EghtesadOnline: The Ministry of Roads and Urban Development plans to inaugurate seven rail projects stretching 1,443 kilometers across the country by the end of next Iranian year (March 2022).
According to Abbas Khatibi, the head of Transportation Infrastructure Company, affiliated with the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, 101.46 trillion rials ($405 million) worth of investment have been made in these seven projects to date.
“The completion of these railroads is estimated to require investments worth 163.3 trillion rials [$653 million]. All these projects are missing links in the country’s transportation and transit corridors,” the official was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
Khaf-Herat railroad connecting Iran and Afghanistan is the first of these projects scheduled to be officially launched within the next few days.
A trial freight train delivered more than 400 tons of cement from Iran to Rosnak in Herat Province of Afghanistan on Dec. 2, ahead of the ceremonial inauguration of the newly-completed railroad scheduled for this month.
A passenger train also carried Iranian railroad officials to and from a meeting with their Afghan counterparts, Railway Gazette reported.
After decades of abortive proposals, the construction of the railroad from Iran toward Herat officially began in July 2006. The route is being built in four stages, starting from the Iranian rail network at Khaf.
Completion has taken significantly longer than had been envisaged, with the latest section to be completed being the 62-km stage 3 that terminates at Rosnak on the road between Herat and the Iranian border.
The fourth stage is to be built in two phases, with the first extending the line to Robat Paryan and the second to Herat airport.
The Afghanistan Railway Authority said the line forms one of its most important regional connectivity projects, as it will provide the landlocked country with a link to Iranian ports and to the rail networks of Iran, Turkey and Europe.
Freight traffic is predicted to be around 2 million tons a year, with imports to include oil, construction materials and food, and exports to include grain, dried fruit, plants and medical items.
AfRA said the operation of a passenger service is also being considered. Studies on the line estimated that passenger traffic could reach 321,000 passengers/year and freight traffic 6.8 million tons/year.
The new line is the first 1,435 mm gauge route in Afghanistan, matching the standard gauge networks in Iran and Turkey. The 75-km Uzbekistan–Mazar-i-Sharif line and the two short cross-border lines from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan have a 1,520-mm gauge.
“The annual transit to Afghanistan from the Commonwealth of Independent States and Turkey, amounting to 1.2 million tons and 500,000 tons, respectively can be redirected to Khaf-Herat railroad,” the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, Saeed Rasouli, was quoted as saying by the news portal of the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development.
The official noted that the Iranian government hopes the railroad will further increase social, economic and cultural ties between the two nations.
“We are counting on Khaf-Herat railroad to play a significant role in boosting interactions between Iran and Afghanistan,” he added.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani are expected to attend the inauguration ceremony.
With the completion of this project, Afghanistan can, for the first time, take advantage of a railroad that provides access to Turkey and Europe through Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf.
The project, started in April 2007 with Iran’s assistance worth $75 million, was due to finish in 2009 but was delayed.
The Khaf-Herat railroad is the largest joint infrastructural project between Iran and Afghanistan.
Referring to the economic significance of the project, officials of Herat Chamber of Commerce and Industries have said that the implementation of the project will help expand exports and imports between Iran and Afghanistan.
“Khaf railroad project will help connect Herat to the entire world and develop our export ability,” said Abdul Latif Qanawizyan, the deputy head of Herat Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Iranian officials have said the project will also help Afghanistan get access to Iranian ports at Chabahar and Bandar Abbas.
The remaining six projects, according to Khademi, have all had more than 50% progress.
“One of the most important projects at hand is the 628-kilometer-long Chabahar-Zahedan railroad. So far, 22.2 trillion rials [$87.75 million] worth of investments have been made in this megaproject, which is expected to be launched by March 2022. In constructing the Chabahar-Zahedan railroad, which, as we speak, has made nearly 50% progress, we have used domestically-manufactured rails,” he said.
A total of €300 million have been allocated to this project from the resources of the National Development Fund of Iran.
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 manager of Chabahar-Zahedan railroad said 92,000 tons of rails are needed to complete the 700-kilometer track.
Mohammad Reza Azarian added that the UIC60 rails manufactured by Esfahan Steel Company will be used in this project.
“As per a contract with ESCO, the Isfahan-based company will supply 5,000 tons of rails in the first stage, of which 1,000 tons have been delivered. Track-laying of one kilometer of railroad is planned to be completed in one day,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
With the new railroad in place, 927,000 passengers and 2.8 million tons of cargo will be handled annually by March 2023.
Average speed of freight trains will be 120 km per hour. Passenger trains will run at 160 km per hour. It will create jobs for 13,000 people and 3,000 will be involved directly in the project.
Work on the project started in the fiscal 2010-11, only to come to a halt for three years due to funding constraints.
The railroad to Zahedan is crucial, as it is vital for connecting landlocked Afghanistan via Chabahar. The port in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan Province is strategically important for India too, allowing it easy access to Afghanistan and bypassing Pakistan.
After connecting Iran’s Chabahar Port to Zahedan, the railroad will be linked to Zaranj in Afghanistan. When an Afghan cargo arrives in Zahedan, it can be transported to Chabahar and then to India.
Chabahar is of strategic importance for Iran, as it is the country’s only oceanic port that bypasses the narrow chokepoint of Strait of Hormuz connected to the Persian Gulf.
