A new rail connectivity to boost South and South-West Asian economies

To develop connectivity and boost commercial activity, the authorities proposed the extension of the rail freight transport service on Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) route to Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka (DKD), with the possibility of extension to Yangon, in Myanmar. This project will have a positive impact on the economy of the subregion and of the countries involved in the project and will determine the development of rail infrastructure by implementing modernisation projects for the existing infrastructure, as well as the construction of missing links. In fact, the new corridor would serve Turkey-Iran-Pakistan-India-Bangladesh-Myanmar route.

In 2014-2015, Asian countries were the main engines of global economic recovery with the highest increase of exports (5,9% a year) and imports (6,9% a year), compared to the increase of global commercial exchange that recorded a 3,1% growth/year for exports and 2,6% growth/year for imports.
South and South-West Asia is a subregion on  which the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) focus to elaborate projects for the development of the area and its integration at regional and interregional level. The subregion includes 10 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey.
Trade is vital for the development of the subregion and of every country. Trade in South and South Asia is dominated by India and Turkey, India accounting for 50.7% of trade in the subregion. Therefore, regional connectivity is vital, as trade requires the support of the transport system, especially that of land transport.
The development of the region and the consolidation of the subregion’s position on the international trade platform mostly depend on the optimisation, modernisation and development of land transport. The need to create an efficient, railway-based transport system has recently determined representatives of the governments, organisations and companies from South and South-West Asia to get together for a meeting organised by ESCAP, India’s Ministry of Railways and the Organisation for Co-operation between Railways (OSJD). The participants discussed and analysed the problems of railway connectivity and the need to adopt measures to increase accessibility.
South and Central Asian countries are facing a major lack of transport infrastructure investments. In order to establish the best of connections, South Asia needs investments worth USD 2.5 trillion and a cost increase of over 9% of the annual GDP by 2020.
Asia’s freight volumes, currently under their real potential, could significantly increase if the railway infrastructure is efficiently used. Railway transport could provide reliable alternatives for international freight transport leading to a boost of competitiveness in the subregion and to a reduced environmental impact. “International rail transport connectivity can potentially become one of the largest sources of growth and development in Southern Asia,” Suresh Prabhu, India’s Minister of Railways said during the meeting.
To contribute to freight transport development, key factors supported the identification of a railway corridor to provide connection between South and South-West Asia, Central Asia and Europe. According to Matthew Hammill, acting head of the South and South-West Asia Office of ESCAP, it involves a proposal for seamless connectivity by expanding the container transport service Istanbul (Turkey) – Tehran (Iran) – Islamabad (Pakistan) – ITI to Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka (DKD). This corridor could be further extended to Yangon (Myanmar) to be part of the ITI–DKD-Y Rail Corridor. The construction of this corridor is a vital part of the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR), supported by ESCAP member states (53 member states and 9 associated countries).
“For rail, this includes a proposal to extend the Istanbul–Tehran–Islamabad (ITI) Container Train Corridor to Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka (DKD). This ITI-DKD corridor can also be extended further to Yangon to become the ITI–DKD-Y Container Rail Corridor,” Matthew Hammill said.
The ITI–DKD-Y corridor

