EghtesadOnline: The Ministry of Roads and Urban Development plans to lay 1,660 kilometers of new railroads across the country by the end of the current fiscal year (March 20, 2021).
The new projects would increase the length of Iran’s railroad network to over 16,000 kilometers, on par with Kazakhstan and Spain and high on the list of 20 countries in terms of the length of railroads, ILNA reported.
The rapid expansion of railroads over the past years has enabled the government to connect key provincial capitals, especially those in the mountainous western regions, to the national rail network.
Officials have said the average track-laying work across the country had increased from 120 kilometers a year in 2013 to more than 180 kilometers in 2017.
President Hassan Rouhani says rail construction so far into his two-term tenure (since 2013) accounts for 45% of all railroads built in Iran.
"The total length of Iran's rail network in over 90 years up until the beginning of my presidential term stood at 9,600 kilometers. Today the figure stands at over 14,000 kilometers," he said.
Rouhani noted that by the end of his government (August 2021), 50% of all railroads in Iran will have been constructed within the eight years of his presidential term.
Chabahar-Zahedan: First Priority
Deputy Roads Minister Kheirollah Khademi said the top priority is to complete Chabahar-Zahedan railroad that is being funded through the National Development Fund and its construction is underway at full throttle.
Two out of three sections of the railroad project connecting the southeastern port city of Chabahar to the eastern city of Zahedan near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan—both in Sistan-Baluchestan Province—will be inaugurated by March 20, 2021.
The announcement was made by the head of Plan and Budget Organization, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, during a recent visit to Sistan-Baluchestan Province.
“This railroad project consists of three sections: Chabahar-Iranshahr, Iranshahr-Khash and Khash-Zahedan. Khash-Zahedan Section will be completed by Feb. 10, 2021, during the 10-Day Dawn [Fajr] Festivities that mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and by March 20, 2021, Chabahar-Iranshahr will be inaugurated and hopefully the remaining section will be launched by June 21, 2021. A total of €300 million have been allocated to this project from the resources of the National Development Fund of Iran,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
The withdrawal from NDFI came after Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei authorized the government to spend funds needed to complete the rail project from the sovereign wealth fund.
The 610-kilometer railroad project from Chabahar to Zahedan (730 kilometers, including the sidings) got off the ground in the fiscal 2010-11, only to come to a halt for three years due to a lack of resources. The execution of the project resumed in the year ending March 2015, after a change of contractor.
The railroad to Zahedan is crucial, as it is vital for connectivity to landlocked Afghanistan via Chabahar. The port in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan Province is strategically important for India too, allowing it access to Afghanistan while bypassing Pakistan.
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.
Khademi, who doubles as the head of the Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company of Iran, added that the ministry’s second priority is the 280-kilometer-long Yazd-Eqlid railroad through which Fars Province will be connected to Yazd Province and then to the city of Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi Province.
The ministry’s third priority, according to the official, is the completion of Bostanabad-Tabriz railroad connecting East Azarbaijan Province to the national rail network.
According to Khademi, the project is a crucial link along Iran’s East-West Transit Corridor—part of the famed Silk Road.
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.
“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 transit though the 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.
The rail route’s Mianeh-Bostanabad section was inaugurated last November by President Hassan Rouhani.
Next is the 136-kilometer Khwaf-Herat rail project through which Iran will be connected, for the first time, to the neighboring Afghanistan via rail.
The 137-kilometer railroad project, the construction of which started in the fiscal 2007-08, has four sections, two of which (76 kilometers long) have already been completed on the Iranian territory, the news portal of the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development reported.
When completed, the rail route will be connected to the Central Asian and Chinese rail networks. This is estimated to considerably increase the volume of transit as well as passenger transportation in the region.
The corridor in its entirety, from Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, to Khwaf, in Iran’s northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province, will connect Iranian mines to those of Afghanistan, while also connecting Afghan reserves to the international waters in southern Iran.
This will be Afghanistan’s first railroad link to Iran and the country’s only link to the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman.
“Upon completion, the railroad will be used for transportation of both passengers and cargo. However, exploiting its cargo capabilities is a priority for both governments,” Reza Ahmadi, an official with the ministry, said.
Ahmadi noted that the railroad will have the capacity of transporting 27 million tons of cargo annually.
Khademi said that by the end of the current fiscal year (2021-22), the provinces of Kurdestan, Ardebil and Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari will also be connected to the national railroad network.