Freight train in Iran. Photo: Flickr

New Asian intermodal train indicates Iran’s shifting transport role

Freight train in Iran. Photo: Flickr

A new China-Iran intermodal rail service also crossing the Caspian Sea is here to change the dynamics of Silk Road and Central Asian transport. It is the first service of its kind, linking the Chinese Ningxia region with the Azali port in Iran. Could the increased preference for transport links to and through Iran mean something for the country’s position on international routes, especially after the war in Ukraine?

Regarding the Ningxia-Azali intermodal service, the train must be currently approaching its final destination. It departed from the Ningxia Hui autonomous region in China on 21 June. It travelled through Kazakhstan after it passed through the Khorgos border crossing and reached the Caspian Sea. From Kazakhstan, cargo transited through the Caspian Sea to the Iranian port of Azali, which is close to Tehran.

“The launch of the train has opened up a new international logistics channel for Ningxia to cross the Caspian Sea into West Asian countries for the first time, which is of great significance to promoting economic and trade exchanges between Ningxia and Iran,” official Chinese media reported.

Iran growing

As the Chinese media indicated, the new service is vital in embracing trade and economic cooperation with Iran and putting the Asian country on the transport maps. Iran has been stranded for years due to sanctions imposed on it by the US and other countries. However, rare but logistically interesting services launched from time to time show how important it can become.

The Ningxia-Azali intermodal service is one such proof. However, we have seen more. A year ago, Nurminen logistics launched the first block train between Finland and India, transiting via Iran. This year, Russia sent the first train from St. Petersburg to Mumbai, India, also via Iran. Iranian ports are very significant when it comes to sea services going to South-East Asia. Moreover, the country’s position under different conditions would function as a crossroads.

When Russia got sanctioned and the Silk Road route passing through the country left the forefront, analysts claimed that Iran could acquire a new role and companies could feel more comfortable doing business with or via it. Others said it would ‘side’ with Russia, China and India and develop transport and trade ties with them. Whatever the case, Iran has a chance to benefit from all situations and finally find the needed investments to develop its infrastructure.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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