What happened to the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad train?

The revival of the ITI corridor between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan has been long-awaited. Operations were about to begin a couple of weeks ago, with the train departing from Istanbul on 4 March and arriving at Islamabad on 16 March. However, to everyone’s disappointment, this departure never took place. The service got postponed one more time, literally at the last minute, and many questions arise around its actual feasibility.

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Even the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reassured the media at the beginning of March that the train would run and evolve to a precious link between the West and the East. In fact, everything was ready for the ITI’s train trip, with all the administrative, operational and security arrangements being in place.

However, at a meeting between the three countries’ authorities on 2 March, the Pakistan Rail Freight and Transportation Company cancelled the service, citing safety-related concerns.

Freight weight

It seems that the main reason behind the ITI train’s cancellation is the concern of Pakistan authorities regarding the weight of cargo and the type of wagons used. The Turkish authorities arranged the train to run on eight-wheel wagons that would carry containers weighing forty tonnes each.

Pakistan disagreed with this approach and insisted on using four-wheel wagons and 20-tonnes containers. Pakistani officials seemed to justify this decision based on malfunctioning railway line parts in the Pakistan part of the route. Surprisingly enough, this observation took place two days before the train’s departure, even though rail tracks in Pakistan were considered to be probably the most significant hurdle for ITI’s re-opening.

Turkey and Iran complain

Understandably, Turkey and Iran are the wronged parties, in this case, looking for a rational explanation. The two countries were forced to cancel tons of cargo destined for Pakistan despite the reassurances that everything ran smoothly.

According to sources from the Turkish Railways, the project seems to become unfeasible, mainly due to Pakistan authorities’ attitude and the lack of transparency in the organisational processes. On top of that, Pakistan informed its counterparts of the ongoing problems just two days before the route’s re-launching. This constitutes another reason for great concern over the project’s future.

Misconduct and consequences

On their behalf, Pakistani authorities, in an attempt to release tension and calm things down, decided to assign responsibilities to the fiasco’s perpetrators for inefficiency, misconduct. Consequently, some officials got removed from their positions. Furthermore, Pakistan reassured Turkey and Iran that the train’s departure would soon be rescheduled.

Nevertheless, to everyone’s understanding, the project’s future seems to be on hold once again. Such initiatives need concrete planning instead of vague promises and visions to become a reality. As a result, the trilateral coalition will need to take an in-depth look at the problems its facing and their possible solutions.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

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

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