Domestic Economy

ECO Members Urged to Develop Railroads, Expand Networks

ECO Members Urged to Develop Railroads, Expand NetworksECO Members Urged to Develop Railroads, Expand Networks

The 12th meeting of the heads of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) railway authorities was held on May 17-18 in Tehran, with focus on reviewing the latest developments in the railway infrastructure projects in the ECO region and promoting regional partnership for implementation of the 'ECO Railway Network Development Plan.'

The meeting brought together the heads of railways from all ECO members states as well as representatives from regional and international organizations such as the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the International Union of Railways (UIC) and the Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF).

The event coincided with the 6th meeting of the railway committee of the Transport Transit Cooperation Council (TTCC).

> Meager Share in Int'l Trade

Addressing the meeting, Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Abbas-Ahmad Akhundi, called on the member states to expand cooperation particularly in the railway sector, noting that the ECO member countries currently hold a meager 3% share in international trade.

"The ECO region covers an area of more than 8 million square kilometers and has a population of about 440 million people, but the share of rail transport in the region is not significant and generally limited to rail transport between ECO member states," Akhundi noted.

He urged the ECO member states to increase cooperation for development of the regional rail systems, adding that strengthening the railway connection between Istanbul and Almaty; Almaty and Bandar Abbas; and Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul as well as accelerating the track-laying for Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran railway would lead to sustainable development in the ECO region.

The minister referred to the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railroad as a "major regional project," aimed at transporting 20 million metric tons of cargo between the three countries every year.

The three-nation railway link, which was inaugurated in December 2014, is expected to facilitate transport of goods in the north-south corridor and help provide a better transit connection between Central Asia and Europe.

> Important Projects

Speaking at the meeting, managing director of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR), Mohsen Pour-Seyyed Aghaei called for expanding regional cooperation for development of important regional and international railway projects.  

"Development of Afghanistan-Iran-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan–China corridor and linking it to the Republic of Azerbaijan railway through Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railroad, completing the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan corridor and developing rail connection to Turkey via Bazargan border," were among the important rail projects mentioned by the official.

According to Aghaei, lack of sufficient investment, ageing and inadequate railway infrastructure, different transport laws and regulations, dissimilar track gauge widths and border-crossing formalities are some of the main challenges in the way of expanding railway cooperation among ECO member countries.  

> 9% Expansion

ECO deputy secretary general, Hayri Maraslioglu, said the length of railway routes in the ECO member countries has increased by about 9% over the past one year, adding that the region's rail network has expanded by 36% since 2002.

The length of railway lines in the ECO region is more than 54,000 kilometers. The rail network has the capacity to carry 460 million metric tons of cargo and 200 million passengers per year.

The Economic Cooperation Organization is a Tehran-based intergovernmental regional organization established in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey for the purpose of promoting economic, technical and cultural cooperation among the member states. In 1992, the ECO expanded to include seven new members, namely Afghanistan,  Azerbaijan,  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,  Tajikistan,  Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The 12th meeting of the heads of ECO railway authorities also coincided with the 3rd International Exhibition of Rail Transportation, Related Industries and Equipments which commenced on May 17 in Tehran. The exhibition will conclude tomorrow.