A 610-kilometer railway connecting Iran’s only ocean port of Chabahar to Zahedan near the eastern border would provide a lifeline to the landlocked Afghanistan, a country where the transport system has been hampered by years of war and a fierce rivalry between two major neighbors of India and Pakistan.
Afghans were offered a fresh glimmer of hope on Wednesday when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that the country was making a major progress in its plans to finish the Chabahar-Zahedan railway.
Rouhani said during a Cabinet session that a major part of the work for laying tracks on the route will finish by the end of current calendar year in March. He expressed hope that the route will be almost ready by the end of his term in August 2021.
The announcement came a day after Iran’s transportation minister Mohammad Eslami travelled to the far south-east to order the beginning of track-laying operation from Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province.
According to the plans, more than 150 kilometers of the length of the railway covering the distance between Zahedan to Khash and from Chabahar to Iranshahr will be laid until March.
Iran has drawn nearly 300 million euros from its sovereign wealth fund to speed up the project as it is a key part in plans to frequent the port of Chabahar on the Sea of Oman.
The railway is expected to carry nearly one million passengers and 800,000 metric tons of freight in its first year of operation in 2022, according to senior transportation authority who was present at the Tuesday ceremony to mark the start of track-laying operation.
Afghanistan and India aim to take the maximum benefit from the railway as it will boost bilateral trade ties that have been hampered because of long rivalries between India and Pakistan.
India, itself a major contributor to development works at Chabahar, seeks to use the transit corridor through Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate its trade access to other landlocked countries in the Central Asia region.