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EghtesadOnline: Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia are planning to start operating a long-delayed corridor that will carry cargo from the Black Sea – between Eastern/Southeastern Europe and West Asia – to the Persian Gulf in southeastern Middle East.

The announcement was made by deputy head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railway Company for Operation Affairs Hussein Ashouri in a talk with Trend News Agency at the International Rail Business Forum on ‘Strategic Partnership: The Caspian Region’ in Baku.

“The corridor has not been used because our railroad was not complete. Now, however, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan are willing to run the route,” he said.

“The sides have already reached agreement over the fare and duration of the trip. We are hopeful to start the route in one month and move goods to the Persian Gulf region. The cargo will be transported from Romania to Georgia, then to Azerbaijan, and then to Iran.”

Although its part of the railroad is not complete, Iran has given guarantees that it will haul the freight via roadways where railroads are not available, Ashouri explained.

The Iranian stretch of the corridor is pending track-laying between Rasht, the capital of Iran’s northern Gilan Province and the border city of Astara. According to the Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi, the Rasht-Astara railroad requires $1 billion, half of which is to be funded by Azerbaijan in loans.

  Strategic Railway Bridge to Be Completed in Dec.

Last week, head of Azerbaijan Railways, Javid Gurbanov said construction of a railway bridge across the Astarachay River at the border of Azerbaijan and Iran as part of the so-called International North-South Transport Corridor will be completed in December

Gurbanov said the 8.3-kilometer section of the railway from the Astara Station to the bridge at the border with Iran is ready and has been tested, Trend News Agency reported.

The railway bridge across the Astarachay River is a strategically important facility that will link railways of Azerbaijan and Iran and will be a part of the Astara (Azerbaijan)-Astara (Iran) section of the INSTC project.

The corridor is meant to connect Northern Europe with Southeast Asia. It will serve as a link for connecting the railways of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.

At the initial stage, it has been planned to transport 6 million tons of cargo via the INSTC per year and to increase the figure to over 10 million tons in the future, Financial Tribune reported.

  Armenia Joins Iran, Europe

Meanwhile, secretary of the International Transport Association of Iran, Gholamhossein Amiri said a maiden shipment arrived in Iran from Germany via a multimodal transit route connecting Iran to Europe via the Black Sea. Plans are underway for the route to replace the one passing through Turkey.

“Two containers entered Iran from the Armenian border,” Amiri was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.

“The containers were shipped from Hamburg in a relatively shorter journey compared to the Turkish route.”

 “In the past couple of years, we have had problems on the Turkish side of the border regarding moving cargo from Europe. This prompted us to start negotiations with other countries for alternative routes,” he said.

  Will to Bypass Turkey

Tehran and Ankara have been grappling with a longstanding transit dispute, arising from different fuel prices in the two neighboring countries. The issue led the government to take measures, such as charging Turkish trucks a fee to compensate the considerably low fuel prices in Iran to sealing the Turkish trucks’ fuel tanks at the Bazargan-Dogubayazit border crossing.

The common border has frequently been the scene of traffic congestion with trucks queuing at the border in lines reaching 15 kilometers at times.

Agreements signed by the two customs administrations have done little to help.

Border security is another issue hindering transit via Turkey. While on Turkish soil, several Iranian trucks have been the target of arson attacks, which Ankara blames on armed forces affiliated to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The Iranian government has demanded Ankara guarantee the safety of Iranian trucks, but to no avail. This has led to the lack of confidence in Turkey’s ability to stem the unprovoked violence. Consequently, Iran’s Ministry of Roads and Urban Development advised exporters and shipping companies dealing with Europe to avoid routes passing through Turkey.

The ministry advised truckers to take two alternative routes: one through Azerbaijan, Russia and Belarus; and another through Armenia, Georgia, the Black Sea and then to Romania or Bulgaria.

“The cost of cargo transportation via the [new] route was 1-2% lower [compared to the Turkish route],” Amiri said.

Recent negotiations with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Italy and Greece have centered around a transit corridor involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy. According to Amiri, an agreement has been signed by Iran, Armenia and Georgia regarding the use of the corridor. Trucks are put on roll-on/roll-off ships from Georgia to Bulgaria across the Black Sea. The same method can also be used for trucks carrying goods from Greece’s southern ports to Italy using the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran Railway Iran-Azeri-Georgia Railroad