IRAN and Iraq have agreed to start construction of the long-planned 32km railway from Shalamcheh in Iran to Basra in Iraq after the end of Ramadan on April 20, according to Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy, Mr Mahdi Safari.

“Iraq has allocated a budget of nearly $US 230m for the Shalamcheh - Basra railway and this is happening for the first time,” Safari says.

He was speaking after Iraq’s transport minister, Mr Razzaq Muhibis Al-Saadawi, visited Tehran to finalise bilateral agreements and projects, including the cross-border railway.

Al-Saadawi met with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Mehrdad Bazrpash, who said that the first phase of construction will involve demining the border area that has remained inaccessible since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.

This would be followed by work to build an 880m moveable bridge across the Shatt Al-Arab River in Iraq, undertaken by Iranian contractors.

Tracklaying is due to start at the same time, with other infrastructure work to be undertaken by Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR).

The new railway is expected to take 18 months to complete. Introducing a rail link between the two countries is forecast to provide a major stimulus for both passenger and freight traffic between Iran and Iraq, including religious tourism.

Connecting Shalamcheh and Basra will also complete a missing link in the region, potentially connecting Iran’s major rail network with Syria and Jordan via Iraq.

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