First freight train from China arrives in Iran in 'Silk Road' boost: media

SHANGHAI/DUBAI (Reuters) - A freight train from China arrived in Tehran on Monday, Iranian and Chinese media reported, calling it a historical first that opens a new trade link between countries seeking to strengthen ties as Iran emerges from years of economic isolation.

The train, carrying 32 containers, arrived in Tehran after a 14-day, 10,399 kilometer (6,462 mile) journey from Yiwu city in east China, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported. The agency didn’t say what kind of goods were shipped on the train on a route that took it via countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

The train’s journey was 30 days shorter than the time usually taken by ships to sail from Shanghai to Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Iran’s transport minister and railway chief, Mohsen Pour-Aqaei as saying.

With the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, Iran is being heavily courted by China. Beijing sees the country as a key part of its “One Belt, One Road” policy to increase trade and open new markets for its firms as its domestic economy slows.

A big part of the policy is to expand the use of railways between China and Europe to shorten goods travel time, creating a modern ‘Silk Road’, Beijing has said.

Xinhua also quoted Iran’s transport minister as saying one freight train would now travel from China to Iran every month. These trains would eventually be bound for Europe, helping Tehran develop into a transit center between the two regions, according to quotes attributed to the minister.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua quoted China’s ambassador to Iran, Pang Sen, as saying that countries along the railway line would look to upgrade their infrastructure to make the route faster and better.

During a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Iran in January, the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade more than 10-fold to $600 billion in the next decade, with cooperation on nuclear energy and the “One Belt, One Road” project.

The two countries are also cooperating on a high-speed rail project linking Tehran to Iran’s northeastern holy city of Mashhad, Tasnim News Agency reported earlier this month.

It quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as saying that the $2 billion project was finalised after Xi’s visit and would take 42 months to build.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Borzorgmehr Sharafedin in DUBAI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell