LAHORE: After a pause of around a decade, the first freight train between Istanbul and Islamabad via Tehran reached Ankara via Lahore, Taftan and Zahedan on Monday, completing its 17-day journey in 13 days. A second train is already on its way to Turkey.
“The first train that departed on Dec 21 from Islamabad carrying goods (mainly pink salt) reached Ankara (Turkey) on Monday evening. Before reaching its destination, the goods loaded onto the train were shifted to other bogies (trans-shipment) compatible with the Iranian and Turkish rail/gauge system,” Pakistan Railways Director (Operations) Imtiaz Ahmad told Dawn. “The train consisted of eight wagons carrying pink salt weighing 150 tonnes.”
He said the second train, which had departed from Azakhel dry port on Dec 28, carried 525 tonnes of soapstone. It has entered Iran and will reach Zahedan very soon where the trans-shipment-related work will be completed, he added.
To a question, Mr Ahmad, who is also the focal person for the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) train, said the Pakistan Railways earned Rs800,000 and Rs2.2 million from the first and second trains, respectively.
To another query, he said Iran would only be used as a transit country for the ITI train service, and all the goods loaded from Pakistan would only be transported to Turkey.
The pink salt was loaded onto trucks from Sargodha and shifted to the ITI train in Islamabad. The soapstone had been brought from Jalalabad (Afghanistan) and the freight forwarders got it booked on the ITI train as per the demand of the parties, he added.
Ahmad further revealed that a third train would also depart soon for Turkey, as the demand and load is currently under assessment by freight forwarders.
“We are also expecting transportation of various goods to Pakistan from Turkey and the freight forwarders there are working on it,” he said.
After a gap of around 10 years, the resumption of the ITI train service from Turkey was scheduled for March 4, 2020 with its arrival in Pakistan on March 16 and return to Turkey after three days.
However, later, mishandling, negligence and other administrative issues allegedly on the part of the authorities concerned delayed the service, forcing Turkey and Iran to cancel orders for hundreds of tonnes of goods from Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities, keeping in view these observations, suspended services of the then Pakistan Railways Freight and Transportation Company director (commercial) on charges of inefficiency and misconduct to pacify the two countries.
The Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) secretariat continued holding meetings with senior officials of the three countries over resumption of the service, but issues related to rationalising the freight charges, track repair (Quetta-Taftan), appointment of freight forwarding agents on the part of Pakistan as well as US sanctions on Iran barring transportation and delivery of goods could not be resolved.
No meeting was conducted by the ECO secretariat in this regard from May to September last year.
Later, the Railways Ministry intervened and managed to get various issues resolved in association with the authorities concerned. “It is a matter of great importance as the ITI train operation has finally resumed after many years,” PR Chairman Dr Habibur Rehman Gilani told Dawn.
He said restoration of Pakistan Railways with the international rail network would make a considerable contribution to boosting the country’s economy. “We have constituted a special team to monitor the PR’s international rail operations to ensure safe and smooth transportation of the goods.”
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2022