Close on the heels of the launch of a new shipping route connecting three Indian ports with Chabahar, Iran is eyeing the construction of a gas pipeline and a railway link to Zahedan to boost activities at the strategic port, Iranian officials said on Monday.The first Indian container vessel operating on the new route set sail from Mumbai and called at Mundra and Kandla ports in Gujarat before berthing on Sunday at Shahid Beheshti terminal of Iran’s Chabahar port, whose operations are controlled by state-owned India Ports Global Limited. The vessel will continue to Bandar Abbas, the final port of call on the route. “With the arrival of the first 3,700 TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) container ship at Shahid Beheshti (in) Chabahar port, for the first time, the shipping line between the ports of Mumbai, Mundra and Kandla has opened,” said Behrouz Aghai, managing director of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization in Sistan and Baluchistan province.Iranian officials in New Delhi said more cargo vessels will sail from Mumbai to Chabahar and Bandar Abbas every fortnight. Coupled with the United States sanctions waiver for Chabahar granted last November, the officials said they expect the new shipping route to ramp up activities at the port.Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, described the new shipping route as a “symbolically significant development at a time when Afghanistan is in a state of flux”. He said: “It is one of various options that could be viewed by India and like-minded nations such as Japan at a time when Afghanistan is both a complex strategic challenge and an opportunity.”As part of measures to boost infrastructure at the port and its free trade zone, Iran is looking at the construction of a nearly 200-km gas pipeline from Iranshahr to Chabahar and a railway link of about 500 km from Chabahar to Zahedan, which is close to the Afghan border, the officials added. India has conducted a feasibility study and opened a line of credit for the railway link, about 100km of which will be completed by March. The project is expected to cost $1.6 billion and Iran has invested $300 million in it.“The terrain in the area is not difficult and once the railway link is completed, Chabahar will be linked to the extensive rail network in northern Iran, making it easier to ship goods to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries,” said an official.“The new gas pipeline could boost the development of industries such as refineries, CNG plants and units making petro-chemicals,” the official added.As part of joint efforts to promote Chabahar port and attract investments, India and Iran will organise the “Chabahar Day” conference on February 26. Delegates from central Asian countries, traders and freight companies are expected to attend the event. Iran will cover accommodation and domestic travel expenses, officials said.In a related development, the first cargo shipment from Afghanistan to India via Chabahar is expected to be sent in February. The shipment will comprise five containers of mung beans, with each container weighing 22 tonnes. The delivery will be done under the TIR or International Road Transports convention, which streamlines procedures at borders and reduces the burden for customs authorities.Afghanistan, India and Iran signed an agreement to develop Chabahar in May 2016. India sees Chabahar as key to its plans to gain access to the landlocked Central Asian states and Afghanistan while bypassing Pakistan. Iran is among India’s three largest oil suppliers along with Iraq and Saudi Arabia.