King Amanullah at Croydon airport

Film of King Amanullah of Afghanistan’s 1928 visit to Croydon airport.

King Amanullah, Afghanistan’s reforming pro-Western ruler, gets a good look around Croydon Airport in this film, which shows the monarch inspecting buildings and airplanes, including one with folding wings that’s stored in a portable hanger. He also received some mail, written in Persian, dropped by parachute, and noses around a control tower. The king looks interested throughout, and is accompanied by a number of local dignitaries.

Kunduz province Alchin bridge attack pictures and video

[no railways in this post!]

This is not a picture of the Alchin Bridge near Kunduz in Afghanistan being attacked by the Taliban. It is a picture of the controlled demolition of a bridge in Kansas in the USA in 2006.

 Topeka Boulevard bridge, USA, - not the Alchin bridge

Various news reports say a road bridge in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province was attacked by the Taliban (or possibly a US air strike) on 21 August 2016.

Most of the news reports are illustrated with a picture or video of an explosion destroying a bridge. While not all reports explicitly claim that the photo shows the attack in question, some do make this claim. Claims that the picture is of the attack are also being made on social media.

However, a Google reverse image search find that the picture is actually a screenshot from around 1 min 15 sec into a video of the demolition of a section of the Topeka Boulevard bridge over the Kansas River on 9 August 2006, to make way for a replacement bridge; note the truss bridge in the background, and the people at the lower centre of the image.

Here is another view of the Kansas bridge demolition:

Some of the Afghan news reports give the impression that the bridge which has been attacked is the bridge opened in 2007 across the river which forms the border between Shir Khan Badar in Afghanistan and Nizhny Pyanj in Tajikistan:

Afghanistan - Tajikistan Bridge 2012 side view
The Afghanistan – Tajikistan Bridge at Shir Khan Bandar.

However, other reports specify that the bridge which was attacked was in fact the Alchin Bridge, or Pul e Alchin. According to Google Maps, Alchin is near the city of Kunduz, and has a bridge which is on the road north from Kunduz to Shir Khan Bandar and Tajikistan. This is not the bridge at the border, but it is on the route to the border, and it becomes possible to see how confusion has arisen.

Alchin Bridge explosion map

I have not managed to find a verifiable photo of the Alchin Bridge.

Euston station master’s Afghan order


Tens of thousands of railway passengers will miss the short, stout, cheery-faced figure of Mr T. P. Wenlock, station master at Euston who is retiring after 45 years’ service with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. […] He has been decorated personally by the King with the M.B.E., presented with a diamond tie pin by the Prince of Wales, received the order of the House of Orange from the Queen of Holland, and given an order by ex-King Amanullah when he visited this country.

Source: Northern Daily Mail, 30 September 1930

RAF on the Afghan border

(no trains in this post!)


“ON THE AFGHAN BORDER – Air-Marshal Sir John Steel inspects the Bomber Squadron R.A.F. at Risalpur.”

Air Marshal Sir John Steel inspects the line of planes at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base, Risalpur, India. Formation of planes flying over Khyber Pass – problem bordering area between India and Afghanistan. Several shots of the planes in the air.


Hawker Hearts – early biplanes.

Several shots of the aircraft in flight over snow covered mountains in Afghanistan. RAF (Royal Air Force) man handle plane at base on the North West frontier. Shots of aircraft coming into land at the base. More shots of planes in-flight.

(Hawker Heart should presumably be Hawker Hart.)

Khyber Ropeway at Ali Masjid

I recently acquired a postcard entitled “Alimusjid Fort with Ropeway, Khyber Pass”, published by Mela Ram & Sons of Peshawar in the 1920s.

This aerial ropeway carried freight from the railhead at Jamrud to British military posts in the Khyber Pass during the period between the Third Afghan War and the opening of the Khyber railway.

1920s postcard showing Ali Masjid fort and the Khyber Pass ropeway

The ropeway’s history has been somewhat ignored in comparison to the railway. I have been (very slowly) doing some research at various libraries, and am putting together an article which should appear on this website in due course.

If anyone knows anything about the ropeway or the Khyber Ropeway Company (the army unit which operated it) then do please get in touch. I guess it is pretty much beyond living memory now, but someone might have heard some stories, read their grandfather’s diary or have found some old photos of it tucked away.

(Also, do ropeway historical societies/publications/enthusiasts exist?)

Is the Marmaray tunnel a new Silk Road?

Probably not just yet.

Marmaray tunnel

The Marmaray tunnel between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul was officially opened today.

Once the Marmaray project is finished the tunnel will link upgraded suburban railway lines on one side of the city to the other, with a metro-style commuter service running through (not dissimilar to London’s Crossrail project). In the longer term the Marmarary tunnel may also be used by intercity and freight trains, but details of this still seem a little vague.

Perhaps inevitably, the new tunnel is being described a part of a new Silk Road: “The Marmaray will provide a non-stop railway route connecting China to Western European markets and vice versa as a modern day “Iron Silk Road””, reports Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.

Is there any transport project east of the Landstraße1 which is not allegedly part of a new Silk Road?

There are news reports like this at BBC News: “In theory it brings closer the day when it will be possible to travel from London to Beijing via Istanbul by train.” Well, yes, but that is perhaps not very meaningful. There is already a rail route from London to Beijing via Russia, which avoids passing through places like Iran and Turkmenistan (and currently Uzbekistan, but that will be bypassed when the new north-south line is completed sometime soon-ish).

