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.

CNN on Afghan railway projects

After nearly a century, a modern Afghan railroad is under construction, reports CNN. “This connects Afghanistan to the world,” says an 18-year-old high school student named Shakrullah. He says he hopes to one day get a job as an engineer for the railroad. “I want trains for all the provinces of Afghanistan, not just for Balkh province.”

Steam engine diplomacy

The politics behind “Pakistan’s gift of a steam engine to UK in 1981 and the interesting story of this loco’s arrival in Manchester” at All Things Pakistan.

The Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester has a page on the loco, Vulcan Foundry 4-4-0 works no. 3064 of 1911, while The Vulcan Foundry Newton-le-Willows “electronic museum” has information on other Vulcan Foundry survivors.

Hayratan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway plan

Text of report by privately-owned Afghan Arzu TV on 18 June, reported by BBC Monitoring South Asia, 2009-06-19.

Rail Road Project to Link North Afghanistan to Uzbekistan

[Presenter] After a short time, new rail road will be built from Uzbekistan to Hayratan border town and from Hayratan to Mazar-e Sharif city, says Minister of Commerce and Industries Wahidullah Shahrani in a meeting with Uzbek railway minister in Hayratan border town. Mr Shahrani said rail road’s designing and technical procedure had been started and will be completed in nine months. He added Asian Development Bank will donate 100m dollars for building the rail road and a logistic station in Mazar-e Sharif city and Uzbekistan will cooperate in its technical procedure.

[Correspondent] Minister of Commerce and Industries Wahidullah Shahrani visited Hayratan border town of Balkh Province to meet Uzbek minister of railway and speak about building a rail road between Uzbekistan and Mazar-e Sharif city. The minister said building a railway from Hayratan border town to Mazar-e Sharif city costs 80-120m dollars, its technical and designing procedure costing 1.2m dollars will be completed after nine months. The project is funded by Asian Development Bank.


The role of Pakistan’s railways

Shahid Javed Burki considers how the role of railways in (what is now) Pakistan has changed over the years in a 12 May 2009 Dawn article For a new transport policy

It is always useful to reflect on history before planning for the future. I will illustrate this point today by using the case of the transport infrastructure. Three legacies must be recognised to deal with the situation as it exists today and for the adoption of a strategy that would serve the future.
Source: Dawn 2009-05-12

Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan

Islamabad Declaration

The delegates participating in the Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan having met in Islamabad on 13 – 14 May 2009:

Transport, Trade, Energy Cooperation, Agricultural Cooperation, Capacity Building and Education, Border Management, Health, Counter Narcotics and Refugee Return and Reintegration are areas with considerable scope for mutually beneficial regional cooperation.

Connectivity: Increased trade in the region will be facilitated by affording Afghanistan easy accessibility to the Sea, developing east-west and north-south corridors on the basis of mutual agreement, and further developing infrastructure links with Afghanistan and its neighbours.

Railway connection between Iran and Herat is already on going on the basis of a grant from the Government of Islamic Republic of Iran.

An 80 km railway link from Hairatan (on the Uzbekistan border) to Mazar-e-Sharif is considered a priority route for development. The planned link forms part of CAREC’s Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy, and is in accordance with Afghanistan’s Railways Development Programme. The project will be developed with Asian Development Bank grant support.


4. High priority will be accorded, in terms of resource allocation and political commitment to the following set of practical short-term projects of benefit to Afghanistan and the region:
a. Concluding negotiations of the Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement before the end of 2009, as agreed earlier this month in Washington, DC.
b. Extension of rail link from Chaman to Kandahar.
c. In addition, the European Commission will conduct a pre-feasibility study of railways across Afghanistan linking major destinations within Afghanistan and its neigbours.

Read in full on the Ministry of Foreign Affairswebsite.

(thanks to Michael G Erickson for sending me a link)

Afghan railway news 2001-2004


The Daily Times reports that [Pakistan Railways] earmarked Rs 100 million for a freight station at Ghaza Khal to transport goods to Afghanistan. The shed and dry port will be constructed by private parties. Sources said that department officials were told at the meeting to improve tracks so that train speeds could be increased from 105km/h to 120km/h and establish a record of unused rail land so that it could be commercialised.


Russian Railways to Build Railways in Afghanistan. The company Russian Railways has reached initial agreements on building railways in Afghanistan and Iran … During his visit in November of 2003, Afghan transport minister Sayd Mohammad Ali Jawid made it clear it would like to issue a contract to the RZD for building a circular railway in Afghanistan. The line is destined to connect Afghanistan’s largest cities and to provide access to neighboring Iran and Pakistan.


