Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad corridor revives on 4 March

According to Pakistan Railways, the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad corridor will begin its operations tomorrow, on Thursday 4. On this date, the train will leave Istanbul to arrive in Islamabad on 16 March, following a twelve-day trip. The transit time is significantly reduced compared to traditional maritime trips between Europe and Pakistan, taking up to 45 days to complete. Moreover, the train has a capacity of twenty 40-foot containers per trip.

The Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad, or ITI corridor, was launched in 2009 within the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) framework, an Asian political and economic intergovernmental organisation. Various test journeys were carried out, but it has not become a stable regular service since then. A year ago, rumours concerning the service’s re-operation made the news, but they remained a theory.

Earlier this year, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan initiated discussions aiming to start anew and finally launch the long-awaited service. The three countries did not specify the time frame for the outset of operations, and they implied that this would happen at some point during 2021. However, it seems that approximately a month later, the trilateral coalition is ready to realise what it has been visioning for ten years now.

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Map of ITI corridor

Part of the New Silk Road

Pakistan wants to connect the ITI corridor with China’s Belt and Road network through its ML-1 railway line, the largest component of the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC). Despite the potential, the realisation of this project still faces some infrastructural and financial hurdles.

The ML-1 railway project was still unfinished when discussions concerning the route restarted. Without it, running trains through the Balochistan Province in Pakistan is impossible. Infrastructure in this region cannot handle the same trains as in Turkey and Iran. Tracks are over a century old, and natural conditions do not make the situation easier since sand dunes cover them in many parts. The finalisation of the ML-1 project was critical to connect ITI with BRI since it seemed to be the prerequisite for the re-opening of the line.

Quick procedures

Understandably, construction of the ML-1 railway line did not conclude in just one month for the sake of re-opening the ITI corridor. It seems that the three parties concerned and Pakistan primarily somehow decided to skip this step. Does that mean that ITI will not become part of the New Silk Road? There is no clear answer to this question yet.

In this case, the good news concern the final decision to re-operate an almost forgotten line connecting Europe with Pakistan and Central-Eastern Asia generally. The extended connection with China will probably be the follow-up development to help the route reach its full potential. Even without it, for the time being, the emerging possibilities of the connection are numerous since it will provide direct rail for Europe to Central Asia that will test trade possibilities via rail for the two regions.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Editor at RailFreight.com

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