Afghan Express: Huge Transport Project Poised to Boost Trade Across Central Asia

Iran and Afghanistan are poised to launch one of the most ambitious railway projects in Central Asia; it will effectively create a new transport corridor across the region.

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CC BY 2.0 / Asian Development Bank / Railway terminal in Mazar-e-Sharif

This new project will allow Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan to gain direct access to Central Asian, European and Russian markets, effectively bypassing sea shipping lanes and the overcrowded Suez Channel.

Furthermore, this project will help neighboring countries boost trade and may afford them new options for moving goods to distant markets.

Abbas Nazari, Director General for International Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, told Sputnik Persian that the company intends to construct a total of 64 kilometers of railway in the direction of Herat and that after the first 34 kilometers are completed, the railway may become open for traffic.

“In ten days we’re going to launch a 30-kilometer segment. The first cargo will be 400,000 tons of Iranian cement exports. Then it will be followed by other freight shipments: gas from Arak, petroleum products from the Iraqi Kurdistan, etc. Initially, it will be just a freight railway, with a traffic volume of about 5 million [metric] tons a year. But later we also intend to launch passenger trains,” he said.

Nazari also pointed out that this railway is a project of great strategic importance that will allow India to ship goods to Afghanistan, and which may also become a new transport corridor between Europe and China.

“Our railway is a part of a large corridor from China to Europe. We’re also considering a project [to construct] a new railroad from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif with Chinese financial assistance. If we connect this railway to Mazar-i-Sharif, we’ll get another access route to China – it will become the shortest way to Europe. These are the prospects of this new railroad,” Nazari surmised.

He also pointed out that safety concerns may be overblown as during the construction of this railway they never encountered any security problems.