YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Russian and Armenian governments have started jointly looking into the possibility of building a railway that would connect Armenia with neighboring Iran, a top executive of Russia’s state-run rail network, RZD, said on Thursday.
The ambitious project was formally approved by Yerevan and Tehran in April 2009. But they have yet to identify concrete sources of funding for the 470-kilometer rail link that would mainly pass through Armenian territory. Unofficial estimates of its total cost have varied from $1.2 billion to $4 billion.
The Armenian government hopes that the Russians will participate in the railway construction and partly finance it. The Russian government and RZD, which manages Armenia’s national railway company, have not ruled out such possibility.
The transport ministries of the two countries agreed to set up joint working groups dealing with the matter during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s August visit to Yerevan. They comprise ministry officials and representatives of RZD and its Armenian subsidiary called the South Caucasus Railway (SCR).
“At last, the working commissions of the two parties have started working,” Shevket Shaydulin, the SRC director general, told journalists. As part of that effort, he said, the RZD chairman, Vladimir Yakunin, formed recently a “special design center” for the Iran-Armenia rail link which is headed by one of his deputies, Oleg Toni.
Shaydulin said another RZD subsidiary, the Moscow-based Giprotransproekt research institute, will launch a detailed feasibility study of the project after Toni’s task force works out technical parameters of the would-be railway. That study should be completed by next April, he added.
According to Armenian officials, China is another potential source of funding for the project. Transport and Communications Minister Manuk Vartanian said in June that Yerevan is already negotiating with Beijing and hopes that the latter will provide more than $1 billion of the required funding.
President Serzh Sarkisian stressed the importance of the project during a visit to Germany earlier in June. He said that as well as the planned expansion of Armenian highways leading to Iran could have “a truly revolutionary significance” for the wider region.
Analysts and politicians critical of the Armenian government have questioned the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the project ever since its inception, however.