Uzbek, Japan Officials Discuss Ties In Tokyo. First joint session of the Uzbek Committee for Cooperation with Japan and Japanese Committee for Cooperation with Uzbekistan was held in Tokyo, Japan on 21 July … Japanese Foreign Ministry officially announced that Japan issued a soft loan of US$150 million for construction of Tashguzar-Baysun-Qumqurgan railway in Uzbekistan. The credit will allow to speed up economic development of the southern part of Uzbekistan, as well as create a short railway route from Central Asia to Afghanistan.


Memories of a Railroader contains photos of Pakistani railways, including the Khyber line, Bolan Pass, Khojak Tunnel, and the Chaman – Afghanistan border.


Survey for rail line completed. Federal Minister for Railways Ghaus Bakhsh Mahar has said that Pakistan has completed the survey for laying a railway track up to Kandahar and Chaman and onward to Central Asia and sent the case to the Afghan government for perusal. … Mr Mahar said the Afghan government had given its assent to the project, adding that now the survey was being carried out from Kandahar to Turkmenistan. Once this project was made feasible, it would be linked with the Gawadar port, he said, adding that Islamabad had told Kabul that the project up to Kandahar would be completed in two and a half years.


Frank Selman kindly sent me some photos of the steam locomotives in Kabul taken in 1975.

Only one foreign power, the Soviets in the Brezhnev era, made the Afghans agree to open up their borders for railways. The reason was that in the 1960s Afghan truckdrivers were allowed to cross the border into Soviet-Turkmenistan to unload exported cargo at Kushka station. This resulted in grand-scale smuggling and corruption, businesses in which the Afghans excel. Afghans from Herat still relish smuggling good-time stories. So the railway was extended, and all the loading and unloading took place later on at Torghundi in Afghanistan.


RZD Looks to Help Build Afghan Railway. Russia is looking to help Afghanistan build a rail infrastructure, now virtually nonexistent, the Russian Railway Co., or RZD, said. Railways Minister Vadim Morozov and RZD vice president Vladimir Yakunin met with Afghan Transportation Minister Mohammed Ali Jawad Wednesday. They agreed to set up a working group to carry out a feasibility study of a rail project and draw up a blueprint for a future railroad, RZD said in a statement. 90 percent of freight between the two countries is shipped by rail, though Afghanistan has only a five-kilometer track to Turkmenistan and rail access over a bridge to Uzbekistan. Afghanistan imported by rail 86,000 tons of cargo last year. Cargo transiting Russia to Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this year came to 28,400 tons. [The Moscow Times]


India to take part in building Trans-Afghan road, rail links. … India has agreed to actively participate in building trans-Afghanistan road and rail links between Uzbekistan’s Termez to Iran’s Chahbahar Port in the Gulf … Disclosing this External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, who is on a three-day visit to Uzbekistan, told reporters in Tashkent today that the Tri-lateral Indo-Afghan-Iranian accord on building the road would reduce the distance from India to Central Asia by 1500 km. “We have also decided to add a rail link too,” Sinha said. [India Express]


Pakistan completes initial survey for rail links with Afghanistan. Pakistani engineers have completed a preliminary survey for a planned 140 kilometer rail line to Afghanistan, officials said Friday. The rail line will connect the Pakistani border town of Chaman … to Afghanistan’s southern provincial capital of Kandahar, they said. … a feasibility study expected to start later this month. “… link Gwader port with the Central Asian Republics via Afghanistan” said Shafiqullah Khan, the chief coordinator for the Chaman-Kandahar railway line project. … feasibility report would be completed in nine months … another two and a half years to be completed. [Agence France-Presse]

September 2003

Vom 28. September bis Ende Februar 2004 zeigt das DB Museum eine Sonderschau zur Bagdad- und Hedjazbahn.

From September 28 to the end of February the German National Railway Museum in Nürnberg (Nuremberg) is holding an exhibtion on the Baghdad and Hedjaz railways. There is also a book.


Agence France-Presse reports Pakistan to discuss building Afghan railway

Pakistan ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand Saturday visited Afghanistan’s main southern city of Kandahar to discuss trade and proposals to build the country’s first [sic] railway. Visiting Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said Friday in Kabul that Pakistan would speed up construction of a rail link between the border towns of Chaman and Spin Boldak and discussed the possible extension of the railway to Kandahar. He said the railway would “make Afghanistan the central point for all trade going from Central Asia to South Asia and Europe onwards.

Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani last Sunday said Afghanistan was
considering building its first railway in a bid to redirect Central Asian
trade to Pakistan and South Asia. [continues]


“Trains” reports Afghanistan plans new railroad routes.

The Afghan government plans to build its first-ever railroad [not quite!] to develop trade with Pakistan, according to Afghan Minister of Finance Ashraf Ghani upon his return to Kabul from that country and Saudi Arabia, according to a report in Pravda.

The Minister said plans will be drawn up to construct two rail lines from
Pakistan to Afghanistan, one to Kandahar and the other to Nangarhar [this seems to be the region around Jalalabad, so presuambly would be an extension of the Khyber line], both of which are intended to attract new investments into his country’s economy.


