IRAN: President Hassan Rouhani opened the 164 km Qazvin – Rasht railway with a ceremony on March 6. He said Iranian engineers had overcome many complexities since the project was launched in 2002.

A 40 km branch from Rasht to the Caspian Sea port of Anzali is expected to be completed within two years. Work is also underway on the 130 km line from Rasht to Astara on the border with Azerbaijan which is expected to take four years to complete.

The future interchange between Iran’s 1 435 mm gauge network and Azerbaijan’s 1 520 mm gauge network at Astara will complete a north–south rail route from Russia and northern Europe to the Gulf. This would form part of the 7 200 km International North South Transportation Corridor, which Roads & Urban Development Minister Mohammad Eslami said would significantly reduce the cost of freight transport between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

Elsewhere, a feasibility study is to be undertaken for a 200 km rail link from Iran to Turkey via the Maku Free Zone in northwest Iran.

On March 11 Iran and Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a 35 km rail link between of Shalamcheh and Basra. This has been planned for some time, but Iraq has lacked the funding for the 32 km on its side of the border.