Iran-Armenia rail link “realistic” for Russia

Russia remains interested in an ambitious project to build a railway connecting Armenia to neighboring Iran despite “problems” created by Tehran’s deepening standoff with the West, according to the head of the state-run Russian rail network, RZD. “We think that this project has realistic chances of implementation but that could be done only within the inter-state framework and doesn’t depend only on us,” Vladimir Yakunin said at the end of a visit to Armenia late on February 15th.

The Armenian and Iranian governments officially approved the railway project in 2009. But they have yet to identify concrete sources of funding for the 470-kilometer rail link that would mainly pass through Armenian territory. Unofficial estimates of its total cost have varied from $1 billion to $4 billion.

The Armenian side hopes that Russian firms will participate in the railway construction and partly finance it. The Russian government and RZD have not ruled out such possibility.

Yakunin insisted that the project is feasible even though between 30 and 50 years would be needed to recoup the massive construction expenditures. “And if that project is launched South Caucasus Railway will definitely participate in its implementation,” he said, referring to RZD’s Armenian subsidiary.

The Armenian government regards China as another potential source of funding for the railway construction. Transport Minister Manuk Vartanian revealed in 2010 that Yerevan is seeking as much as $1 billion in Chinese loans for that purpose.

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