Johannes Heger from Austria has completely updated his unofficial Iranian Railways website, which was at www.msedv.com/rai but is now at www.iranrail.net.
There is information about passenger travel, and lots of good links.
An article at The Bug Pit, UN: NDN An Express Train For Afghan Drug Traffickers, draws attention to an October 2012 report from the UN Office on Drugs & Crime, Misuse of Licit Trade for Opiate Trafficking in Western and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment. This report contains information about rail transport in Central Asia, as well as lots of details of the movements of undesirable substances.
As Bug Pit author Joshua Kucera points out, “it stands to reason that making transportation easier would make illicit trafficking easier – especially in countries where border officials are notoriously corrupt.”
The UN report says:
Uzbek officials stationed at the [Hairatan] border are generally well trained and receive relatively high salaries. The risk of concealed drugs crossing the border undetected is therefore lower at the Hairatan BCP than it is in Naibabad.
This issue has been raised at a couple of railway conferences I’ve been to in Turkey and the UAE, where it was suggested that providing decent jobs – particularly wages – for border officials in places like Central Asia can easily pay for itself in smoother regional trade, and also help to ensure that legitimate fees are charged and go where they should be going, rather than unofficial fees which disappear into black holes.
It was even suggested that dealing with these matters might offer better benefits for the cost than funding fancy new transport infrastructure.
The report also offers some information about trains:
The Hairatan [Border Control Point] primarily receives cargo arriving on the Termez-Hairatan railway from Uzbekistan. On average, 100-120 containers are sent to and from Hairatan BCP each day.26 Interview with Customs Officials at Dry Ports in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, March 2012. At the Hairatan BCP and Naibabad dry port, cargo is trans-shipped from trains onto trucks, which then travel along the assigned transit routes to Pakistan.
and about boats:
The large river port at Termez ships approximately 1,000 tons of cargo daily to a location only 500 metres away from the Hairatan BCP in Afghanistan.
The road and railway link from Termez to Hairatan runs along the northern trade route and is part of
the Northern Distribution Network.137 The railway line was only completed in 2010. The railway line has the capacity to transport 4,000 tons of cargo per month and can cater for eight trains travelling in each direction per day. On average, 100-120 containers travel the route every day.138 US Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5380.htm Although the road leading from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif has recently been improved, it is not capable of handling high levels of traffic. Therefore, cargo continues to be delivered to and from Afghanistan primarily along the railway route.
The railway dates from 1982, and “4,000 tons of cargo per month” sounds rather low; perhaps that should be per day, meaning 500 tons on each of those eight trains – or 250 tonnes if both directions are included?
In 2007, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a transport and transit agreement. [...] Both countries also agreed to extend the Turkmen railroad network from Serkhetabad to Torghundi in the Afghan Herat province and to construct a trans-Afghan gas pipeline.
There are two main trade and transit trade routes leading from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan. The first is a direct road and railroad link from Torghundi in Afghanistan to Serkhetabad in Turkmenistan. On average, the rail services at Torghundi transport around 50 wagons per day, while Torghundi dry port trans-ships containers delivered by approximately 300-350 trucks per day. From Torghundi dry port, Afghan goods can be delivered via Turkmenistan to the Russian Federation or the Islamic Republic of Iran. From the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are shipped to countries in the Persian Gulf, or through Turkey to European markets.
The report continues:
The second transit route is a railroad that runs from Afghanistan via Turkmenistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It begins at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan and terminates at the Iranian Bandar Abbas seaport:
- Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan) – Andkhoy – Chardzhou (Turkmenistan) – Serahs (Turkmenistan) – Mashhad (Islamic Republic of Iran) – Kerman – Bandar Abbas
A Mazar-i-Sharif – Andkhoy – Turkmenstan railway is still only at the planning stage.
On a daily basis, approximately 50 vehicles cross the Imamnazar border in each direction180 Asian Development Bank, 2010, while a further 20-30 trucks cross at Serkhetabad.
MoU of Railway Construction Signed between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan
March 20, 2013- On his first day of the visit, President Hamid Karzai attended a trilateral summit held in Ashgabat between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
At the end of the summit, the three Presidents signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of rail transport infrastructure linking Turkmenistan and the Islamic Afghanistan and Afghanistan and the Republic of Tajikistan.
According to the memorandum, the Parties within one month from the date of signing of this Memorandum will hold experts meeting from the relevant ministries and agencies of the three countries for detailed study of routes, as well as organizational, legal and financial bases for the practical implementation of the railway construction project. The construction of this railway will begin in early July of the current year.
The railway will start from Atamurat -Ymamnazar of Turkmenistan leading to Akina-Andkhoy of Afghanistan, then connecting to Tajikistan via Shirkhan port of Kunduz province .
Following the signing ceremony, the three Presidents attended a joint press conference where they described this project as important for enhanced trade and economic development of countries in the region.
At the press conference, President Karzai said that this railway would not only link Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan but it would also play an important role in strengthening economies of countries and peoples in this region.
The President added, by signing the memorandum, they took another step for their peoples’ well-being which would result in economic growth for the three countries, bringing them a brighter future.
President Karzai is scheduled to attend Nowruz International Festival tomorrow
Source: Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 20 March 2013
There is also a statement from the Government of Turkmenistan (in Russian), but it doesn’t add anything.
Some things that touring President Eisenhower and his retinue didn’t have a chance to see during their six-hour trip to Kabul last December:
The country’s only railroad – well, railroad equipment. Two ancient steam engines and tenders given Afghanistan by the late Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. The train used to make miniature runs from the Parliament building to the palaces in the center of town. Now there’s not even a track and the engines are kept as curiosity pieces.
