Iran and Afghanistan have officially inaugurated their first railway link, an achievement the two countries’ presidents said would help enhance trade across the region.
The 140-kilometer line running from Khaf in northeastern Iran into Rozanak in the western Afghan province of Herat is seen as providing a crucial transport link for the landlocked country, where decades of war have hindered infrastructure development.
The link is to be eventually expanded by 85 kilometers to reach Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city.
The $75 million Khaf-Herat railway project began in 2007, with Tehran funding construction on both sides of the border.
Speaking during the inauguration ceremony, held via videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the new railway link represents an "important step for economic revival and development in both the countries.”
Iran's President Hassan Rohani said it was “one of the historic days” in relations between the two neighbors.
"I see the prosperity of Iran and Afghanistan in this railway," Rohani said, also speaking via video link.
"The development, security, and stability of Afghanistan [contributes to] development, security, and stability in Iran and the entire region," he added.
The ceremony saw cargo trains depart from opposite ends of the line, a week after a shipment of cement was sent from Iran to Afghanistan by rail, inaugurating the railway link project.
Once completed, the 225-kilometer link will help transport 6 million tons of goods and 1 million passengers annually, according to officials.
Iran seeks to become a regional transport hub, allowing Afghanistan and other landlocked countries in the region to ship goods to its ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.