India Initiates Connectivity Trials with the Middle East Under IMEC Project


India is set to commence connectivity trial runs with the Middle East as part of the ambitious India-Middle East-EU Economic Corridor (IMEC) project. The first phase will involve linking a major port on India’s west coast with its counterpart in West Asia, incorporating associated rail links.

Feasibility studies are underway to identify rail connectivity gaps and propose solutions. These studies also aim to determine the nature of cargo, expected volume, and other related factors. According to officials, the initial phase involves assessing target traffic, infrastructure gaps, and regulatory procedures to evaluate both tangible and intangible benefits. Initially, the cargo types planned include containers, with potential expansion into dry bulk and liquid bulk, excluding petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL).

The IMEC, a proposed 4,800 km route comprising railroad, ship-to-rail networks, and road transport routes, was announced in September 2023 during the G20 Summit in New Delhi. This initiative followed a meeting of leaders from India, the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France, Germany, and the European Commission. The IMEC is strategically viewed as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), albeit on a smaller scale.

Officials have identified major ports in India and the UAE for the trial runs. Shortlisted ports on India’s western coast include Kandla, Mundra (in Gujarat), and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Maharashtra. These ports are proposed to connect with Jebel Ali, Fujairah, or Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

As per the original plan, the three Indian ports will connect by sea to Fujairah, Jebel Ali, and Abu Dhabi, followed by a rail-road link through Saudi Arabia and Jordan. This route extends to Europe via the port of Haifa in Israel, and ports in Marseille (France), Messina (Italy), and Piraeus (Greece).

Dammam and Ras-al-Khair in Saudi Arabia were also considered initially. The official explained that India already has a basic rail framework. The Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) and Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) are mostly operational.

“Further integration of the Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFC) into the existing Indian Railway network by commissioning a third or fourth line to DFC standards will ensure faster movement of goods. Feasibility studies and trial run results will provide more insights,” an official elaborated.

The IMEC project is seen as a significant development in global connectivity. Recent updates indicate growing diplomatic and political convergence between India, the Arab Gulf monarchies, Israel, and the US. This corridor aims to foster economic cooperation and enhance trade routes, offering an alternative to China’s BRI.

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