March 29, 2016


Iran's new continent-spanning trains : Some treats ahead for railway enthusiasts (The Economist, Mar 29th 2016)

THE 10,500km (6,500-mile) journey from Yiwu City in eastern China through Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was sluggish; but when the first Chinese train pulled into Tehran station after a 14-day haul, Iranian officials hailed a great leap forward. "We're becoming the global hub between east and west," waxed one minister. By April, when the new trans-Kazakh railroad opens fully, Iranian executives hope to have cut the journey time to China, currently its biggest trade partner, to just eight days--a month less than the sea route takes. Should Turkey get on board, the route might even replace the Suez Canal as a primary Chinese and Iranian route to Europe. Iranian companies will no longer be limited to an 80m-strong local market, President Hassan Rohani's advisers anticipate, but will be connected to the EU's 500m.

Other rail links are coming down the line, too. Within six months, Abbas Akhoundi, Iran's British-trained transport minister, will open a track to Afghanistan's mines, and ship minerals to India via a revamped south-eastern port, Chabahar, bypassing Pakistan. Within two years, Iran will have built a bridge over the Shatt-al-Arab river into Iraq and into the Fertile Crescent, he says. Fresh track will open the way through Azerbaijan to Russia and the Central Asian republics. "When we were inward we had poor cross-border links," says Mr Akhoundi. "If we want to be outward-looking we need to improve them accordingly." Iran also plans to more than double its internal 10,000km rail network over the next decade and replace the rolling stock that trundles at 90kph with high-speed trains on electrified lines. Once complete, the 420km journey to Isfahan would take 90 minutes, and the 920 km trip to Mashhad less than six hours.

Comfortingly, railways seem to be one sector where reformists and hardliners suspend their infighting.

Posted by at March 29, 2016 7:20 PM