Ambitious proposals

Previous page: King Amanullah’s travels

In the August 1928 report The Locomotive1 said "Following King Amanullah’s visit to Europe, agents of American, French and German firms were invited to Kabul to make surveys for the construction of roads and railways. It is now announced that the Lenz company of Berlin, has secured an option on all public railway construction and operations in Afghanistan."

The first section of German-built railway was to have linked Jalalabad with Kabul, eventually connecting to the Indian system at Peshawar. Lines to join Kabul with Kandahar and Herat would follow later.2

A French syndicate headed by arms dealer Sir Basil Zaharoff agreed to survey the route of a railway from Kabul to Kandahar, to be followed by an extension to Herat, in summer 1928. A team of engineers was assembled, headed by Michel Clemenceau and Pierre Makecheef. The British government arranged for Zaharoff and Clemenceau to keep them informed of developments, and in September they told the British embassy in Paris that they had surveyed the Kabul to Herat route.3

King Amanullah was overthrown, abdicating on 14 January 1929. He left Afghanistan, travelling via Chaman on 23 May bound for Bombay.

In February 1929 Michel Clemenceau returned to Kabul to continue working on the French scheme.

In March 1930 Railway Gazette said "It is reported from Calcutta that a contract given some time ago to a German firm for the construction of the first railway in Afghanistan has been confirmed by King Nadir Shah, and that a delegation of engineers will shortly be leaving Germany for Kabul. The plans provide for ultimately connecting the main line from Kabul with Russian railheads at Kushka and Termez, while another line will link Kandahar with Chaman and Quetta."4

Questions were raised about this contract in the House of Commons.5 Mr Freeman asked the Secretary of State for India whether the government had been officially advised or consulted with regard to the contract with a German firm for a railway between Kabul and Torkham, the last Afghan post on the Indian frontier; if the proposal contemplated the connection of the main line from Kabul with Kushk and Termez; and whether the government of India had communicated to him their observations on the proposal. Mr Wedgewood Benn replied "I have no official information of the existence of any such contract, though I have seen the newspaper report to which my honourable friend no doubt refers."

In November 1930 the Reuters Tehran correspondent reported that King Nadir Shah had endorsed the German contract.6 In July 1932 The Western Mail reported that an ambitious scheme current since 1928 proposed a Kabul to Jalalabad line, then a link to Torkham on the Indian border.7 A line of about 523 km would link Kabul with Kandahar via Ghazni, and a further line would be built between Kandahar and Herat. The line from Kabul would eventually be extended to meet the Russian railhead at Kushk and Termez, providing a through rail route between Europe and India.

The Afghan government approached the Japanese Railway Department to supply engineers and investment of ¥50m for the 1 600 km scheme. The request followed successful Persian and Soviet employment of Japanese engineers.8

In January 1932 Northern News Services Ltd reported that King Nadir Shah had approved a new railway scheme.9 This would run from the Khyber Pass, through Jalalabad to Kabul, and then to Kandahar and Chaman, with a subsidiary line from Chaman to Herat. The total length would be 1 440 km, and heavy engineering works would be needed. The line was planned as metre gauge, but the Indian 1 676 mm would be considered "if it is found not to be very much more expensive". The government hoped to use motor transport to provides links with important centres not on the rail network. According to Railway Gazette, "the only railway in Afghanistan at the present time is a line about two miles long at Kabul, but this is little more than a tramway and service is intermittent". This suggests the Amanullah’s tramway was still operational, though perhaps truncated.

Later the same month it was reported that an agreement had been signed between representatives of Russia, Persia and Afghanistan, and Japanese financiers for a line linking Russia with India.10 "The report gives strength to the opinion that the Soviet government has given Japan a free hand in Manchuria in return for Japanese financial support of Russian enterprises in the East."

None of these lines were built.

Next page: International plans and grand projects


  1. The Locomotive Magazine p262 1928-08-15
  2. Projected Afghan railways Railway Gazette International p686 November 1930
  3. 1928-09-18 IOL, LPS/10/1928 Afghan series Serial no 117, reference in Reform & Rebellion in Afghanistan 1919 – 1929 Leon B Poullada
  4. Railway Developments in Afghanistan Railway Gazette p439 1930-03-21
  5. An Afghanistan Railway Questions in Parliament Railway Gazette p826 1930-05-23
  6. Projected Afghan Railways Railway Gazette International p686 November 1930
  7. Railway Development in Afghanistan Railway Gazette p141 1931-07-31
  8. Japanese Engineers for Afghan Railways Railway Gazette p382 1931-09-18
  9. Railway Development in Afghanistan Railway Gazette p61 1932-01
  10. Afghan Railway Scheme Railway Gazette p164 1932-01-29

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