India Eyes Trial Runs with Middle East Ports to Boost IMEC


India is currently investigating trial runs for connectivity with the Middle East. The initial phase will focus on connecting a port on India's west coast with its counterpart in West Asia. According to officials involved in the discussions, these trials, integral to the proposed India-Middle East EU Economic Corridor (IMEC) project, will also assess the feasibility of associated rail links between these ports.

Feasibility studies are underway to identify gaps in rail connectivity and potential solutions to address them. Additionally, studies are being conducted to analyze the type of cargo, expected volume, and other relevant factors. According to the official, the initial phase involves studying target traffic, infrastructure deficiencies, and operational and regulatory procedures to assess tangible (cost and time) and intangible benefits.

The cargo types initially planned are containers, with further expansion into dry bulk and liquid bulk (except POL). “Volume identification is under study,” the official said. The IMEC, a proposed route spanning 4,800 kilometers, includes a combination of railroad, ship-to-rail networks, and road transport routes across two corridors. It was unveiled in September 2023 in New Delhi during 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.

An official clarified that there are significant ports on both the Indian and UAE sides. The shortlisted ports along India's western coast primarily consist of Kandla and Mundra in Gujarat, as well as JNPT in Maharashtra. It is proposed that these ports will be linked 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.

According to the initial plan, the three Indian ports are slated to be linked via sea routes to Fujairah, Jebel Ali, and Abu Dhabi in the east. Subsequently, a rail-road connection through Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be established. This route will then extend further to Europe in the west, connecting with the port of Haifa in Israel, along with ports in Marseille, France; Messina, Italy; and Piraeus, Greece.

Dammam and Ras-al-Khair in Saudi Arabia were among the ports initially considered. The official noted that India already possesses a fundamental rail infrastructure. The Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) and Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) are largely 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.