First Iran-Afghanistan railway operation completed

Image: Visitouriran Pouria Karimi

Iran and Afghanistan jointly completed the first rail operation on the Khaf-Herat railway line. The journey included 17 wagons and 655 tonnes of railway equipment for future rail construction. The route is 225 kilometres long, with 140 kilometres crossing through Afghanistan and the remaining 85 kilometres through Iran.

This Khaf-Herat line has been under construction for years, and this is not the first time a train has run on this railway. In 2020, the two countries inaugurated the first cross-border rail operation from Iran to Afghanistan. However, at that time, the Khaf-Herat railway only covered a distance between Khaf and the town of Rozanak in Afghanistan, while the link with Herat was missing, accounting for 85 kilometres.

The construction started back in 2007, with a reported value of 75 million US dollars and was funded by Iran. With both states under heavy sanctions imposed by Western countries, the operation of this new link poses a possibility for them to connect with the rest of the logistic world, such as the Five Nations Railway Corridor.

Five Nations Railway Corridor

The Khaf-Herat railway project has been part of a proposed 2 billion US dollars Five Nations Railway Corridor (FNRC), which would run through Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. The total length is around 2,000 km, and the railway route runs from Herat to the Afghan-Tajik border and, after crossing Tajikistan, passes through Kyrgyzstan, where it will reach China’s Xinjiang region via the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway. The CKU is still far from reality, but the CKU corridor has already taken shape.

The first trial on this corridor was carried out in September last year, although it was not a complete train journey. From Kashgar in China, containers are trucked across the border to the Kyrgyz city of Osh. It is here that they are loaded onto a train, which continues its journey across the Central Asian countries to reach its final destination, Hairatan in Afghanistan.

Specifically, the CKU railway signifies China’s expansion of its BRI into the market of Iran and Afghanistan, as well as other adjacent Central Asian countries. The construction still needs a lot of attention; however, the past China-Central Asia meeting has addressed the execution of CKU railway construction, and the respective governments have placed this project high on the agenda. While no concrete steps have been taken, one can still sense some optimism along with this completed trial run of the Khaf-Herat railway.

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Author: Chengfan Zhao

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