File photo of a railroad project in Iran

Iran Announces $20bn High-Speed Train Project

Monday, 02/05/2024

Iran has announced a $20-billion high-speed train network to be funded through the National Development Fund and oil barter agreements amid the country's worst ever economic crisis.

The announcement comes on the back of an admission from Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, the Interim Friday Prayer Imam of Tehran, who revealed last month that the government had yet to return $100 billion it had withdrawn from Iran’s National Development Fund (NDF). The withdrawal represents two-thirds of Iran’s aggregate reserve fund, which was initially estimated to be as high as $150 billion.

The ambitious plans for the sanctions-hit nation see the line stretch from Esfahan (Isfahan) to Tehran and then to Mashhad in the northeast. Mohsen Mansouri, the executive deputy of the president said, "The implementation of the project requires substantial resources, and the estimated figure is around $20 billion; however, once the studies are completed, the exact figure can be stated. This figure presents a mega-project to us, and we cannot use public resources to fund it."

Mansouri's remarks were made on Monday during a trip to Semnan province, where he revealed that the president had convened a special session with officials from the Oil Ministry, the Plan and Budget Organization, and the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development to secure the necessary resources.

The NDF, established in the early 2000s, was designed to preserve a portion of oil revenues for future generations and Iran’s development. However, as international sanctions hit Iran during 2011-2013, the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initiated withdrawals from the fund.

Even after the end of sanctions in 2015 following a nuclear agreement, withdrawals persisted throughout Rouhani’s two terms (2013-2021), totaling $30 billion during his initial tenure. The reimposition of sanctions by former US President Donald Trump led to increased reliance on reserves, resulting in negative cash flow in the NDF.

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