Russia-Iran rail link to open in 2011

KIEV Mon May 19, 2008 2:53pm BST

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KIEV (Reuters) - A railway linking Russia and Iran via Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will open in December 2011, a top Turkmen executive said on Monday.

The link, which will be constructed by the two ex-Soviet states, along with Iran, will cover 900 km (560 miles) and will allow for travel and goods transportation between Europe and the Persian Gulf in one continuous stretch for the first time ever.

"Turkmenistan adheres to the principle of multiplicity in the transport of its oil and gas resources to world markets," Gurbanmyrat Begmuradov, Chairman of Turkmenistan's state-owned Halkbank, said at the annual meeting of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in Kiev.

The line, from the Kazakh city of Uzen to the northern Iranian city of Gorgan via Turkmenistan, will start transporting up to 5 million tonnes of goods per year, Begmuradov told a panel.

Russia already connects to Kazakhstan by rail.

"In the long term, this figure is expected to rise to 10-12 million tonnes annually," he added.

The project, which was pioneered by Turkmen president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov late last year, will allow the Central Asian, resource-rich state access to more trade.

Locked away during Soviet times and later under the 21-year rule of its late leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since Berdymukhamedov came to power in December 2006.

Unlike Niyazov, who banned opera during his rule and locked up political opponents, Berdymukhamedov has sought to attract foreign investment to the desert nation.

Two gas pipelines with a combined annual capacity of 50 billion cubic metres, one going to China and one to Russia, are also currently being built.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman)

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