The August 2003 issue of Railway Gazette International reports (p481) Pakistan Railways has commissioned preliminary surveys for three cross-border rail links into Afghanistan, to be completed within three months. The routes to be studied are Chaman – Kandahar, Peshawar – Jalalabad – Kabul, and Parachinar – Tari Mengal – Jalalabad [this third route seems a little odd, as it wouldn’t like with the existing PR network]. In the longer term PR hopes to extend the Chaman – Kandahar project to Khushka in Tajikistan, creating a link with the CIS rail network.


An article dated 2003-02-20 in Indian newspaper The Hindu has a disussion of railways to Afghanistan in the context of the region’s politics.

India and Afghan railroads
by C Raja Mohan.


Railways of Iraq page created.


Someone on the website has nicked my text without asking, and reposted it without attribution. Please ask first!


There are some
of the Friendship Bridge on the Post-Conflict Assessment Unit website.


A train crossing the Friendship Bridge on 2002-09-23
Photo © PCAU. Used with permission

[Rails and a signal?]

The railway tracks at the approach to the Friendship Bridge betwen Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (and a two-aspect colour light signal?) 2002-09-23
Photo © PCAU. Used with permission


Photos of the railway terminal at Hairatan.

The 820 Meters long and 15 Meters wide, Friendship Bridge, exists along this corridor which is the only bridge in the region carrying both rail and road traffic, crossing the Amu Darya River. The corridor is open for trucks, trains and barges. United Nations Joint Logistics Centre


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has a press release from 2001-12-10 about the re-opening of the Friendship Bridge to rail traffic.

Aid agencies welcome opening of bridge

Constructed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the bridge was closed when Taliban forces took control of the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

the first shipment of 14 rail cars included both food and non-food items donated by the Uzbek government … the train was met by Uzbek Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who inspected the load.

With the bridge capable of carrying both trucks and rail traffic, WFP was not longer solely dependent on moving food by barge. Since the beginning of the operation in October, WFP has sent some 2,300 mt of food by barge. “This figure will now significantly increase due to the increased capacity of train, truck and barge,”

© UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Read the full press release.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also has a press release from 2002-11-25 about the transport of international aid between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, which mentions the Friendship Bridge. There is a photograph of the bridge, and the relevant parts of the text are quoted here:

Country remains key humanitarian corridor to Afghanistan

…While Uzbekistan shares only a 137 km long border with Afghanistan, the Friendship Bridge built by the Soviets in the 1980s and the relatively well- equipped river transport system by barges remain a key link. Termez was the main supply route for the Red army during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. A large airport in Termez was also used for delivering huge humanitarian cargos recently.

Besides the United Nations, Tashkent has also allowed some 39 NGOs and international organisations to access Afghanistan under a two-year memorandum of understanding signed with the UN in December last year. “The government of Uzbekistan encouraged us to help the Afghans directly by offering critical access,” Jeff Liverman, head of the Uzbek NGO, Central Asia Free Exchange (CAFÉ), told IRIN.

Liverman maintained that Uzbekistan has an advantage over other countries in terms of delivering assistance to northern Afghanistan. “The key is the railway system in Uzbekistan,” he said. In comparison, there’s just one km of railway track in Afghanistan and its across the Friendship Bridge in the Hairatan river port.

© UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003. Read the full document.


A press release from the US Army News Service on 2002-01-11 decribes members of Charlie Company, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, visiting the Friendship Bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Here are the parts mentioning the railway:

Soldiers helping assess Afghan infrastructure

…With the end in sight, the team spotted its objective, Freedom Bridge, a road/rail bridge spanning the Amudarya River leading into a complex of warehouses and storage facilities on the Afghani side of the river.

“The trip was necessary to conduct a preliminary survey of the operational readiness of the railway from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan for future humanitarian relief efforts,” explained U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gary S. Taggart, C Company, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C.

The coalition command wanted the survey to help the World Food Program, in order to further stabilize the region.

Upon arriving, Scott, along with the rest of his team, disembarked from their non-tactical vehicle and met with the local officials for a tour of the rail lines and storage facilities.

“It is our understanding that the World Food Program plans to take the lead on rebuilding the station and the adjacent warehouses for future use,” further explained the Brownwood, Texas, native.

The WFP, a subordinate unit of the United Nations that is chartered to supply emergency and sustainment food to internally displaced populations, identified the facility as a crucial disembark point for bulk relief supplies and the railway as the best means of getting them there.

“That particular area can logistically hold enough food to feed the whole northern area of Afghanistan provided it’s renovated properly and the flow of humanitarian assistance by rail is unimpeded,” explained, U.S. Army Capt. Herb A. Joliat, C Company, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C.

