"Hi, Made-in-China," said an Iranian boy who smiled and waved to us on the platform of the subway station of Emmam Khomeini in Teheran, Iran.
We had become familiar with this special greeting for Chinese during our visit to Iran. But we were also often mistaken as Japanese or Koreans because of similar East Asian looks. After taking a subway tour through this massive capital city, we realized why this boy would first think we were Chinese this time.
The Teheran Metro is actually the biggest Chinese-made project in the country and one of the largest electrical and mechanical export contracts China has ever had overseas.
Under a US$328 million contract, China provided electrical and mechanical systems for Line 1 and Line 2 of the city's subway. The general contractor was China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), a leading transnational conglomerate in the country.
"The metro is a 20-year dream come true for Teheranians," said Kia Faribolz, head of the station of Emmam Khomeini, where Line 1 and Line 2 meet. "And it is now helping to ease the pressure on ground traffic."
Teheran is the largest city in the Middle East and Gulf area, with a population of more than 10 million. The 3 million motor vehicles here have led to serious traffic and environmental problems. The Iranian Government and Teheran city authorities believed that an efficient subway system was the solution.
Tunnel and station construction actually started as early as 1981, but the project was delayed by the eight-year war with Iraq. Soon after the war ended in 1988, then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his government listed the Teheran subway as a top project under the country's reconstruction programme.
When former Chinese President Yang Shangkun visited Iran in October 1991, Rafsanjani invited Chinese companies to take part in bidding for the Teheran subway project. CITIC won the bid the following year, and it took another five years for the two sides to complete the negotiations for the final contract.
Both Teheran and CITIC have pinned high hopes on this project. In Iran, the Teheran metro was known as the "presidential No 1 project." By the time the project was completed, Iran would be the first country in the Middle East and Gulf area to operate a subway system. For CITIC, it was the first overseas general metro contract undertaken by a Chinese company.
"The success of the project will help open a new market for China in the Middle East region," said CITIC Teheran Metro Headquarters Chief Executive Shao Xiquan.
But Shao said the road to success was by no means smooth.
"Not everyone believed that Chinese companies were capable of equipping a subway, because it involved a comprehensive package of electrical and mechanical systems," Shao said.
Under Shao's command were more than 50 major domestic enterprises supplying 76 per cent of the power, railway, mechanical and electronic products. The rest of the equipment was provided by European companies.
"It is not easy to co-ordinate such a big project, but I am impressed by our partners and workers who have shown great teamwork and a strong sense of co-operation and devotion," Shao said.
He still remembered the remarks of Teheran Urban & Suburban Railway Company (TUSRC) President Mohsen Hashemi at the project commencement ceremony: "People from some developed countries do not believe that China has the technology and capacity to build a subway. I hope the Chinese will prove through their actions that they can build a high-quality and high-level subway, and that Iran was right in choosing China as its partner."
Now Hashemi can proudly say his company made the right decision.
The first section of the Teheran Metro has now been running safely since February 2000. Currently, more than 80 per cent of the two lines of subway has been completed.
Shao has been working for seven years in Iran since the project was launched. He could not remember how he and his colleagues celebrated the many festivals, but he could never forget the opening ceremony for each of these subway sections.
"It was like a festival for Iranians, too," he said. "Almost all the top Iranian leaders attended the ceremonies. President (Mohammad) Khatami was present twice. People just could not wait to throng into the stations."
"I felt all our efforts had paid off when I was given a thumbs-up by happy passengers."
The Teheran subway is now transporting 700,000 passengers a day. It was 10 am when we toured the metro, but the carriages were packed just like during rush hour.
"The subway is running very well," said Kia Faribolz, head of Emmam Khomeini station. "Teheranians like to use it. Our company is preparing to buy more cars to meet the increasing demand of passenger flow."
CITIC is gaining a firm foothold in the Iranian market. It has obtained a US$75 million contract to build the extended line to the north of Line 1.
Iranian Government officials have also expressed their willingness to work with Chinese companies to build subway systems in other large cities, CITIC sources said.
Source: China Daily