Indian Railways is trying to create a network of track patches in five countries spread across two continents to run a freight train over a stretch of 6,000 kms. Touted as Iron Silk Road, the ambitious project will connect Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey through railway tracks, giving an impetus to business and trade in the region.Â
Codenamed the ITI-DKD-Y corridor, the container trainâ€™s route is scheduled as Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul. â€œThe demonstration run will happen very soon in 2017 and we will sort out all the issues with the countries concerned,â€ Mohammad Jamshed, Railway Board Member (Traffic), told The Indian Express.Â
â€œItâ€™s a great leap for South Asian regional connectivity in the rail sector. This will also demonstrate to the world that there can be a real, commercial trans-Asian container corridor of this magnitude in the rail sector,â€ he added.
The route, known as the Trans-Asian Railway southern corridor (pdf), was identified by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in the 1990s, with the intention of connecting Thailand to Turkey.Â
The project gained new energy with the construction of a long-missing link of 150 km in Zahedan, in the Baluchestan, connecting the country to the Pakistan Railway network on the border.
With this new development, a freight train route between Dhaka and Istanbul has become a reality. However, due to incomplete railway links in Myanmar, the current plan is to send a container westward from Dhaka. Eventually, Yangon will also be connected to Dhaka as soon as the missing Tamu-Kalay link in Myanmar is built.
Indian Railways has called railway heads of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey involved in the project to work out the nitty-gritty at a high-level meeting on March 15-16.
The project may run into geo-political trouble in Pakistan. While Pakistan allows freight trains and passenger trains from Delhi to Lahore via Attari, it has historically cited security reasons to not allow movement of containers on this route.
In January this year, a Chinese freight train travelled to a British terminal in east Londonâ€™s Barking for the first time. It travelled for two weeks, travelling some 7,500 miles from the Chinese port city of Yiwu.
Part of Chinaâ€™s ambitious â€œOne Belt, One Roadâ€ initiative, it was a demonstration of overland connectivity that exists along the erstwhile Silk Route, which Beijing wants to harness to increase trade with the rest of Asia and Europe.