Symbolic or Significant? The 4,000-mile freight railway between Istanbul and Pakistan

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
photo: Chris McGrath (Getty Images)

Last year the world became aware of the dangers of global logistics. Shipping has been pushed to its limits due to the emerging restrictions caused by the six-day closure of the Suez Canal from Ever Given to the bottlenecks in large ports in the USA. The most attractive alternative to chaos at sea is to move as much cargo as possible from sea shipping routes to rail freight lines. Three countries have just taken significant steps in this direction.

Last December, the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad rail freight company opened to connect Turkey, Iran and Pakistan over a 4,000-mile route. It will take trains 15 days to cross the entire route from one terminal to another. For comparison: it would take a container ship 45 days to travel from Asia to Europe and cross the Suez Canal. the Marmaray Tunnel in Istanbul enables freight trains to cross the Bosphorus Strait from Asia to Europe and vice versa. India has also expressed interest in connecting its freight rail network to rail.

Each of the three countries would benefit from heavy use of rail transport. In this case the People’s Republic of China wants to build better relationships with every country en route in order to integrate the railroad into their Belt and Road initiative. However, it may be that the demand does not materialize. Aasim Siddiqui, Chairman of the Pakistan Freight Association, said“The departed train now has a few single wagon loads in covered wagons, but no other departures are planned because there is insufficient demand.”

Partly responsible are the US sanctions against Iran, which make the transport of cargo through the country an administrative headache. However, it seems that the ambitious project will sink or float depending on how Pakistan’s rail infrastructure develops. With the network completed and connected to China and the rest of the Indian subcontinent, it would be a viable alternative for a decent portion of the world’s shipping needs.

About Christine Geisler

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