Railway linking landlocked Central Asia to Persian Gulf officially inaugurated

AK-YAYLA, Turkmenistan – A railway linking landlocked Central Asia with the Persian Gulf was officially inaugurated Wednesday in a ceremony at a remote train station on the border of Iran and Turkmenistan.

The the presidents of Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan attended the official opening of the line in the Turkmen frontier village of Ak-Yayla. Children handed white gloves to the leaders, together bolted a final golden-colored segment of track into place.

The 928-kilometre (577-mile) route, which runs from western Kazakhstan to the northern Iranian city of Gorgan, will substantially speed the movement of cargo between a long-isolated region and markets in the Middle East and Asia.

The railway fits into a broader multinational effort to build a network of transportation links to ease the movement of freight in Western Europe, Russia, South Asia and the Far East.

A video presentation illustrated the point by explaining that travel time between the ports of Lianyungang in China and Bandar Abbas in Iran will be shortened to 13 days from the current 22 days by using speedier overland routes.

The rail route inaugurated Wednesday will initially have a capacity to carry up to 5 million tons of cargo annually, but that figure is projected to increase to 12 million tons. It is also planned that the line could eventually be opened to passengers.

In a speech at the cross-border station, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the opening of the route represented a historic breakthrough for the region.

“Today, I want to express my unbounded joy,” he said.