Astara terminal stimulates rail freight traffic to Iran

The rail freight terminal in the Iranian town of Astara is continuing to strengthen its significance on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). In 2019 it handled freight volumes by around 38 per cent more compared to the previous year. With the completion of the Astara-Rasht-Qazvin railway, rail freight traffic on the mentioned corridor will increase significantly.

The Astara rail freight terminal is located 1.4 kilometres from the border with Azerbaijan. It started transhipment operations in February 2018 when the first freight train crossed the border on the Astara (Azerbaijan) – Astara (Iran) railway section. During two years of stable activities, the facility handled approximately 630,000 tonnes of freight: around 264,000 tonnes in 2018 and around 364,000 tonnes in 2019. In terms of growth, rail freight traffic has increased by almost 38 per cent. Moreover, there has been set another milestone last year. In November 2019, the Astara terminal handled a record monthly volume of around 40,500 tonnes.

Wood first

The main freight traffic (over 80 per cent) at the Astara terminal runs from Russia to Iran and backwards. In terms of cargo types, a key role plays wood and wood products with a share of 48 per cent. Other types have the following shares: building materials – 18 per cent, grain – 17 per cent, others including fruits, vegetables, containers – 17 per cent. As for the daily transhipment, this volume was 23 wagons or 1,337 tonnes in 2019 (a year before, it was 16 wagons or 1,056 tonnes).

Transhipment at Astara rail freight terminal in Iran, source: Azerbaijan Railways (ADY)

Future plans

The construction of the rail freight terminal in Astara started in 2016 by ADY Express, the freight forwarding subsidiary of Azerbaijan Railways. Currently, the facility has three spur tracks and a storage area of 1,440 square metres for transhipment of goods. ADY Express plans to construct four additional spur tracks and four dedicated terminals in Astara (Iran): for general freight, container, oil and grain. As a result, the overall annual capacity of the facility will be 3.5 million tonnes.

However, these plans depend on the date when Iran will complete the construction of the Astara–Rasht–Qazvin railway. This line will provide a faster and more reliable connection from Russia and Azerbaijan to Iran. At the moment, all freight is transhipped at the Astara terminal from wagons to lorries for further transportation across Iran. The Rasht-Qazvin section was launched in March 2019. Meanwhile, the Astara-Rasht stretch will be available for freight trains in 2021 if the coronavirus pandemic does not disrupt the ongoing works.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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