to their limited speed support and low quality compared to the global offerings at the time. Consequently, IRIR placed no new orders and called on ESCO to produce UIC60 rails, which are capable of supporting higher speed limits.
Fast-forward to July 2014, IRIR and ESCO signed another agreement for the production of UIC60 rails, with the deadline for its delivery set for September 2015. ESCO missed the deadline and no new developments took place up until late 2016, when the company launched its new rail production line established in cooperation with the German Kuttner Company.
Previously on June 17, 2018, ESCO had delivered a first batch of U33 rails to the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways.
The batch contained 500 tons of U33 rails manufactured using the latest technologies and based on Europe's EN13674 standards, according to an ESCO statement.
"Producing rail based on the latest European standards was painstaking and complicated, and yet worth the pain to achieve self-sufficiency," said ESCO's Managing Director Mansour Yazdizadeh.
The official emphasized that ESCO is capable of meeting all of IRIR's demands with a rail output capacity of 400,000 tons per year and will export its surplus production.
ESCO signed a contract with IRIR to produce 40,000 tons of U33 rail tracks in October 2016, 10,000 of which were to be delivered by the end of the fiscal 2016-17. The company repeatedly missed the deadline and extended it to date, and mostly put the blame on IRIR for not funding production by pre-purchasing the order.
ESCO was jointly established in 1965 by Iran and the Soviet Union’s Tyazhpromexport Company in Isfahan Province.
The EN13674 standard specifies Vignoles rails (flat-bottomed rail) of 46 kg/m and greater linear mass for conventional and high speed rail track usage.
U33 rail tracks are capable of supporting a speed of up to 160 kilometers per hour.
Last Prioritized Rail Project
Mianeh-Bostanabad railroad was one of the government’s five prioritized rail projects in 2017.
The other four projects, namely Tehran-Hamedan, Malayer-Kermanshah, Maragheh-Urmia and Qazvin-Rasht, have since been inaugurated.
Speaking on the sidelines of the seventh edition of the International Exhibition of Rail Transportation, Related Industries & Equipment (RAILEXPO 2019), held from June 9-12 at Tehran’s International Fairground, Mohammad Eslami outlined the priorities of his ministry under his watch in the current Iranian year (ending March 19, 2020).
The first priority, he said, was to hold talks with the Iraqi side on selecting a contractor for Shalamcheh-Basra railroad.
The launch of the 32-kilometer railroad boosts Iran's exports to Iraq, as they are forwarded along this route to West Asian and North African countries.
The Ministry of Roads and Urban Development's other priority, according to Eslami, includes conducting negotiations with domestic and foreign investors to run the Chabahar-Zahedan railroad.
Iran plans to link the port by railroad to Zahedan on the Pakistani border up to Mashhad in the northeast.
On the back of a rail link that stretches to Iran’s northwestern border, Chabahar will facilitate the transport of goods from India to the landlocked countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States as well as Afghanistan.
After connecting Chabahar to Zahedan, the railroad will be linked to Zaranj in Afghanistan. Hence, when the Afghan cargo arrives in Zahedan, it can be transported by a 1,380-km railroad to Chabahar and then shipped to India.
The Isfahan-Bafgh railroad is among other priorities of the ministry.
According to Mohsen Sadeqi, a civil engineer in charge of the Economic Evaluation Office at the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, the Iranian railroad network carried 27.96 million passengers last year (March 2018-19).
Between 2013 and 2017, rail ridership averaged out at 24 million from 28 million-odd of the early 2010s. It was only after last year’s airfare hike that a number of passengers shifted to railroad transportation.
Iran’s rail fleet consists of 2,089 passenger cars, 25,398 freight wagons and 1,000 locomotives.
The number of passengers using suburban train services has increased from three million in the fiscal 2014-15 to seven million last year (March 2018-19). From the fiscal 2011-12 forward, rail freight transport has seen close to a 50% growth, improving from 33 million tons to around 50 million tons of freight per annum in recent years.