EghtesadOnline: The northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province has recorded the highest volume of exports from Iran via railroad since the beginning of the current fiscal year (March 21).
According to a local official, Mostafa Nasisi Avarag, 93% of the provincial rail exports have been through the Sarakhs border with Turkmenistan.
Sarakhs is a border city located 202 kilometers to the northeast of Khorasan Razavi’s capital Mashhad.
A total of 751,000 tons of commodities have been exported from Iran through Sarakhs rail border since March 21, registering a 102% surge compared with the similar period of last year, the official was quoted as saying by IRNA on Saturday.
“Our main export destination over the period under review was Turkmenistan. Exports were also made to other Central Asian countries.”
The rail official noted that the consignments were transported using 11,900 wagons.
“Cement made up the lion’s share of our exports with a 33% share of the overall transport. The product was mainly dispatched to Uzbekistan [43%] and Turkmenistan [38%].”
Although rail cargo transportation never halted during the pandemic, restrictions were placed on truck and passenger transport.
“Restrictions remain on Turkmenistan’s border and passengers still cannot enter or leave the country,” Rouhollah Latifi, the spokesman of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration, was recently quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.
Trade via trucks recently resumed between Iran and Turkmenistan after Commander of the Border Guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran Brigadier General Ahmad Ali Goudarzi announced the reopening of land border and resumption of trade and economic activities between the two neighboring countries.
Speaking on Oct. 21, he reiterated that trade and issuance of business visas are underway at border terminals and border guards are rendering services round-the-clock to facilitate the relevant activities, Fars News Agency reported.
Trilateral MoU on Railroad Cooperation
Deputy minister of roads and urban development and managing director of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways announced the conclusion of a tripartite memorandum of understanding among Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and said the MoU is aimed at increasing rail transport to Turkmenistan and from there to Iran.
Miad Salehi added that in the joint meeting of the representatives of Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, which was held on Friday on the sidelines of the summit of ECO member-states, the rail cooperation document was signed, IRNA reported.
He pointed out that this memorandum was signed following the agreement reached a month ago between Salehi and Azat Muradov, the head of the Turkmen Railways.
Salehi said that according to this memorandum, it is stipulated that a joint working group be formed between the three countries to follow the goals of the memorandum and the growth of cargo passing through this transit route.
The deputy minister of roads and urban development noted that given the geopolitical importance of Iran, the signing of these memorandums in the field of rail transport and transit can increase the activity of the north-south corridor and help utilize the capacity of this corridor to develop economic and political relations.
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail link is part of the International North-South Transit Corridor and is a 677-km-long single-track railroad connecting Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with Iran and the Persian Gulf. It links Uzen in Kazakhstan with Bereket-Etrek in Turkmenistan and ends at Gorgan in Iran's Golestan Province.
In Iran, the railroad is linked to the national network, making its way to the ports of the Persian Gulf as well as to Turkey. The project is estimated to have cost $620 million, which was jointly funded by the governments of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and the Asian Development Bank.
The first rail link was inaugurated in May 2013 and the entire line in Turkmenistan was put into operation on 3 December 2014.
Sarakhs Transit Bridge
Last year, former roads minister, Mohammad Eslami, and his Turkmen counterpart Gandymov Rahim Nurgeldiyevich jointly inaugurated the Sarakhs Transit Bridge.
The construction of this 96-meter-length, 15-meter-width transit bridge, which connects Turkmenistan’s Sarakhs to Iran’s Sarakhs on the Tajan River, started in the year ending March 2016 as per an agreement signed in Tehran in November 2015 in a ceremony attended by former Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
According to Eslami, the new bridge facilitates the movement of 1,000 vehicles per day.
“The two-way bridge would play a key role in improving trade between Tehran and Ashgabat and also help implement the Ashgabat Agreement and help Iran expand its economic ties with Central Asia countries,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
Iran and Turkmenistan are members of Ashgabat Agreement — a multimodal transport agreement signed in 2011 which envisages the facilitation of transit and transportation of goods between Central Asia and Persian Gulf.
Railroad Share in Iran’s Freight Transportation Meager
Despite the benefits of rail freight transportation compared to other means, Iran has been suffering from a low share of railroad in movement of cargo.
Rail freight transport holds a critical significance in boosting the economic performance of a country due to its paramount role in ensuring seamless and efficient flow of goods locally and across borders.
Iran has close to 15,000 kilometers of railroad, yet the share of rail in freight transportation is less than 10%, according to Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Qasemi.
The low speed of cargo trains in Iran (currently an average of 100 kilometers per hour), long distances between rail corridors and freight centers as well as the aging rail fleet are the main reasons behind the lackluster performance of the rail sector.
Rolling stock imports are banned and the market is entirely supplied by domestic producers, mainly Markazi Province’s Wagon Pars Company, Isfahan’s Kowsar Wagon Company, Derakhshan Steel Company, MAPNA Group.
Iran’s rail freight transportation grew by 29% in the last fiscal year (ended March 20, 2021) compared with the year before, despite border closures during the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The statement was made by Saeed Rasouli, former IRIR managing director, in a virtual meeting of the 36th Conference of the Organization for Cooperation of Railroads (April 19-23, 2020).
“Exports by the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways increased by 5% in the last fiscal year, compared with the year before. More than 650,000 tons of cargo were carried across Iran-Turkey rail border [Razi border terminal, Iran’s sole rail connection with the neighboring country], reaching a record high in the past 10 years,” IRNA quoted Rasouli as saying.