Russia Backing Iran-Armenia Rail Link

TEHRAN (Iran Daily)–Russia could participate in the construction of a major railroad linking Iran and Armenia, according to the president of Russia Railroads.

President of Russia Railroads Vladimir Yakunin said the company is ready to participate in the construction of the rail line should Iran, Armenia and Russia agree on the project’s finance, Fars News Agency reported.

Armenia’s Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsyan has said that the rail link would cost approximately $2 billion, announcing that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have both shown interest in the project.

Armenia currently has only one working international rail link that runs via Georgia, as rail tracks linking Turkey and Azerbaijan are inactive.

The proposed link would require around 80 kilometers of new railroad construction in northwestern Iran, from the Armenian border on the Arax River to the Iranian city of Marand where the track would be connected to the Tabriz-Jolfa line.

The railroad, which has been discussed since initial proposals were submitted in 2006, would be a major boost to the development of trade between the two countries.

Armenia would also benefit from being able to use Iran as a transit route for transport links with the rest of the world.

Sargsyan said the railroad’s construction can take up to five years.

Presently, three projects are under review. The first originates from Yeraskh, the second from Vardenis and the third from Gagarin, extending for 443, 449 and 397 km respectively.

Armenia favors the project that starts from Gagarin and then through Gavar, Martuni and Jermuk.

At a meeting in Sochi in September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the project with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian as part of a cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Russia Railroads’ subsidiary South Caucasus Railroad took over the operation of the Armenian rail network on June 1 under a 25-year concession.

Iran and Armenia have agreed to set up a working group, in which the Russia’s may be invited to participate.

ADB has allocated about $1.5 million to finance feasibility studies on Armenia’s ambitious plans to build a railroad linking neighboring Iran, Yerevan’s Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said. "By the middle of next year, we will be able to approve business approaches, calculations of cost-effectiveness and to present documen’s prepared by the Asian Development Bank to the private sector, which could also participate in the project."

In an apparent reference to Russia, Sargsyan said Armenia’s "strategic partners" can also finance the railroad’s construction.

"I hope that we will be able to report next year serious progress in this sphere," he said.

The project has for years been discussed by the Armenian and Iranian governmen’s. The Armenian authorities have recently signaled their desire to finally get it off the drawing board, with Sarkisian declaring its implementation as one of his administration’s top economic priorities.

Armenia considers Russia as well as international lending institutions like the World Bank as potential sources of funding for the project.

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