China steals a march on India with 400km Iranian rail scheme

Competition between China and India to enter into a strategic partnership with Islamic Republic of Iran Railways heated up this week after an Iranian-Chinese consortium was awarded a contract to build a 400km high-speed line between the capital Tehran and the north-eastern city of Mashhad near the border with Afghanistan. 

The Iranian side of the work will be carried out by the Mapna Group, an Iranian heavy engineering and construction firm with historical links to Amec and the Canadian state of Montreal. The lead for China is being taken by the Chinese National Machinery Corporation, which has previously supplied trains and buses to the Tehran metro and Iran railways, including a contract in May 2006 to supply 178 railway passenger cars.

The passenger capacity of Tehran-Mashhad railway will be increased from the current 14 million passengers per year to 35 million– Qassem Saketi, manager of the electrification project for Islamic Republic of Iran Railways

The work will involve electrifying the existing Tehran-Mashhad link to bring it up to 200kmh and construct a 250kmh line. It will also provide 70 locomotives to run on the lines.

Qassem Saketi, the manager of the electrification project, told the Fars news agency last month that his department had obtained 85% of the project cost from foreign sources; he said the remaining 15% would be provided by the Iranian government.

He noted that project would be be completed in three and a half years, after which "the passenger capacity of Tehran-Mashhad railway will be increased from the current 14 million passengers per year to 35 million".

The electrification project will halve the travel time between Tehran and Mashhad from 12 to six hours.

Meanwhile, India is looking to take advantage of the relaxing of Western sanctions against Iran by helping it to expand and modernise its rail network. India might have hoped for a role in the Tehran-Mashhad line as it had previously worked on signalling systems for 25 stations on the eastern half of the link, between Shahrud and Mashhad.  

India is providing $5bn credit line to Iran with the aim of stimulating Indian exports, especially in the rail sector, where firms such as Ircon International, India’s state-owned rail construction firm, are hoping to win large orders.  

Indian firms are already undertaking the expansion of the Iranian port of Chabahar. New railway lines will be aimed at Iran’s export industries by connecting mining and manufacturing sectors to seaports. According to reports, Iran is planning to expand the country’s railway network annually by up to 1,000km to ensure it reaches 25,000km by 2025 compared with 13,000km at present.

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