At present, the TAR operational network, covers a distance of around 81,000 km in 26 countries, of which 12,600 km in South East Asia, 32,500 km in North East Asia, 13,200 km in Central Asia and Caucasus and 22,600 km in South Asia together with Iran and Turkey.
The proposed ITI-DKD-Y corridor will be part of the Southern Corridor, which is the least integrated, but crosses the most popular subregions in the world with a maximum potential of consolidating Asia’s industrial activity. Also, ITI-DKD-Y will be part of TAR and Asian Highway (AH), providing multimodal transport connections with links to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), CAREC, BCIM Corridor (Cross-border transport project under Bangladesh-China- India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation) and other subregional corridors. The proposed corridor is important from at least two reasons – it will create important links for the provision of rail transport services and necessary infrastructure works are minimum.
An advantage of ITI-DKD-Y corridor is that, serving a main artery that crosses Southern Asia, it can be connected to other longitudinal corridors. The new corridor could provide transport connections to ensure the accessibility and development of landlocked countries, such as Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal, but also to countries in Central Asia, becoming an artery for intra-regional trade and a connection bridge between Asia and Europe.
ITI – DKD’s connection to the International North – South Transport Corridor (INSTC) has potential to serve an integrated multimodal transport artery-corridor with links between the South, South West Asia and Central Asia. The extension of routes and branch-routes that form the feeder network of the artery on the TAR corridor connects bridges, industrial centres and integrates transport hubs, also stimulating the development of transit hubs. Also, if the missing links from South-East Asia are eliminated, the proposed corridor can supply connections between Eastern Asia and Europe.
Currently, Istanbul–Tehran–Islamabad (ITI) route is operational. According to the Indian government, Indian Railways prioritises the railway corridor that connects Istanbul to Dhaka (Bangladesh) through Delhi and Kolkata.
To create connections between India, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Indian Government elaborates connectivity development analyses as India holds a significant share of the ITI-DKD railway corridor. “India hosts an important segment of this rail route. “The most important feature of this proposal is that while this main rail corridor traverses the length of Southern Asia, it offers multimodal linkages with neighbouring sub regions, particularly catering to the transit requirements of landlocked countries of our neighbourhood,” India’s Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said.
Although connected by rail with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, India is also seeking for new connections. Thus, for the connection with Bangladesh, the project of the new 15-km Agartala – Akhaura railway (a missing segment of TAR) is underway. Two projects are considered for the connection with Nepal: Jogbani Line (India)-Biratnagar (Nepal), 18.6 km, of which 5.45 km in India and over 13 km in Nepal. 35% of this project is completed. Another project for the connection with Nepal is Jayanagar Line (India)-Bijalpura (south of Nepal) with extension to Bardibas (south-east of Nepal). Next to the extension, the railway is 68,8 km long, of which 3 km in India. The project consists in the conversion of the gauge and the construction of 17 km of railway and the physical progress of the project is 15%.
For the connection with Myanmar, the Jiribam-Imphal railway is under construction and an analysis is elaborated for Imphal (India) – Moreh (Nepal border city) connection. This final section will connect India’s railway network to that of Myanmar. In fact, the missing link between the two countries is Jiribam – Moreh (India’s part) – Tamu – Kaley (Myanmar), and this alignment is part of the southern corridor of the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network. The new railway between Jiribam and Imphal (110 km) is estimated at USD 905 million and is developed by Indian Railways.
For the extension of ITI–DKD corridor to Myanmar, the proposal of Yangon city as terminus point (thus creating the ITI–DKD-Y corridor) is important since there is a maritime connection.
With a population of over 5 million inhabitants and another 2 million, if we consider the metropolitan area of the city, Yangon is the biggest commercial city of Myanmar. 90% of Myanmar’s commercial activity is ensured through the Port of Thilawa, 25 km away from Yangon. The port is also connected to the national railway network.
Myanmar’s important interna-tional connections include the railways Mandalay-Yangon (617 km), Mandalay-Lashio (313 km), Mandalay-Kalay (539 km) and Bago-Dawei (516 km). Also, there are around 4 missing links with a total length of over 530 km, such as Kalay-Tamu (to India), 127 km, Lashio-Rueli (to China), 142 km, Thanbyuzayat-Three Pagoda Pass (Thailand), 120 km and Dawei – Htikhi (to Thailand), 142 km.
Currently, Myanmar is developing modernisation projects on Yangon – Mandalay railway and Yangon Circular Railway, using JICA funds. Yangon Station will see its signalling and communications system upgraded. Also related to Yangon city transport infrastructure, projects include the construction of dry ports and the modernisation of Yangon – Pathein and Yangon – Pyay railways.

 

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