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Afghanistan's First Transit Rail Cargo Leaves for Iran-Türkiye Border

By Nigar Bayramli May 7, 2024

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The Khaf-Herat railway project is a 225km-long cross-border railway linking eastern Iran to western Afghanistan. / Tehran Times

Iran confirmed that Afghanistan's first transit rail cargo has left for the Razi border crossing, in the country’s northwest region, following a halt in the Islamic Republic.

The train, with 10 freight wagons, was the first trial transit cargo carrying shipments from Afghanistan to Türkiye via Iran.

On May 6, state-run IRNA reported that Iran's railway authority had stopped a train from Afghanistan over the “failure to meet technical standards and administrative processes.”

Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) criticized the Afghanistan Rail Development Consortium for failing to observe legal procedures before sending the train to Iran, saying that the consortium had used "media pressure and false claims" in a bid to force Tehran to allow the cargo to transit the Iranian railway network.

RAI expressed its readiness to facilitate the transport of additional Afghan cargo after securing the necessary permits from relevant authorities, including border and customs agencies.

However, Deputy Head of Iran-Afghanistan Rail Development Consortium, Javad Taher Afshar, accused the RAI of stopping the train "without any debts or defects".

The consortium said on April 27 that while Iran allows trains from neighboring countries to arrive on its territory, RAI was not in any position to decide whether these trains met technical standards or not.

Later, the head of the Iranian Customs Organisation's Public Relations Office, Farhad Vali, said that the consortium has initiated the legal process and the Customs Organisation would try to issue a permit as soon as possible.

The Iranian railways started transporting the first part of the commercial cargo on May 2, and it passed through Tehran on May 4, en route to the Razi border. On April 20, Iranian media reported that the first transit rail cargo, destined for Europe through Iran and Türkiye, had left Afghanistan carrying 1,100 tons of coal.

According to the cooperation agreement between Iran's railway authority and the Iran-Afghanistan Rail Development Consortium, both sides agree on the importance of building the China-Afghanistan-Iran railway corridor, and the necessary follow-ups are carried out to attract Chinese investment and participation.

Referring to the departure of the first cargo train on the Khaf-Herat rail route through the railways of Iran, a representative of Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development in infrastructure affairs, Hoseyn Mirshafi, said that this railway line completes a 2,000 km route in the east-west rail corridor of the world from China, Afghanistan and Iran to Europe.

“This railroad connects Afghanistan, which is a landlocked country without access to the world's open waters, to the railway network of Iran and the southern ports of our country and provides a safe route for communication with Europe,” he added.

According to Mirshafi, this railway line is strategic for the trade of Iran and Afghanistan and creates the annual capacity of moving 5 million tons of goods, and 1 million passengers between the two countries.

In May 2023, the first trial run of cargo from Iran to Afghanistan via the Khaf-Herat railway was completed. This shipment included 17 wagons that transferred 655 tons of railway equipment, which will be used in the construction of the rail line. The Khaf-Herat railway is 225 kilometers long, with 140 km of the railway track traversing Afghanistan and the remaining 85 km running through Iran.

The construction of the Khaf-Herat railway line, which links Khaf in eastern Iran with Herat in western Afghanistan, began in 2007. The project has a reported value of $75 million and is funded by Iran. According to Iranian government officials, this rail line would link with the rail networks of China and India.

The Khaf-Herat railway project has been part of a proposed $2 billion Five Nations Railway Corridor (FNRC), which would run through Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. The total length is 2,000 km and the railway route runs from Herat to the Afghan-Tajik border and, after crossing Tajikistan, passes through Kyrgyzstan, where it will reach China’s Xinjiang region via the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway.