Iran, Afghanistan Open First Rail Link With Eye on Trade

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The leaders of Iran and Afghanistan on Thursday inaugurated the first railway link between the two countries, expressing hope it would enhance trade links across the region.

The 140-kilometer (90-mile) line running from eastern Iran into western Afghanistan will eventually be expanded by 85 kilometers to reach the Afghan city of Herat, providing a crucial transport link for the landlocked country, where decades of war have hindered infrastructure development.

The $75 million project began in 2007, with Iran funding construction on both sides of the border as part of its development assistance to Afghanistan.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, speaking in a video conference, called it “one of the historic days” in relations between the two countries. He said Iran had succeeded in building the line despite sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after the U.S. withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the railroad a “precious gift from Iran" that would help restore the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that spread prosperity across Asia. The inauguration saw cargo trains depart from opposite ends of the line.

Iran hopes to transform itself into a regional transport hub, allowing Afghanistan and other landlocked Asian countries to transport goods to its ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran already has rail links with Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Turkey.