Going from Britain to China via Istanbul rather than Russia still requires two breaks of gauge, at the Iran/Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan/China borders instead of at the Poland/Belarus and Russia/China borders. The Turkish route also requires using a train ferry across Lake Van. The ECO Train plan for freight trains from Pakistan and Central Asia to Turkey seems to have fizzled out, and I think we can safely assume that the construction of a through rail route from Iran through northern Afghanistan to Tajikistan and China is probably some way off.

  1. Variants of the phrase “Asia/the Orient/the Balkans begins at the Landstrasse/Rennweg” seem to crop up frequently, referring to an area of Vienna and usually attributed to Klemens von Metternich. Googling seems to show that there are two quotes; one is apparently “Asien fängt auf der Landstraße an” by Ferdinand Kürnberger in Asiatisch und Sselbstloss of 16 November 1871, which is itself based on Metternich’s alleged comment about the Balkans beginning at the Rennweg.

Tracks, drugs and rolling stock

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, 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.

The line is originally older than 2007, which was when Turkmenistan funded rebuilding and reopening it.

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.

Afghanistan gives historic tank to Poland

No trains, but this is quite interesting. The government of Afghanistan has given Poland a French-built WWI era Renault FT-17 tank which had survived in Kabul.

Renault FT-17 tank

FT-17 tanks were used by Polish forces in the Polish–Soviet War of 1919-21. Some were captured by Russian Bolshevik forces, and subsequently given to the Amir of Afghanistan in 1923 (that would have been King Amanullah).

In recent years westerners released a few of these tanks had survived in Afghanistan, and some went to the USA and France for preservation.

The Polish President asked the Afghan President for one, and at the end of October it was flown to Poland for restoration at the Land Forces Training Centre in Poznan, and eventual display in the Warsaw military museum, “a testament to the Polish-Afghan friendship and a recognition of Poland’s contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan”, according to Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Turkmenistan railways

“Turkmenistan” magazine had an issue about the country’s railways (PDF) in March 2006, which you can read online in English and Russian.

Turkmenistan is a bit of an information black hole, beyond the legendary revolving gold statue of the late president. There doesn’t even seem to be a website for the national railway company (unless anyone knows better?).

It appears that since 2004 Chinese suppliers have replaced most of the Soviet-era fleet with a range of single and double-unit diesels. I’m attempting to put together a list of the different types they have, but am finding the supplier and official news agency’s numbers don’t add up – if you can help, please do get in touch!

Steam locomotive on top of an Uzbek mountain

On top of a hill in a remote area of Uzbekistan is a steam locomotive painted in the colours of the national flag. What is it, and how on earth did it get up there?

(Photo: Lisa K Walker 2009-06-13)

The locomotive stands on a hill overlooking at Oqrabot (or Акрабат (Akrabat) in Russian) station. Oqrabot is on the railway line from Karshi to Kumkorgan which opened in August 2007, providing a route to Termez which runs entirely within Uzbekistan, eliminating the need to for trains to transit Turkmenistan.

The station is said to be the highest point on the route, at 1510 m, and possibly the highest point on the rail systems of the whole CIS.

(Photo: Dmitry Kolesnikov 2009-03-06)

There is a close-up view of the locomotive in August 2010 on the Steam Engine IS website.

The locomotive carries the number Эр772-91, which transliterates to Er772-91. A vast number of Series E locomotives were built by a factories across eastern Europe, and this one has a plate showing it was built by CKD at Prague in Czechoslovakia; a date of 1951 is mentioned in the comments on Steam Engine IS (it is of course possible that the plate is a modern addition and the number is incorrect for the particular locomotive).

In an article “Red Star Steam” over at the The International Steam Pages, Colin Boocock provides a summary of Soviet standard steam locomotive classes. The Series E was based on a pre-Soviet design. This was developed into the Eu for mass production, followed by the Em and then from 1935-36 the Er, which had a larger grate area and higher superheat; nearly 3000 were built.

More than 10 670 Series E were locos were built in total, “by far the largest number of a single type ever to run in the world”. Despite making “a German Kriegslok look small”, many ended their days as shunters as the USSR really didn’t go in for small locomotives.

According to Tim Littler, locomotive Эр772-9 previously formed part of the “strategic reserve” at Buvaida, around 23 km northeast of Kokand; the reserve is understood to have had 20 Type Er locomotives, which even into the mid-1990s (and possibly into the 2000s?) were maintained at Kokand depot and steamed and run for 100 km every year. They were reported as scrapped 2001, but confirmed to still exist in September 2002 and October 2009. There is reported to be an ‘Eu’ preserved in a park in Kokand, which is also probably an Er.

There are some more photos of Эр772-9, taken by Rifat Irmuhamedov, at the My Tashkent website, where Volodya explains that the locomotive was cut into several pieces and pulled up the hill by a heavy tractor, before being welded together again.

I assume the livery, which replicates the Uzbek flag, is down to modern imagination rather than a colour scheme which the loco would have carried in service.

The poles and wires are apparently for floodlighting the locomotive at night – anyone got any pictures of that?

Thanks to Harvey Smith and Tim Littler for providing background information and to Lisa Walker and Dmitry Kolesnikov for the photographs.