Dubai — Tehran traffic is gridlocked half the time, and the city spends most of the year engulfed in smog, so it’s not surprising that locals travel underground when they can — on a metro system that sometimes carries 2-million people a day. During the sanctions decade, when Iran was largely frozen out of global commerce, the capital’s authorities managed to steadily expand the network — roughly doubling its size. It wasn’t easy. Often, "the parts we needed, we had to build ourselves", said Ali Abdollahpour, deputy MD of Tehran Urban and Suburban Railway Operating Company. A constant of those years was Chinese help, with everything from building rails to manufacturing wagons. The nuclear deal of 2015, and the lifting of major sanctions the year after, was supposed to broaden Iran’s options. Abdollahpour had his eyes on Europe ("their tech is better") for essential braking and signaling systems. But when a major contract, to supply more than 600 wagons, came up for tender it went to ...

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