Iran and Afghanistan want to extend shared rail connection to China
The Khaf-Herat railway line between Iran and Afghanistan could possibly extend towards China as part of the East-West railway corridor. Abbas Khatibi, the Deputy Transport and Urban Development Minister, stated that such a development could take place soon. However, the technical difficulties of this project might outrun its potential.
Iran and Afghanistan inaugurated the Khaf-Herat line in December 2020. The launching of the railway line was accompanied by the first freight train carrying agricultural goods. A few days before, a test train transported 500 tonnes of cement between the two countries.
The shared railway network of the countries has been under construction since 2007. The overall costs for its completion reached 75 million US dollars, with its length being around 220 kilometres. Seventy-six of these kilometres are located in Iran, and the rest in Afghanistan. Currently, the line is not fully operational as the train covers a distance of 138 kilometres between Khaf and the town of Rozanak in Afghanistan. Subsequently, the line still needs to be completed with an additional 85 kilometres to reach Herat ultimately.
How could it reach China?
The idea behind extending the Khaf-Herat line to China involves the development of the East-West railway corridor, which theoretically connects China and Europe through Iran and Afghanistan. The plan is to extend the connection from Herat to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border and, after crossing Tajikistan, proceed through Kyrgystan from where it will enter China through the Xinjiang province.
But how realistic is such a plan? Tajikistan is not famous for its rail connectivity. Kyrgyzstan could provide some opportunities since it already connects with China and is part of the Asia-Pacific-China-Kyrgystan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey-Europe transport route, which is some kind of alternative to the Middle Corridor.
Even if connectivity between these two countries worked out, Iran and Afghanistan would not contribute to the project’s development. Given that Iran struggles to position itself in international transport corridors and global supply chains due to the US sanctions and insufficient infrastructure and that the Taliban regime does not allow for many business developments in Afghanistan, the future of such a project is in the air.
Investments in the railway networks of all countries involved are the first prerequisite that the East-West transport corridor and the extended Khaf-Herat line should meet to become viable. But who will be responsible for them? It is a matter of China and whether it will choose to develop this corridor which, in any case, provides many more connectivity options, for instance, with the International North-South Transport Corridor.