Funded by Iran as part of its development assistance to Afghanistan, the new railway track connects Iran’s Khaf with Afghanistan’s Ghorian. The railroad can transport one million passengers and six million tons of goods a year.

A train prepares to leave during the inauguration of a 140-kilometre line running from eastern Iran into western Afghanistan, at a railroad station in Khaf, Iran, on December 10, 2020.
A train prepares to leave during the inauguration of a 140-kilometre line running from eastern Iran into western Afghanistan, at a railroad station in Khaf, Iran, on December 10, 2020. (AP)

The leaders of Iran and Afghanistan have inaugurated the first railway link between the two countries, expressing hope it would enhance trade links across the region.

The 140-kilometre line running from eastern Iran into western Afghanistan will eventually be expanded by 85 kilometres to reach the Afghan city of Herat, providing a crucial transport link for the landlocked country, where decades of war have hindered infrastructure development.

The $75 million project began in 2007, with Iran funding construction on both sides of the border as part of its development assistance to Afghanistan.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, speaking in a video conference, called it “one of the historic days” in relations between the two countries. He said Iran had succeeded in building the line despite sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after the US withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

Rouhani said the rail route, which is Iran’s sixth border railroad with neighbouring countries, will “strengthen the bond” between Iran and Afghanistan.

Ahead of the ceremony, a trial freight train delivered 400 tons of cement from Iran to Afghanistan last week. The inauguration saw cargo trains depart from opposite ends of the line.

According to Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, the railroad can transport one million passengers and six million tons of goods a year.

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Regional transport hub

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the railroad a “precious gift from Iran" that would help restore the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that spread prosperity across Asia. 

Iran hopes to transform itself into a regional transport hub, allowing Afghanistan and other landlocked Asian countries to transport goods to its ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran already has rail links with Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Turkey.

The project, which came to fruition under a tripartite agreement between Iran, Afghanistan, and India is expected to play a significant role in linking landlocked Afghanistan with Russia, Europe, and Turkey.

Tehran and Kabul have been involved in talks with three countries (China, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan) in the east-west corridor to develop a long railroad from China to Europe, that passes through Iran and Afghanistan.

Taking to Twitter, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, highlighted the importance of this railroad, calling it a “gateway that will boost trade and people-to-people exchanges and also contribute to regional stability and development.”

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies