A ceremony has been held to mark the start of construction on the new 32km cross-border line from Basra in Iraq to Shalamcheh in Iran.

Iraqi prime minister, Mr Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, and the first vice-president of Iran, Mr Mohammed Mokhber, laid a symbolic foundation stone during the ceremony, with Mokhber hailing the strategic value of the project, which is expected to take 18-24 months to complete.

Work includes demining the border area, which has been inaccessible since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. This would be followed by the construction by Iranian contractors of an 880m moveable bridge across the Shatt Al-Arab River in Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers converge before splitting into the Gulf. Tracklaying will commence at the same time with Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR) responsible for other infrastructure work.

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. Sudani said during the ceremony that the goal is transport passengers from Iran and central Asian countries to Shiite holy cities.

Indeed, 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.

Iraq also unveiled the $US 17bn Route of Development project earlier this year, which foresees the construction of a 1200km road and railway stretching from its border with Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south.

For detailed data on rail projects in the Middle East, subscribe to IRJ Pro.