First Russian Direct Transit Freight Train Arrives In Saudi Arabia

by Russia Briefing [8-30-2023 published].

A transit freight train from Russia with 36 containers has passed through the Iranian transport corridor to Saudi Arabia, according to Miad Salehi, the head of Iran Railways. The train arrived on Sunday (August 27).

Salehi said it was the first time transit cargo from Russia had traveled via Iran’s Incheh Borun rail border near Turkmenistan. It was dispatched to the port city of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz and was transferred from there to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s largest port city. It is the first time that Russia has sent a train this far south using the North-South Transport Corridor and marks the emergence of new regional supply chains connecting Russia directly to the Middle East.

The train left Russia’s Chelyabinsk freight station on June 21st, and transited through Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The route reduces delivery times by several days, and is less expensive than the alternative maritime and Suez canal route. It also allows the export of Russian goods to Saudi Arabia by reducing customs tariffs to almost half the normal amounts.

Hojatollah Abdolmaleki, Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme Council of Free Economic Zones commented that the new transport corridors within the wider International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), passing through Iran, have begun to operate. According to him, the new corridor links Russia and Arab countries by rail through Iran and by sea through the Persian Gulf.

The INSTC, which has been touted as an alternative to the Suez Canal, is a 7,200km (4,473 miles) multi-mode transit system that will connect ship, rail, and road routes for moving cargo between Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, India, and Central Asia.

The total cargo flow along the INSTC was 14.5 million tons in 2022, and the projection for this year is 17.6 million tons, according to Russia’s Transport Ministry.

Russia has repeatedly suggested that the INSTC could become a substitute for the Suez Canal – the 193km (119 miles) waterway in Egypt that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. About 12% of global trade passes through it each day.

Moscow is seeking to both ensure interconnectivity throughout the INSTC and launch regular freight shipping lines, President Vladimir Putin said last month. The volume of goods shipped via the INSTC is expected to almost triple over the next seven years, and the Russian leader has suggested establishing a logistics hub for the corridor on the African coast. It is of note that in 2018 Russia and Eritrea announced their intentions to build a logistics center in Massawa port city, while Ethiopia has recently joined the BRICS.