EghtesadOnline: Atotal of 41,535 tons of goods were exported through Astara border rail terminal during the first two months of the current Iranian year (March 20-May 20), to register a 178% growth compared with the similar period of last year.
According to local railroad official, Gholamhossein Valadi, cement, clinker, chemicals, tiles, iron products and home appliances were the main commodities exported during the period, IRNA reported.
The official noted that the volume of imports and transit through the rail terminal stood at 32,713 tons and 7,719 tons respectively.
The imported goods mainly included wood, lumber, lentils, wheat and barley.
A total of 81,967 tons of goods were transported through Astara rail terminal during the period, indicating a 38% year-on-year increase.
The rail freight terminal in the Iranian town of Astara is strengthening its significance on the International North-South Transport Corridor. In 2019, it handled 38% more freight compared to the previous year. With the completion of Astara-Rasht-Qazvin railroad, rail freight traffic along the corridor will increase significantly.
The Astara rail freight terminal is located 1.4 kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan. It started transshipment operations in February 2018 when the first freight train crossed the border on the Astara (Azerbaijan)–Astara (Iran) railroad section.
During two years of stable activities, the facility handled 628,000 tons of freight: around 264,000 tons in 2018 and around 364,000 tons in 2019. In terms of growth, rail freight traffic has increased by almost 38%. Another milestone was set last year. In November 2019, the Astara terminal handled a record monthly volume of 40,500 tons, RailFreight reported.
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 an 82.5-meter-long, 8-meter-high and 11.8-meter-wide bridge over Astarachay River that forms the border.
Built at a cost of around $60 million by Azerbaijan, it includes a 35-hectare freight transshipment facility that will be operated by Azerbaijan’s national rail operator ADY under a 25-year BOT (build-operate-transfer) agreement with Iran’s national railroad IRIR.
The new line forms part of the International North-South Transport Corridor that will link northern Europe with the Indian Ocean upon completion.
INSTC will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic ports and give Russia rail connectivity to both the Persian Gulf and 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 to reach Moscow and St. Petersburg, before entering Europe.
The corridor would substantially cut 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 for 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,” said President Hassan Rouhani at the Azerbaijan-Iran Business Forum in March 2019.
His Azerbaijani counterpart, President Ilham Aliyev, said the Rasht-Astara railroad would be "built in a short span of time, opening new opportunities for the entire Eurasian region".
The main freight traffic (over 80%) at the Astara terminal runs from Russia to Iran and backwards. In terms of cargo types, wood and wood products play a key role with a share of 48%.
Other goods have the following shares: building materials: 18%, grains: 17%, others, including fruits, vegetables, containers: 17%. As for the daily transshipment, 23 wagons handled 1,337 tons in 2019 (a year before, 16 wagons handled 1,056 tons).
The construction of the rail freight terminal in Astara started in 2016 by ADY Express, the freight forwarding subsidiary of Azerbaijan Railways. Currently, the facility has three spur tracks and a storage area of 1,440 square meters for transshipment of goods.
ADY Express plans to build four additional spur tracks and four exclusive terminals in Astara (Iran): for general freight, container, oil and grain. As a result, the overall annual capacity of the facility will be 3.5 million tons.
However, these plans depend on the date when Iran will complete the construction of the Astara–Rasht–Qazvin railroad. This line will provide a faster and more reliable connection from Russia and Azerbaijan to Iran. At present, all freight is transshipped at the Astara terminal from wagons to lorries for further transportation across Iran.
The Rasht-Qazvin section was launched in March 2019 and the Astara-Rasht stretch will host freight trains in 2021, if the coronavirus pandemic does not disrupt the ongoing efforts.