If he were alive today, Darius the Great would have cheered the commissioning by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in March of a new railway connecting their countries. The fifth century Persian king was able to dominate much of West Asia in part because he understood the strategic importance of transportation and organized one of the world's first highways: the Royal Road. The route spanned all of modern-day Iraq and Turkey, and cut messengers' travel times by a factor of 12.
Under Rouhani, who faces reelection on May 19, Iran has made its own bid to replicate Darius' feat. Some may consider Iran a pariah state, but an increasingly impressive network of road and rail links is tying the country into the global trading patterns of powerful neighbors. Although Iran's ambitions are large and strategic, small railway projects like this one play an important role.