ASIA: The first test train ran across the recently-completed bridge over the River Astarachay which forms the border between Azerbaijan and Iran at Astara on March 3, hauled by a GE/LKZ TE33A Evolution diesel locomotive.

Construction of the cross-border link was approved by Azerbiajan’s President Ilham Aliyev on December 7 2015, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 20 2016. The project includes the 82·5 m long, 8·0 m high and 11·8 m wide bridge, plus 16 track-km of new 1 520 mm gauge track. The 8·3 km single-track extension of the ADY network to the border has now been completed, while on the Iranian side the first 650 m has been completed of the 1·4 km route to the site of the future ​​35 ha freight transhipment terminal.

The terminal will eventually have gauge-changing facilities to enable through running to the 167 km long 1435 mm gauge line which is being built to connect Astara to the Iranian rail network at Rasht.

This would complete the North–South International Transport Corridor between northern Europe and the Indian Ocean. The first direct freight service from India to Russia along the corridor ran in September and October 2016, with the sea and rail journey between Mumbai and Moscow taking 23 days including road transport from Rasht to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has ‘mobilised significant financial resources for the construction of the Rasht – Astara railway’, President Aliyev said after a meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on March 5. ‘A year ago, I said that Azerbaijan would build a railway to the Azerbaijani-Iranian border in 2016, and we achieved that. This is already a reality.’