By Mumtaz Alvi
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Iran and Turkey will alter the course of history on August 14, when the first-ever freight train will kick off its 6,506-kilometre journey from Islamabad to Istanbul via Iran.
The first train, tagged as the demonstration train, will take 15 days from Pakistan’s federal capital to the Turkish capital, whereas a ship takes 40-45 days from Karachi to a Turkish port. As many as 20 containers will be attached to the locomotive.
“The three countries are giving final touches to the tri-nation goods train service-related matters,” Federal Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour said while talking to The News on Tuesday.
The minister said that 1,900 km out of 6,506 km-long railway passed through Pakistan, 2,570 km through Iran and the remaining 2,036 km passed through Turkey. He pointed out the idea of launching the goods train was discussed during the 18th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Planning Council meeting in March last year and it took hardly a year to make it a reality.
Bilour said that the rail link was being seen as one of the major projects of the ECO and was in line with an agreement signed among the three brotherly countries. The transportation of goods, he noted, by train would be economical, effective and consume lesser time as compared to shipment by sea.
Director Operations Pakistan Railways Shafiqullah, who had attended a meeting of experts recently in Ankara, told this correspondent at the Ministry of Railways that all the technical, operational and tariff-related matters had been agreed upon among the three countries. He pointed out the tariff rates in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey would be the same to avoid confusion. He described the initiative as a link from one end of Asia to Eastern Europe.
Shafiqullah had proposed August 14 for the launch of train, which was fixed for the event. “The freight service from Pakistan to Turkey via Iran can be interpreted as a step towards Pakistan becoming a member of Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF),” the railways official maintained. The OTIF, with its headquarters in Berne, has more than 45 countries as its members.
To a question, Shafiqullah said the train would consume 100 hours to reach Iran and explained it might require lesser time after the train service was allowed during night time. It was agreed the train would cover 25,70-kilometre distance in Iran in 127 hours and 124 hours would be consumed to cover 2,036 kilometres in Turkey.
A feasibility study was ready to improve the 750-kilometre track from Quetta to Taftan, as in the given situation, train speed could not be increased, whereas, Pakistan Railways wanted to enhance it to at least 90 kilometre per hour. Iran has already laid track from Taftan to Zahidan.