Afghanistan railway FAQ

Are there any railways in Afghanistan?

Yes!

Those are all cross-border extensions of railway networks in neighbouring countries. Does Afghanistan have any internal railways for domestic purposes?

No. There was a very short and short-lived steam line in Kabul, as well as some small industrial railways.

Is there a railway from China to Afghanistan?

Not directly. While we should never say never, the geography would be somewhat challenging. Rail freight between China and Afghanistan travels via the former USSR.

What about Pakistan and the Khyber Pass?

The famous railway though the Khyber Pass stopped short of the Afghan border. The line was badly damaged by flooding, and sadly is no longer usable. Pakistan Railways also has an operational railway to Chaman, which again stops short of the Afghan border.

Tajikistan?

Building a railway from Tajikistan to Afghanistan has been discussed, but there isn’t one at the moment.

Does Afghanistan have any passenger trains?

Not at the moment.

Are there any rail tours?

I’ve not heard of one… yet.

I have 10 containers full of widgets that I need to send from China to Afghanistan, can you give me price for transporting them?

I’m afraid not, this is a railway enthusiast site.

Tell me about the gauge thing…?

The gauge of a railway is the distance between the inside faces of the two rails. This is a key parameter for a railway; the trains need to match the track.

The railways into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan (one line) and Turkmenistan (two lines) use 1520 mm (previously defined as 1524 mm, and 5 ft in imperial measurements) broad gauge, commonly called “Russian gauge”, which is used throughout the former USSR, Finland and Mongolia.

The Iran to Herat province railway is 1435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) gauge. Known as “standard” gauge, or sometimes as UIC gauge or Stephenson gauge, this is the nost extensively used gauge in the world and is found in Iran, Turkey, China, most of the Middle East, North America and most of Europe (except the former USSR, Finland, Iberia and the island of Ireland).

Pakistan and India use 1676 mm (5 ft 6 in) gauge, known as “Indian gauge”, although the network does not reach Afghanistan.

When railways of different gauges meet, there is what is known as a “break of gauge”. This is a bad thing for railway operations,as goods and people need to change to a different train. While gauge-changing trains do exist and are used in places like Spain and between the former USSR and EU countries, these are relatively expansive and complicated. For most freight traffic you may as well just transfer containers between ordinary wagons of different gauges. This is what happens every day on the border between China and the 1520 mm gauge region, and between 1520 mm gauge Belarus and 1435 mm gauge Poland. Dual-gauge track also exists, but the 1520 mm and 1435 mm gauges are too similar to allow the use of track with three rails.

I backpacked to Kabul [mumble mumble] years ago and took some photographs of the steam engines, would you like to see the pictures?

Yes please!

Do you know about that other Afghan railway line which isn’t mentioned on this website?

Please tell me more!

Who are you?

http://www.andrewgrantham.co.uk

Have you ever been to Afghanistan?

No. And for sadly obvious reasons, I don’t expect to go any time soon.

I’m not really into trains; how about big lumps of concrete built to detect Zeppelin raids?

Funny you should mention that…