Iran and Iraq have agreed to connect their railways, opening a new route to link with the much-coveted Silk Road.
Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi traveled to Basra on Thursday to begin the construction of a rail track to connect the Iraqi city with Iran’s Khorramshahr.
Iran has finished the railway line on its territory for a length of 12 kilometers from Khoramshahr to Shalamcheh on the border, with 32 km of the track left to Iraq to complete.
With the completion of the line between Shalamcheh and Basra, Iran will link up with the eastern Mediterranean nations. For Iraq, the route will provide an access to the Central Asia, Russia and China.
Iraqi Transport Minister Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi said the project will play a vital role in promoting Iraq’s trade and facilitating transport via the Silk Road and expanding its reach to China, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
For the project, the Iranian side has undertaken to build a 700-meter movable railway bridge over the Arvand River. It will connect the Iraqi island of Sindbad with Iran’s Arvand Kenar.
Akhoundi said he expected the project to be tendered next week and the integration of the railways to take place in the next 20 months.
Currently, as many as 20,000 Iranians use the Shalamcheh border crossing daily to travel to Iraq. Akhoundi said this number rises to 50,000 during special occasions such as Shia religious anniversaries.
Iranian pilgrims travel to Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad to pay homage to Shia Imams buried in Iraq. Iraqis visit the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Qom for pilgrimage.
“With the operation of this railway line, we hope transportation will improve for the travelers. It will also connect us to the eastern Mediterranean nations and lead to a transformational change in the transit of goods and passengers,” Akhoundi said.
Last week, a delegation of Iranian traders visited Baghdad to discuss investment opportunities in the two neighbors.
According to state figures, annual trade stands at $13 billion.