Friday, March 3, 2017

Indian Railways Examining Dhaka to Istanbul Freight Train Service

Meeting to Discuss Issues, Which are Considerable
Shipping News Feature
BANGLADESH – INDIA – PAKISTAN – IRAN – TURKEY – After the attention raised by the first freight train to run between China and the UK in January, Indian Railways has leapt on the proverbial band wagon and has announced it wants to set up its own service connecting South Asia with Europe. Their proposal would see container trains running on a route that would link Dhaka, Kolkata, Delhi, Islamabad, Tehran and Istanbul with later links with Yangon in Burma added once a link is completed and further intermodal connections to Kathmandu and Bhutan possible as well through existing services.

Indian Railways is hosting a meeting this month with representatives from the various national authorities to discuss the possibilities of running a trial service at some point this year and, as the proposal has the support of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), are sounding quite confident about the 6,000km service being in use soon.

There are, however, quite a few flies in the ointment. Putting aside the question of the viability of the Chinese rail service, which remains to be proven once real market conditions are applied, that particular route enjoys the benefits of serving a market that deals with a huge amount of word trade. While it’s conceivable that there would be a place in the international freight market for rail services linking South Asia and Europe the market is considerably smaller at this time.

Additionally, the Chinese service enjoys the benefit of simply building on existing rail freight routes, principally those between China and Russia. The infrastructure is in place, used regularly and in good order. A cursory look at the state of affairs on the proposed route shows a very different story.

For starters the proposed start in Dhaka would require use of a bridge that crosses the Padma river. According to local reports, an Indian Railways team that surveyed the bridge last year reported it isn’t capable of handling heavy loads and so for the test run it’s proposed that cotton be the only cargo. On top of this is that the Pakistan authorities have a prohibition on rail container traffic between Delhi and Lahore and will have to be convinced to drop this.

There are also considerable security issues along the route, which traverses the Baluchistan regions of Pakistan and Iran, which has long had a history of insurgency and conflict. In addition the route runs through the Kurdish regions of Turkey, which are currently seeing heavy fighting between the government and rebels, who have taken to blowing up railways at fairly regular intervals, something that doesn’t bode well if the routes go from being largely local traffic to being an important transnational freight artery.

So, will the freight industry soon have another means of moving cargo’s between Europe and South Asia? Possibly. But probably not best to hold your breath on it.