ASIA: The rail link between Astara in Azerbaijan and similarly-named town on the Iranian side of the border was officially opened with a ceremony on March 29. Presidents Hassan Rouhanid of Iran and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan participated via a video link from the Azerbaijan – Iran Business Forum which they were attending in Baku.

Around 7 600 tonnes of freight has already been carried on the route since the operation of the first freight train on February 8.

The 10 km extension of Azerbaijan’s 1 524 mm gauge rail network runs for around 8·5 km in Azerbaijan and 1·5 km in Iran, including a 82·5 m long, 8·0 m high and 11·8 m wide bridge over the River Astarachay which forms the border. It was built at cost of around US$60m, financed by Azerbaijan, including a 35 ha freight transhipment facility which will be operated by Azerbaijan’s national railway ADY under a 25-year BOT agreement with Iran’s national railway RAI.

The new line forms part of the North–South International Transport Corridor which is being developed to link northern Europe with the Indian Ocean. Azerbaijan is investing US$500m in the construction of a 167 km standard gauge line to link the Astara terminal with the Iranian rail network in Rasht.

‘The North-South transit route which the two countries are currently participating in as part of the implementation of the Rasht – Astara Railway project means a more convenient, cheaper and shorter route for the two countries, the countries of the region, and even for Asia, Europe and Africa, indicating that our co-operation is in the interest of the peoples of the region and the world’, said President Rouhani.

President Aliyev said the Astara – Rasht railway would be ‘built in a short span of time, opening new opportunities for the entire Eurasian region.’