By Shakeh Avoyan
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has allocated about $1.5 million to finance feasibility studies on Armenia’s ambitious plans to build a railway linking to neighboring Iran, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said on Tuesday.
“By the middle of next year we will be able to approve business approaches, calculations of cost-effectiveness and to present documents prepared by the Asian Development Bank to the private sector, which could also participate in the project,” Sarkisian told journalists on the sidelines of an international economic forum held in Yerevan.
In an apparent reference to Russia, Sarkisian said Armenia’s “strategic partners” will also be offered to finance the railway’s construction estimated to cost at least $1 billion. “I hope that we will be able to report next year that there is serious progress in this sphere,” he added without elaboration.
The project has for years been discussed by the Armenian and Iranian governments. The Armenian authorities have recently signaled their desire to finally get it off the drawing board, with President Serzh Sarkisian declaring its implementation one of his administration’s top economic priorities.
In an interview with RFE/RL last week, Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian said the Armenian government is currently looking into three potential routes of the Armenian section of the would-be railway. He listed Russia as well as international lending institutions such as the World Bank among potential sources of funding for the project.
The lack of a rail link between Armenia and Iran is seen as a major hindrance to the development of Armenian-Iranian trade. It also complicates the use of Iranian territory in Armenia’s transport communication with the outside world.