India takes lead to run freight train from Dhaka to Istanbul

Indian Railways cements whopping 6,000-km Bangladesh-India-Pakistan-Turkey trans-continental train run; demo soon. Codenamed the ITI-DKD-Y corridor, the container train’s route is scheduled as Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul.

NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu led Indian Railways is going to run a trans-continental container train full of goods from Dhaka to Istanbul, which would cover a 6,000-km journey across five countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.

Codenamed the ITI-DKD-Y corridor, the container train’s route is scheduled as Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul. Eventually, Yangon will also be connected to Dhaka. The missing Tamu-Kalay link in Myanmar is still to be built.

Indian Railways has called South Asian railway heads involved in the project to work out the nitty-gritty at a high-level meeting on March 15-16. Pakistan railway chief Javed Anwar is also being invited. There is one issue with Pakistan that needs to be fixed. 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. For the demonstration, Indian officials said, it will not be a problem as it is a one-off run.

What energized the project is that a long missing link of 150 km in Zahedan, in the Baluchestan province of Iran, has now been established, connecting the country to the Pakistan Railway network on the border. So the Trans-Asian Railway Southern Corridor, as it is formally named, under the aegis of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), is good to go all the way to Turkey after certain operational exchange of notes and coordination between the nations concerned, which India is anchoring this month.

“The demonstration run will happen very soon in 2017 and we will sort out all the issues with the countries concerned. It’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,” Mohammad Jamshed, Railway Board Member (Traffic), told.

Currently, goods take a long, roundabout route from Ludhiana to Lahore which otherwise are just a few hours apart by rail. The March 15-16 meeting is aimed at discussing some common technical and operational parameters between the railway systems of the countries involved. So far, in communications between the railway systems, all countries have on paper endorsed the project and have said that the demonstration is technically feasible.

India, on its part, had already sent a high-level team of officers from the Railway ministry and Container Corporation of India late last year to Dhaka on a reconnaissance of the proposed route. It was found that the rail bridge over the Padma river cannot carry the load of heavy freight trains and allows only passenger operations. So it was agreed to keep the demonstration train relatively light, filling it preferably with a cargo of cotton garments.

Past the Dhaka border, there is the inland container depot in India which will service the rail cargo train on its way to Kolkata. From Kolkata to Delhi and then to Attari and Lahore will be smooth sail, officials said.

In January this year, China sent a container train from East China’s Yiwu all the way to London via Germany, covering a distance of 12,000 km and demonstrating that it can be cheaper, even faster mode of freight movement between the Asian giant and countries in Western Europe and all in between.