Project: Tehran-Khosravi Rail Link
Cost: $2 billion
Construction period: Unknown
China, which wants to create more robust rail corridors across Asia, is offering to build a $2-billion freight rail line in Iran. If continuous railway corridors were in place and, standard-gauge track installed from end to end, containerized freight could travel from China to Europe much more rapidly by rail than it does by ship, the Chinese claim.
In September 2010, Liu Zhijun, China's railway minister, and Hamid Behbahani, Iran’s minister of roads and transportation, signed an agreement that calls for building a 569-kilometer rail line from Tehran west to Khosravi on the Iraqi border.
Starting in Iran's capital city at an elevation of 1,200 meters, the line will ascend through the Zagros Mountains, with stops at Arak (1,718 m) and Hamedan (1,759 m) before descending to Kermanshah (1,350 m) and the border town of Khosravi (390 m). This route will offer a more efficient option than trucking for products being exported to Iraq, such as agricultural products, cement, steel and batteries.
The line also will offer passenger service to many of the 5,000 Shi'ite Iranians who make pilgrimages daily to the Iraq holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
According to a May article in the Middle East Economic Digest, Iran's Roads and Transportation Ministry has invited contractors to submit bids for the new line.
In the long term, the route holds the promise of connecting with Baghdad and even Syria as part of a Middle Eastern corridor.
Iran and Iraq have never had a rail link. However, Iraq and Syria revived their freight rail link in 2009, and Jordan is currently soliciting bids to build a rail line that will connect the port of Aqaba to Baghdad.
"China is committed to building a railway network in western Iran and Turkey and Central Asia," says Niklas Swanstrom, executive director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. "For China, this is a long term project to link the Middle East to China in a financially constructive way."