Source: Contrasts Plentiful In Afghanistan, AI Goldberg of AP’s Moscow staff, in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune of 1 February 1960.
Another mention of there only being two locomotives in the past – however today there are three locomotives in the museum. It might be noted that the Kaiser had abdicated in 1918, while the locomotives date from 1923.
The short rail link from Serhertabat in Turkmenistan to Torghundi in Afghanistan has a much lower profile than the railway from Uzbekistan, presumably because of its back-of-beyond location and the general inaccessibility of Turkmenistan.
But it would appear that this was the first main line railway into Afghanistan. So when did it open? Presumably news from a remote border of the Soviet Union wasn’t plentiful at the time it did open, and modern mentions of the railway take a vague guess at little more the Soviet era, but can it be pinned down more accurately?
It certainly predates the Friendship Bridge line from Uzbekistan:
A provincial Soviet newspaper reported in November that work was under way on the “seventh span” of a road-and-rail bridge between the Soviet and Afghan banks of the Amu Darya. “It is planned to open traffic on the new bridge in May 1982,” the report said.
The railway station at Towraghondi, on Afghanistan’s northwest border with the Soviet Union, is being rebuilt with Soviet help.
Source: Soviets’ second front in Afghanistan, Ned Temko, Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor 4 December 1981
It seems the railway appears in a Russian Central Studio of Documentary Films production about Soviet assistance to Afghanistan, “Over the Highest Mountains” (Выше самых высоких гор). The Net Film webpage says the film is from 1960, but it includes “Khrushchev’s stay in Afghanistan (March, 1961.)”, so something isn’t quite right. This is a section of the English description, with the Russian words interspersed where the translation is a bit odd:
Prime Minister of Afghanistan – Mohammed Daoud Khan has arrived in Turgundi station [станцию] to meet one of the first waggonages [составов, Google Translate of the Russian text says "trains"] which has arrived from the USSR.
A waggonage with vehicles, machines, road machinery is moving along a new railway road.
The road machinery designated for construction of Kushka-Terat-Kandahar highway, is being reloaded from platforms [платформ - flat wagon] to lorries.
A panorama of the reloading station – Turgundi.
Source: Over the Highest Mountains, Net Film
UPDATE: The text seems to have changed since I drafted the above post, and now says:
Delivery of goods from the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a new overland – by rail, going across the border to the border of the village Turgundi – the general plan.
Part of the railway – the average plan.
Composition is the engineer Ivanov.
Trains with goods in transit.
Source: Over the Highest Mountains, Net Film
Mohammed Daoud Khan was Prime Minister from 7 September 1953 to 10 March 1963, which suggests the railway opened at some point 1953-1960.
Транспортная блокада Афганистана is a Russian language article dated 20 May 2011, which says (thanks to Google Translate and a bit of guesswork) that the line was “built to facilitate the delivery of equipment and materials in the construction of highways Kushka – Herat – Kandahar”.
So if we can work out when the road works were undertaken, we might be able to pin down a date for the railway.
Silent film from 1928.
Our Royal Guests – Britain welcomes Amanullah, King of Afghanistan and Souriya, his beautiful Queen
Dover, Kent and London.
The King and Queen walk beside a train on a railway platform at Dover with their entourage and are greeted by men in white wigs; one reads to them from a book – presumably some kind of traditional greeting; the book is handed to the King, the Queen is given a bunch of flowers.
At a London railway station (probably Victoria) we see the royal party getting off the train and being greeted by King George V and Queen Mary; they are all seen shaking hands with various military dignitaries. The two Kings walk past a line of guards in busbys outside the station then get into an open carriage under a canopy of international flags outside the station; the two Queens can be made out in the background getting into their open carriage.
Bonhams auction 19952 on 4 December 2012 included this lot 283, which sold for £3750.
283 RICH (EDMUND TILLOTSON)
A very good archive representing the military career of Edmund Rich (1874-1937), an officer of the Royal Engineers and surveyor, mostly on the North-West Frontier and in Burma (at first in conjunction with the Survey of India and latterly as one of its directors), also relating to survey in South Persia during World War I, and with the British forces in Southern Russia in 1919, comprising a series of photographs albums, loose photographs, autograph letters, orders, draft reports, maps ephemera, etc., together with a small quantity of photographs, letters and documents relating to Rich’s ancestors, those of his wife Aileen Owen (d.1918), and their son (quantity)
In 1905 Rich was sent to Peshawar in charge of No. 12 Party with orders to survey the sensitive area north of Kohat Pass. This work lasted four years and included the Bazar Valley and Mohmand campaigns of 1908. The archive contains Rich’s alternative survey for the Kabul River Railway which resulted in the cancellation of the line then under construction, and the dismantling of track and bridges already in place. 1909-1911 were spent in England (Rich married in 1910).
According to the auction listing, the most substantial of the items include “An album containing titled in manuscript ‘Views of the Khyber Pass…taken chiefly by E.T. Rich when surveying there 1905-1909, approximately 176 gelatin silver prints”.
From this it can be inferred that photos of the Kabul River Railway might well exist.
If you bought this archive, and you happen to read this webpage, is there any chance that I could have a look at it, please? :-)
(a different Edmund Rich was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th century, which complicates web searches for any information about this particular one)
The February 2013 issue of Modern Railways magazine has a two-page article on Afghan railways by John Glover, “Starting from scratch in Afghanistan”.
Based on a lecture by Richard Brown at the Railway Study Association on 5 December 2012, it covers the political, policy and economic situations, the new line to Mazar-i-Sharif and the gauge question.
There are photos by David Brice showing wagons being unloaded in Naibabad and 2TEM10 locomotives.