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Iran, Russia Inaugurate Rasht-Caspian Railway, Strengthening International Transport Corridor

By Nigar Bayramli June 22, 2024

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The 37-kilometer Rasht-Caspian railway connects the city of Rasht to the Anzali Free Trade and Industry Zone on the Caspian Sea shore, and will allow direct freight transport from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf via the Iranian railway network. / PressTV.ir

Senior officials from Iran and Russia inaugurated the Rasht-Caspian railway in Iran’s northern Gilan province. The project, launched on June 20, saw the participation of Iran’s Acting President, Mohammad Mokhber, Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash, and Russian President’s aide Igor Levitin, as reported by the Mehr news agency.

Stretching 37 kilometers, the Rasht-Caspian railway forms a crucial segment of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via rail. It establishes a connection between Rasht city and the Anzali Free Trade and Industry Zone on the Caspian Sea shore.

Khairullah Khademi, CEO of the company specializing in Iran’s transportation infrastructure, noted that this railway represents the final segment of the North-South Sea Corridor. Its freight capacity reaches a maximum of seven million tons, while it can accommodate up to 600,000 passengers.

The Iranian road minister, Mehrdad Bazrpash, said at the opening ceremony that “the Rasht-Caspian project is an unprecedented event in the history of the country and contributes to the role of Iran in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).”

The INSTC, spanning 7,200 kilometers, integrates various modes of transport – ships, railways, and roads – to facilitate freight movement across India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe. It forms a vital link between the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea, and Baltic Sea.

The project’s value exceeds 60 trillion rials (over $100 million), more than doubling the Iranian government’s initial investment.

Iran has steadily expanded its transport network to boost revenues from regional and international trade corridors. Transit volumes via Iran surged by 78% year-on-year, reaching 2.9 million tons in the two months leading to late May. Total cargo transited via Iran in the previous calendar year amounted to 14.75 million tons, a 58% increase compared to the year before.

Experts anticipate that Iran could generate up to $5 billion annually from the transit of 25 million tons of cargo along its section of the INSTC, contingent upon completing all missing links.

In May 2023, Russia and Iran inked an agreement to construct the Rasht-Astara railroad in Gilan Province. The Russian investment of 1.6 billion euros will fund the 163-kilometer railway, featuring nine stations, set for completion within 48 months.

During a meeting with Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian parliamentary International Affairs Committee, and Russian presidential aide Igor Levitin in Tehran on June 15, Acting President Mohammad Mokhber emphasized the urgency of finalizing a comprehensive deal with Russia.

Mokhber described the development of Tehran-Moscow cooperation in recent years as “the foundation of new equations in the region,” and noted the importance of completing the International North–South Transport Corridor, “as soon as possible.”

In turn, Slutsky backed the comprehensive deal, saying that it was the will of the presidents of Iran and Russia, and therefore had to be completed in the nearest future. 

On 13 June, the Iranian acting president also discussed the process of the cooperation deal with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a phone call, days after Russian officials said the process of working on the deal had been “suspended because of problems with Iranian partners.” 

“The full implementation of all agreements made, including in the trade, transit, and energy sectors, forms the main agenda of bilateral relations, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to implement them,” Mokhber told Putin. 

Mokhber described Iran-Russia relations as strategic and based on unchangeable principles, and emphasized “consolidating the legal foundations” of cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, especially in the North-South Transit Corridor, the BRICS group, and the Eurasian Economic Union. Putin also described the level of cooperation as “very good and satisfactory,” referring to the comprehensive cooperation document as a legal basis for developing relations between the two countries.

The Iran-Russia 20-year treaty expired in 2021, after which the two countries began negotiations to ink a new version.