First Kazakhstan-Turkey train via Iran, how can it help Eurasian rail?
The first train service transiting from Kazakhstan to Turkey via Iran is already transiting. The train departed from Pavlodar in Kazakhstan a week ago and reached Tehran in Iran on 19 June, after passing through Turkmenistan. This could be a historic service since the pilot train could be the first of many using this alternative route to the Middle Corridor.
The service is organised by KTZ Express JSC and will need 12 days to complete its journey. The train consists of 48 20-foot containers and will travel a total of 6,336 kilometres until reaching its final destination.
Diversification but with limits
“Today, we welcomed the container train, which left Kazakhstan a week ago. Then it will go to Turkey. This is a significant event, given the difficult geopolitical conditions,” commented Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s President, during the train’s welcoming ceremony in Tehran.
What is more, Kazakh media praised the development of the Iranian route, marking it as the starting point of Kazakhstan’s diversification process when it comes to transit routes and their alternatives.
Norlan Bagibayev, a former EU representative for KTZ Express JSC, mentioned in a LinkedIn post that the Kazakh government is taking the right steps for further logistical development. Specifically, he underlined that the Kazakhstan-Iran-Turkey route could contribute to decongesting the Middle Corridor, which according to him, faces significant problems currently after absorbing a substantial percentage of the traffic once transiting through Russia.
Yet, could Iran play such a role? Regarding transport in Central Asia, Iran could help Kazakhstan decongest its network and terminals. Middle Corridor traffic relies a lot on Kazakhstan, so the whole corridor could face issues if congestion occurs. That being said, if Kazakhstan diversified its regional transport flows via different routes like Iran, the international Asia-Europe routes like the Middle Corridor could experience some indirect relief.
However, counting on transit via Iran for Asia-Europe rail transport is not a realistic option. One should not forget that Iran is still subject to US sanctions, making its market and transit through the country unattractive for international companies and insurance brokers who do not cover transport via Iranian territory.
One relevant example is the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad train service. Among the many issues, it faced during the last two years is the reluctance of insurance companies to insure cargo. As a result, the new Kazakhstan-Iran-Turkey service could indeed play a role in alleviating congestion in parts of the Middle Corridor. Still, it could not function as a solid alternative, at least for the time being.
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