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Wed 30 May 2007 04:09 PM

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Iran dreams of bullet train to Mashhad

German engineers bid for $8bn magnetic levitation railway linking Tehran to holy shrine of Mashhad.

A German engineering company is bidding to build a 400km/h magnetic levitation train that will link the Iranian capital Tehran with the holy shrine of Mashhad in the northeast of the country.

If the plan goes ahead, pilgrims will be able to make the 800km journey from Tehran to Mashhad in just over two hours - a dramatic improvement over the current 14 hour train journey or two-day endurance trip by bus.

Mashhad has its own airport, but it is overwhelmed by up to 12 million pilgrims visiting the Shia shrine every year.

Munich-based engineering firm Shlegel hopes that it will get the green light from the Iranian Transport Ministry for the project that will cost €6 billion ($8 million) for the magnetic track alone. No figures have been announced for the cost of trains.

Existing sanctions are likely to prove a stumbling block to the progress of the railway deal, admits Otto Wiesheu, a member of the board of German Railways, which is backing the bid. "Iran is without doubt a difficult country. I hope that international relations will improve," he said.

The diplomatic efforts to advance the project are likely to be made even more difficult next week when US President Bush will be asking heads of state at a G8 meeting to further tighten sanctions against Iran.

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