Regional cooperation in cross-border rail connectivity can spur trade and support sustainable development in South and South-West Asia

Meeting on Strengthening Railway Transport Connectivity in South and South-West Asia, 15-16 March 2017.
Meeting on Strengthening Railway Transport Connectivity in South and South-West Asia, 15-16 March 2017.

Officials from South and South-West Asian governments along with others experts met in New Delhi this week to underscore the importance of regional cooperation to expand cross border rail connectivity and discuss further steps to strengthen railway transport across South and South-West Asia as well as linkages to Europe and Central Asia.

“International rail transport connectivity can potentially become one of the largest sources of growth and development in Southern Asia,” said H.E. Suresh Prabhu, India’s Minister of Railwaysin his address. The meeting was jointly organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Ministry of Railways of the Government of India and the Organisation for Co-operation between Railways (OSJD).

Mr. Prabhu noted that the trade volumes of South Asia, which is currently far below its true potential, could increase significantly if rail transport was effectively used as a medium of cargo transport. He added that railways could provide viable alternatives to haul international cargo, making trade far more competitive for the subregion, while also serving as an environment-friendly mode of transport.

Addressing the meeting, Mr. Mohammed Jamshed, Member Traffic, Ministry of Railways, Government of India stated that the Business Plan 2017-18 of Indian Railways has prioritized an international rail corridor linking Istanbul to Dhaka via Delhi and Kolkata.

Mr. Matthew Hammill, acting head of the South and South-West Asia Office of ESCAP, said that research and consultations with key stakeholders had helped to identify a rail corridor which would link South and South-West Asia to Central Asia and Europe. This includes a proposal for seamless rail connectivity by extending the Istanbul–Tehran–Islamabad (ITI) Container Train to Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka (DKD). This corridor could further extend to Yangon to become the ITI–DKD-Y Rail Corridor. The creation of this corridor is a key part of the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network that is backed by ESCAP member States.

The two-day event brought together rail officials and policy makers from nine countries in South, South-West Asia and Central Asia, along with representatives from various international and regional organizations, transport connectivity experts as well as representatives from the private sector.

Participants also discussed their initiatives with regional neighbours in completing infrastructure and transport facilitation to make cross-border rail transport operational. The meeting also deliberated on technical and operational aspects of the ITI-DKD-Y rail corridor proposal. ESCAP officials and representatives from OSJD also discussed closing railway transport processes gaps through regional/international arrangements such as the Regional Cooperation Framework for Facilitation of International Railway Transport adopted by countries of Asia and the Pacific. It was noted that such a Framework could be a guiding document to help countries overcome operational challenges and non-physical barriers, especially where cross-country rail infrastructure already exists.