The influential head of Russia’s state-run rail network has spoken out against the construction of a railway connecting Armenia with neighboring Iran, saying that it would not be commercially viable.
According to the Arminfo news agency, Vladimir Yakunin compared at the weekend the ambitious project worth an estimated $3 billion with “cutting through a window in the wall leading nowhere … to the wall of the adjacent house.” Yakunin, whose RZhD network manages Armenia’s national railway company, said chances for its implementation are therefore nil.
Yakunin, who is widely regarded as a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entourage, described the project as “realistic” as recently as three years ago, during a visit to Armenia.
The Armenian and Iranian governments officially approved it in 2009. But they have still not found concrete sources of funding for the 470-kilometer rail link that would mainly pass through Armenian territory.
The Armenian side has repeatedly expressed hope that Russian firms will participate in the railway construction and partly finance it. The Russian government and RZhD have not ruled out such a possibility before Yakunin’s remarks cited by Arminfo.
President Serzh Sarkisian called for China’s “active” involvement in the project when he visited Beijing in March. He said that the Armenia-Iran railway could be part of a transnational “Silk Road economic zone” which China would like to create along a vast geographic area.
The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has already conducted a feasibility study and recommended a cost-effective route for the rail link.
The study was commissioned in 2013 by the Dubai-based company Rasia that had in turn a received 30-year Armenian government concession to build and manage the 305-kilometer Armenian section of the railway. Earlier this year, Armenia’s Deputy Transport Minister Artur Arakelian said that Rasia has been holding “very active negotiations” with unnamed Chinese investors.
Visiting Yerevan in January, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke of further progress made towards the construction of the railway. “There have been very good trilateral discussions and we hope that [the project] will quickly move forward,” Zarif said without elaborating.