According to Joliat, there are a limited number of trucks that are available to make the trip into Afghanistan and barges traveling the Amudarya River are limited by space, whereas the rail system can move 10 times faster and haul more than 50 times the amount of cargo.

“We came to the conclusion that the track was serviceable with moderate reconstruction required for the rail ties and the adjacent warehouse facilities,” Taggart summarized….

Read in full.


A website on World-wide 30″ Railways states:

Afganistan [sic]
Roadside tramway in Kabul. 1923-1933? A 30″ Henschel 0-4-0T was supplied through India to Afganistan in 1923.

With a note that The information on Afganistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka largely comes from “Indian Locomotives” by Hugh Hughes, published by The Continental Railway Circle, 1994.


Railway Gazette International January 2002 p6 said:

Aid train reaches Afghanistan

UZBEKISTAN Railways diesel locomotives began operating into Afghanistan on December 9, following the reopening of the Friendship Bridge across the Amudarya river near Termez. Built by the Soviet Union during the 1980s, the line into Afghanistan has been out of use for the past five years.

The victory of Northern Alliance backed forces over the Taliban regime in November cleared the way for the mothballed link to reopen, but the resumption of services was delayed by negotiations between western aid agencies and the Uzbekistan government. The bridge has been reopened to permit the operation of trains carrying food for towns in northern and central Afghanistan.

With the opening up of a rail and road corridor into Mazar-e-Sharif, United Nations relief agencies launched an eight-day programme to ship as much food into Afghanistan as possible, ahead of the onset of winter. The first train across the bridge carried 1000 tonnes of grain and flour in 15 bogie vans. A banner on the locomotive read From the Uzbek people to the Afghan people.

Railway Gazette International)


Railway Gazette International May 2001 p289 said:

Pakistan Railways Chairman Lieutenant General Saeeduzzafar has backed
proposals for a rail link with Afghanistan, which would help to increase
trade in the Peshawar region.

Railway Gazette International March 2002 p118 said:

Afghanistan: Plans to build a 1815km rail network, based on a scheme drawn up in the 1970s (RG 6.76 p204), were revived at January’s International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance held in Tokyo.


Dr Paul E Walters has produced a 48-page book Afghanistan: A Railway History, available for GBP8.95.

The country has no railways, its trade being done by canals, but in 1932 a line was begun from the Russian to the Indian border.
From the Afghanistan entry in The New Standard Encyclopædia & World Atlas. Odhams Press Ltd, 1932.

Continental Railway Journal No 132 (Winter 2002/03, p523) has some details of the Soviet lines and the Kabul tramway.


Pakistan Railways Chairman Lt-Gen Saeedul Zafar told the newspaper Business Recorder that a presentation on opportunities for investment in Pakistan Railways had been given to the seven-member ATN-SKC consortium, which includes Saudi Arabian, Egyptian and Canadian firms.

Among the four proposals tabled was one in which the consortium could invest in linking Gwadar Port to Turkmenistan via Afghanistan through rail. Consortium may invest $6bn in Railways Business Recorder 2002-10-05

2002 October

The October 2002 issue of Rail International – Schienen der Welt has an article called Major Infrastructure projects in Iran by Dr Jabar Ali Zakeri.

Further investigations and studies of the Bafq – Mashhad project have shown that, by inaugurating the line, freight in transit from Iran to Afghanistan will increase from the present 12%. In designing and implementing this project, Doghan was selected as the border point and the Doghan-Harat line will be the main transit route with 22% of all goods in the country transiting this way.

Continental Railway Journal No. 131 Autumn 2002 has two paragraphs on Afghanistan in its Asia section. Reopening of the Friendship Bridge on 2001-12-09 is mentioned, and its closure date is given as 1997-05-24. How far the line runs into Afghanistan is unclear, though one report quoted 15 km.

There is a quote from CRJ 33 in Spring 1978, which described the Darulaman Henschel locos as two derelict 0-4-0Ts (Henschel 19680-1/1923), about metre gauge, and the frame and bogies of one tramcar. A date of about 1922 is given for the tramway.

2002 June

Locomotives International No. 62 May – June 2002 has a short article “Steam and Rail in Afghanistan” on page 34, with three black and white photographs of Darulaman.

Taken by Geoff Percival in December 1977, the pictures show a two-road brick-built shed, and front and rear views of one of the two Henschel tank locos. The remains of a bogie carraige are visible in the shed picture.

The two Soviet lines are mentioned in the brief text, as is the 600 mm gauge power station line. The editor mentions he has a map showing a 12 km Chaman to Qala-i-Jadid line.


The US Agency For International Development Bureau For Humanitarian Response Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance Central Asia Task Force Central Asia Region’s
Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #19
, of November 2, 2001

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that the Government of Iran is selling 17,000 MT of wheat to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). The wheat will be transported to north and west Afghanistan via railway through Turkmenistan.