ECO train update

I’ve recently received some details of the status of the ECO container train plans, from OTIF:

The idea was introduced in 2008 at the summit of ECO heads of state in Iran, and a trial run from Islamabad to Istanbul set off on 14 August 2009. A regular service started from 11 August 2010, and as of March 2013, 8 trains have operated from Pakistan and 6 from Turkey. The trains have a capacity of 26 TEU, and a running time of 14 days to cover 6349 km.

The service was suspended from January 2012. Work is underway to tackle the following issues:

  • The need to improve the track on the 680 km from Quetta to Taftan. A feasibility report has been completed, and financial assistance from prospective financial institutions is awaited.
  • Shortage of locomotives.
  • A need to include participation of private sector; a study of the feasibility of private sector involvement is underway.

Pakistan – Iran – Turkey container train

The demonstration Islamabad – Zahedan – Istanbul train started its journey from Pakistan on 14 August 2009.

ECO train

There are more details of the service (in Turkish) on the TCDD website. The photo is of a Pakistan Railways broad-gauge train. The containers are transhipped between gauges at Zahedan in Iran.

TCDD says the journey is 6566 km – other sources say about 6500 km with 1 900 km in Pakistan, 2 570 km in Iran and 2 036 km in Turkey – and the plan is to carry textile products, cotton, medical hand tools(?), toys, games and sporting goods westbound, with machinery and parts, chemical products, paper and paper products, cars spares and agricultural tools going eastbound.

According to PakTribune the journey “will take 15 days from Pakistan’s federal capital to the Turkish capital”, compared to “40-45 days from Karachi to a Turkish port” (do they really mean the Turkish capital, which is Ankara, or do they actually mean Istanbul, which people often mistakenly think is the capital?).

There is also a suggestion that Pakistan may join OTIF, which provides a common legal framework for international rail operations.

According to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, regular services are expected to begin next year.

There are details of the background to the train in an article by Mohammad Mirzaei Kahagh, Director Transport & Communications at ECO, in the May 2009 issue of ECO Times. Despite the photos used in ECO Times, I don’t think Norfolk Southern or Norway’s Flåm railway are involved in the project!

Update: Barrie Hughes of the Welsh Highland Railway construction website has spotted that the tracklaying picture in the ECO Times article shows Cae Pawb mixed gauge crossing on the WHR/Cambrian Coast line in Porthmadog, Wales!

Update: The train reached Tehran on 23 AugustIran Daily has a photo of it. Director of Iran’s Railway Company Hassan Ziyari said the railroad is safer and more environmental friendly compared to the roadways and other transport modes. The duration of the entire journey can be reduced to 12 days in the future, he added, and voiced Iran’s preparedness for cooperating in new plans to expand rail networks of ECO members. ECO train event in Tehran

Update: It got to Turkey on 25 AugustFirst train on Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul railway arrives in Turkey

Update: It arrived at Haydarpasa station, Istanbul’s Asian station, on 28 August.

Gap in Britain to India rail route closed?

Various news reports suggest that the Bam – Zahedan railway line in Iran is now physically complete. While there is no direct connection to any of the Afghan rail projects, this railway is important for “joining the dots” on the global railway map, as it is the missing link between the Iranian railway network and Zahedan, terminus of the 5’6″ gauge line which runs into Iran from Pakistan.

Iranian DMU

It seems there has been some kind of opening ceremony for the Bam – Zahedan line, but other articles suggest this might only have been held so that it was nominally finished before the recent Iranian elections were held.

Some reports suggest regular services might start on August 14 – which, whether by accident or design, is Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Map of Bam - Zahedan railway

Until now Zahedan has been joined to the Indian subcontinent’s rail network, but not to the Iranian network. IRFCA has some history, and Dr John Stubbs wrote about the construction of the new line in the January 2007 issue of Railway Gazette International.

Via Google’s new Persian machine translation, I found this press release from Islamic Republic of Iran Railways. It gets a bit mangled in the translation (I don’t speak Persian), but is more or less understandable after some tidying up:

First passenger and goods trains to Zahedan station on the Kerman – Zahedan railroad

With the opening of the Kerman – Bam – Zahedan railway on 19/03/1388 [9 June 2009] southeast Asia was connected to Europe via Iran.

M. Hajian, Supervisor General at the Office of Public Relations of Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, said: The first cargo and passenger trains were welcomed into Zahedan station in the presence of the Deputy Managing Director of Islamic Republic of Iran Railway, [list of bigwigs which hasn’t quite survived translation], the Governor of Sistan & Baluchestan province and a group of regional VIPs.

Hajian added that the railway links Kerman – Bam – Zahedan and Sistan & Baluchestan province.

He said: This rail route will save energy, reduce road traffic, create employment in the east and south-east of the country and through economic development will reduce the causes of deprivation in the province of Sistan & Baluchestan and Kerman, and offer the possibility of bypassing the port to connect the port of Chabahar with north – south transit routes.

He added: “The railway has 11 bridges, the largest bridge 400 meters long, and 20 tunnels totalling 5320 meters.

Seat61 is probably the place to start if you are planning a journey from Britain to India by train (and two ferries – shortly to be one ferry when the Marmaray project in Istanbul is completed).

Afghan and Turkey – Iran – Pakistan rail links discussed

The 2nd Meeting of Railway Committee of TTCC

(The ECO Secretariat, Tehran, 12 December, 2008)

The 2nd Meeting of Railway Committee of TTCC was held at the ECO Secretariat on 12 December, 2008. Delegations of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan participated in the Meeting. Delegations from the People’s Republic of China and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) also attended the Meeting.

The Meeting discussed cooperation between the ECO and UNECE on implementation of railway-related articles of Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA) and important UNECE agreements. Those included the European Agreement on Important International Transport Links and Related Installations (AGTC) and the European Agreement on the Main International Railway Links (AGC). Possibilities of participation of the ECO in Phase II of the Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) Project were also considered.

The meeting discussed three important projects for improving the regional railway network in the ECO region. These included upgrading the capacity of Sarakhs Station in Iran, improving the Quetta–Taftan Railway in Pakistan and constructing railway bypass around Van Lake in Turkey.

In order to materialize operation of the ECO Container Train on Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad route, the Meeting requested Iran, Pakistan and Turkey to expedite holding a High Level Expert Group Meeting and a Meeting of the concerned Ministers to decide on technical, operational and other aspects of this important initiative. It was hoped that a demonstration train from Islamabad to Istanbul would be launched in 2009.

The Meeting considered ways to have the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Afghanistan connected to the ECO regional railway routes. The said member states would prepare detailed reports on the proposed routes, technical requirement, and expected cargo volumes.

The Meeting worked out the procedures for publishing ECO Railway Transit Routes Maps and the updated Railway Network Map.
Source: Economic Cooperation Organization press release, 2008-12-12