Pak-Iran-Turkey cargo train service to resume operations after almost a decade

The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) cargo train will restart its operations on March 4 from Istanbul and reach Pakistan on March 16 via Iran.

Over recent years, Turkey and Pakistan have strengthened their diplomatic as well as military ties. In order to intensify their strategic partnership, the two countries have initiated a transnational rail service linking Istanbul, Tehran and Islamabad in 2021. This cross-country rail link is expected to enhance the connectivity with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by providing a rail connection between China and Turkey.

As per various news reports, the Istanbul-Islamabad freight train is likely to resume operations this week after a gap of almost ten years, connecting the three countries – Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) cargo train will restart its operations on March 4 from Istanbul and reach Pakistan on March 16 via Iran. The railways of the three countries last year mutually agreed to resume the regular operations of the train in order to connect goods train business of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, almost after a decade.

ITI train service project:

This project of this train service between Pakistan and Turkey first started in 2009 under the umbrella of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). ECO is a 10-member political and economic intergovernmental organisation founded in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. After around two years of its functioning, railway service between Pakistan and Turkey got cancelled in 2011 due to some logistical challenges.

According to the reports, the officials of the three countries during the virtual meeting of the 10-member Asian trade bloc, ECO, decided that the train service which was shut in 2011 should be resumed in 2021.

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So far, a total of eight trains have been dispatched from Pakistan to Turkey, with the last leaving the Lahore dry port on November 5, 2011. Also, since the launch of the service in 2009, Turkey has sent six trains to Pakistan, with the last one reaching on December 9, 2011.

Time as well as cost-effective:

The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) cargo train is sure to increase the connectivity between the three countries and is likely to make travel much easier. As per the official statement, the train will reach Pakistan on March 16, taking almost 12 days to complete the one-side trip of nearly 6,500 kilometres. This railway line will surely reduce the transit route of the goods as normally transporting goods from European countries to Pakistan through sea route takes almost 45 days.

This project is being considered one of the most affordable and also one of the shortest routes for transportation of goods between a European country and an Asian country. Apart from its time and cost-effectiveness, the project is also going to benefit several regional countries as well. Besides Pakistan, Turkey and Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are the countries that are expected to gain benefits from the project.

Risk factors:

The major cause of concern as per the project is related is the political instability in the region. Even now, with so much attention gathered, the future of the project still depends on certain factors like: the lifting of US sanctions on Iran, and the end of the Afghan war. Apart from this, the project also needs huge investments and infrastructure.

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Apart from this, another major threat to the project is Islamist militancy. The ITI project can be an easy target and therefore authorities need to take measures in order to minimise the risks associated.  

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