THROUGH freight and passenger trains between Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are due to start next year, with the backing of the Economic Co-operation Organisation which groups 10 Central Asian countries. Meeting in Lahore, six of the transport ministers agreed to launch an Almaty - Toshkent - Mashhad - Tehran - Tabriz - Ankara - Haydarpasa passenger service on January 5 2001. Freight trains will be targeted at intermodal traffic. A meeting in Almaty was scheduled for December to discuss the setting up of information systems for ticketing and data exchange.

In Lahore, Iranian and Pakistani railway representatives discussed development of a transhipment complex at Mirjawa on the Pakistan border. RAI confirmed that work was under way on six out of 24 sections of the standard-gauge link from Kerman to Mirjawa, which would replace the existing broad gauge line from Zahedan. PR is keen to see completion of the route, to connect it into the emerging ECO rail network.

PR General Manager Mohammad Aslam has suggested that the Pakistan Inter-Regional Railway Training College in Lahore should be developed to create a common ECO facility.