It is 70 kilometers west from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The China Overseas Port Holding Company operates Gwadar Port.
The next prioritized rail project is Hamedan-Sanandaj railroad with more than 50% progress.
“Up until now, 5.14 trillion rials [$20 million] of investments have been made in the project, which will need an additional 30 trillion rials [$118 million] to be completed. We expect to be able to inaugurate the railroad by June 2021,” Khademi said.
Mechanized track laying of Hamedan-Sanandaj railroad began during a ceremony attended by Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami on Nov. 9.
Khademi said back then that the 150-kilometer-long railroad is part of the larger Tehran-Hamedan-Sanandaj rail plan (a total of 420 kilometers) and when completed, Sanandaj in Kurdestan Province will be linked to the national railroad.
“Kurdestan will be Iran’s 23rd province to be linked to the country’s national railroad. The 270-kilometer-long section linking Tehran to Hamedan was inaugurated by President Hassan Rouhani in May 2017. The route will continue west passing through Bahar and Lalejin counties in Hamedan [48 kilometers] and Qorveh and Dehgolan counties in Kurdestan Province to reach the provincial capital of Sanandaj [102 kilometers],” Khademi was quoted as saying by IRNA.
When the Hamedan-Sanandaj railroad is completed, it would be possible to expand the project further to East and West Azarbaijan and Kermanshah provinces, he added.
Hamedan-Sanandaj railroad is designed for passenger and cargo trains to be able to speed up to 160 kilometers per hour and 120 km/ph respectively on the route.
“It is estimated that the railroad will transport 500,000 tons of cargo and 300,000 passengers during the first year after its inauguration. These figures will rise to 1 million tons and 600,000 passengers in the projects 20-year vision plan,” said Khademi.
Several domestic companies are engaged in the project. including Esfahan Steel Company that manufactures the rail and Iran Rail Industries Development Co. that provides the needle rail for railroad track switching.
The third project under construction is the 175-km-long Ardabil-Mianeh railroad, which has made 65% progress.
“Construction continues despite the cold weather and heavy snow, and we expect the project to be completed by March 2022. We have spent around 5.85 trillion rials [$23 million] on the project so far. It is estimated that we need a further 16 trillion rials [$63.24] before it comes on stream.
The railroad connecting the northwestern province of Ardabil to the national railroad network has been 14 years in the making.
The project has 12 sections, 35% of which pass through mountainous and difficult to access regions, 45% through hilly land and 20% through plains.
Ardabil-Mianeh railroad has 62 tunnels stretching over 23,810 meters and is designed for trains commuting at 160 kilometers per hour.
Yazd-Eqlid railroad is the fourth project that has made 77% progress.
Some 6.25 trillion rials ($24 million) of investments have so far gone into the project that is 270-km long and an additional 5 trillion rials ($19.76 million) are required for the railroad’s completion.
This project is also estimated to be inaugurated by March 2022.
Yazd-Eqlid railroad connects the central province of Yazd to Fars Province in southwest Iran and is a missing link in the country’s northeast-southwest rail corridor.
Next is the 37-kilometer-long Rasht-Caspian (Anzali) railroad that has, up until now, made 52% progress.
More than 22.91 trillion rials ($90 million) of investments have been made in the project that will need a further 4 trillion rials ($15 million) for completion.
Khatibi says the Roads Ministry hopes to inaugurate the project by May 2021.
Finally, there is the 70-km Bostanabad-Tabriz railroad project, which has had 67% progress so far, and will be part of a corridor that helps connect East Asia to West Asia and Europe.
Khademi says 22.03 trillion rials ($87 million) have been spent on this project, which is part of a longer Mianeh-Bostanabad-Tabriz project connecting East Azarbaijan Province to the national rail network, and will need another 20 trillion rials ($80 million) for completion.
Bostanabad-Tabriz railroad’s inauguration is slated for March 2021.
The 132-km-long Mianeh-Bostanabad railroad was inaugurated by President Rouhani in Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan Province, on Nov. 27, 2019.
Miyaneh-Tabriz rail route is an important link along Iran’s East-West Transit Corridor—part of the famed Silk Road.
The roads minister said at the time that 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 through the international East-West transit corridor that stretches from Iran's northeastern and southeastern borders to Asia in the east and Europe in the west,” Eslami said.
Apart from the aforementioned projects, which Roads Ministry officials have prioritized for completion before the end of President Rouhani’s second term in office, there are a total of 3,353 kilometers of rail projects under construction across the country and a further 6,312 kilometers of rail projects under study. Based on the Roads Ministry’s latest figures, Iran’s operating railroads stretch across 13,954 kilometers.
With the aim of reducing road traffic, combating air pollution and increasing revenues from international transit routes passing through Iran, the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development has placed the development of Iran’s rail sector on top of its agenda.
Iran’s Sixth Five-Year Development Plan (2017-22) has tasked the government with increasing the share of rail in cargo and passenger transportation to 30% and 20% respectively by the end of the plan.
The roads minister said in September that before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the share of rail in cargo transportation stood at 13% and estimated that the figure will rise to 15% by the yearend (March 2021). The share of rail in passenger transportation currently amounts to around 8%.