Domestic Economy

China Proposes High-Speed Railroad to Iran

China Proposes High-Speed Railroad to IranChina Proposes High-Speed Railroad to Iran

China has proposed a Silk Road high-speed railroad connecting the country’s northwest region to West Asia via Central Asia, a plan it said would overcome the cross-border connectivity problem of different rail standards.

He Huawu, chief engineer of China Railroad Corp., put forward the proposal at a forum on Thursday based on the “One Belt, One Road” initiative hosted by China Civil Engineering Society, Beijing-based English-language China Daily reported.

His proposed route was from China’s Urumqi and Yining to Almaty in Kazakhstan, then to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and finally joining West Asia’s network through Tehran.

“The northeast-southwest line would be complementary to the railroad network of Central Asian nations, which mostly run southeast to northwest toward Moscow,” he said.

What’s more important, it could get rid of the incompatibility between this region’s wide-gauge track systems and China’s standard-gauge system.

For years, the 1.52-meter track standard adopted in Central Asia has been a headache for logistics managers because it is not based on the 1.43-meter standard track adopted in China and most other parts of the world. Changing gauges at the border takes days for cargo and significantly reduces railroad transport’s competitiveness against shipping by sea.

The Chinese engineer said it is unlikely now to persuade those countries to change their railroads, but the high-speed rail along the new route would connect seamlessly to China’s network and other regions.

That’s because the worldwide standard for fast rail is the 1.43-meter variety, so a new line could be built based on it.

“The Khorgos station bordering Kazakhstan last year handled less than 17 million tons of cargo running at full capacity, but beyond the station, the east-west annual cargo transportation capacity is 100 million tons,” he said.

The bottleneck undermined the idea of a large-capacity corridor.

“Increased container traffic and sea container traffic moved by land instead could justify the cost of building the line,” he said.

According to He, container trains and passenger trains could run on the same route, with the only difference being speed.

“A passenger train could run at 250 to 300 kilometers per hour, while a container train could run at 120 km/h,” he said.

Other experts cautioned that an Asian railroad link has been under discussion for a long time and did not materialize mainly because of various geopolitical concerns of the countries along the route.

  China to Invest in Chabahar

Meanwhile, China and Iran have agreed on investment projects in Chabahar Free Economic Zone, according to the head of FTZ, Hamed Ali Mobaraki.

“Construction of a logistic park and a transit hub, building an industrial park for auto assembly, mineral processing, manufacturing of pipes, pressure vessels, petrochemical towers and joint ship production with Chinese private companies are among the agreed upon projects and plans,” IRNA quoted the official as saying on Friday.

The projects were negotiated during a visit of a Chinese trade delegation headed by China’s Ambassador to Iran Pang Sen to the strategic port of Chabahar in Sistan-Baluchestan Province on November 18-19.

“Development of Chabahar could play a crucial role in the economy of the whole region,” said Pang.

Chabahar Port’s development project is ambitious in attracting many foreign investors due to its favorable location in southeastern Iran and the prospects of New Silk Road, a transit pathway planned by China for transfer of goods from the country to the west passing through many countries, including Iran.

China’s foreign trade is threatened by pirates in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Creating the New Silk Road’s marine route through Chabahar Port would not only ensure access to Central Asia and Afghanistan, but it will also be a pathway to CIS countries and Europe.

Iran’s participation in the New Silk Road project, according to Pang, is a symbol of developing relations between the two countries.

Iran has invited Chinese enterprises to participate in a series of projects in Chabahar, including the development of a rail network and key petrochemical and steel projects.

China has lately been Iran’s main trade partner. Bilateral trade stood at $24 billion from January to August.

India, too, has been vying to participate in the development of Chabahar Port. New Delhi has expressed readiness to invest $30 billion in Chabahar, though it says the investment will depend on the price of natural gas India imports from Iran.

Chabahar would provide India a marine-land access route to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.