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India is planning connectivity trial runs with Middle East Ports to drive forward IMEC

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NEW DELHI : India is exploring connectivity trial runs with Middle East; and the first phase would involve linking one port on the country’s west coast with its counterpart in West Asia. The trials, a part of the proposed India-Middle East EU Economic Corridor (IMEC) project, will also check on associated rail links with these ports, officials partaking in discussion said.

Feasibility studies are being carried out on identifying rail connectivity gaps and probable solutions to plug them. Also being carried out are studies to determine the nature of cargo, the expected volume and other associated factors.

According to the official, the initial phase involve study of the target traffic, infrastructure gaps, operational and regulatory procedures is being carried out to explore or evaluate tangible (cost & time) and intangible benefits.

The cargo types initially planned is containers, with further expansion into dry bulk, liquid bulk (except POL). “Volume identification is under study,” the official said.

Trade Highway

The IMEC, a proposed 4,800 km long route comprising a railroad, ship-to-rail networks, and road transport routes extending across two corridors, was announced in September 2023 in New Delhi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

This followed a meeting between the leaders of India, the US, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France, Germany, and the European Commission.

Strategically, the IMEC is viewed as a counter to China’s intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), although its scale and scope are relatively limited.

Trial Runs

There are major ports on both sides of India and UAE, an official explained. Primarily, the shortlisted ports along the western coast of India include Kandla and Mundra (in Gujarat) and JNPT in Maharashtra; and they are proposed to be connected to Jebel Ali, Fujairah or Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

“So one port in India and another in the Middle East will be shortlisted for the trial runs. The shortlisting process is under-way,” the official added.

As per the original plan, all the three Indian ports are to be connected by sea links to Fujairah, Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi in the east, followed by the rail-road link through Saudi Arabia and Jordan. This route will be extended onwards to Europe in the west by the port of Haifa in Israel, and along with the ports in Marseille in France, Messina in Italy and Piraeus in Greece.

Dammam and Ras-al-Khair in Saudi Arabia are two other ports that were under initial consideration. The official explained that the basic rail framework is existing in India. The Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) and Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) are mostly operational.

“And further, wherever required, the integration of DFC into the existing Indian Railway network by mandated by commissioning a third or fourth line to be of DFC standards will ensure faster movement of goods. That is something that feasibility studies and results of trial runs will throw up,” the official explained.

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