Iran, Turkey sign accords for Pakistan, China railway link

Iran and Turkey have signed three documents to expand transnational rail services linking them to Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, an official says.

20 January 2021
ID : 22726
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Iran and Turkey have signed three documents to expand transnational rail services linking them to Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, an official says.

Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran (RAI) Managing Director Saeed Rasouli and his Turkish counterpart Ali Ihsan Uygun signed the documents in Ankara Monday to maximize freight and passenger transport.

“Both the rail route connecting China to southern Europe and Turkey-Afghanistan and Turkey-Pakistan rail links as well as the connection of Iran's southern ports to Turkey will be accelerated and operationalized by the signing of these documents,” Rasouli said.

He said the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) transnational railroad is expected to enhance connectivity with China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by providing a rail connection between China and Turkey.

Iran, Turkey and Pakistan are the founders of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), currently a 10-member political and economic intergovernmental organization established in 1985.  

The ITI railroad service, stretching for 6,540 km, will cut the 21-day journey between Pakistan and Turkey by sea to 10 days. And by extension, it will connect to China's Xinjiang autonomous region which is populated by ethnically Turkic Uighur Muslims.

The map shows the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) railroad route

The railroad would further boost BRI, a trillion-dollar plan to connect the infrastructure and economies of countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.

For Iran, the ITI railroad is an attractive alternative trade route because it can help move around US sanctions given that the ECO countries trade in local currencies.

The new railway connections will also offer greater flexibility going forward and stimulate the economies of the participating countries by streamlining their trade.

Observers see the ITI railroad as a BRI extension, while China regards Iranian transport infrastructure in particular and ECO's more generally as parts of the new Silk Road.

The 2,300-kilometer BRI is to link Urumqi in China’s resource-rich Xinjiang province to Tehran, connecting Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan along the way and extending to Europe via Turkey.

The ITI railroad is about to be the first regular rail service between China and Turkey, and an alternative to a more circuitous route via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.

Last month, a train reached Xi'an in China’s Shaanxi province northeast of Xinjiang after traveling from Turkey through Georgia, Azerbaijan, crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry, and Kazakhstan.  

Several days later, reports said Iran, Turkey and Pakistan planned to revive the railway line connecting Istanbul to Tehran and Islamabad and ultimately extend it to China.

The three countries launched a container train service in 2009, but it only got as far as test runs and was never fully operational.

Even so, they always planned to follow up the initial freight trains with passenger services and are now willing to launch the ITI transnational line with the aim of enhancing connectivity with the new Silk Road, Tokyo-based Nikkei Asia reported.

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