International plans

Previous page: Ambitious proposals

In the 1950s a 22 000 kW hydroelectric power station was built at Sarobi, east of Kabul, with the aid of German expertise. Three Henschel four-wheel 600 mm gauge diesel hydraulic locos built in 1951 (works numbers 24892, 24993, 24994) were supplied to the power station.1 The fate of these locomotives is unknown.

In 1979 mining and construction locomotive builder Bedia Maschinenfabrik of Bonn supplied five D35/6 two axle diesel-hydraulic 600 mm-gauge locomotives, works numbers 150-154, to an unknown customer in Afghanistan.2

In the early 1950s a scheme existed to build a new road from Kabul northwards to the Hindi Kush, by way of the Salong Pass. This hugely expensive and technically difficult scheme would have involved a 8.5 km tunnel and a series of approach tunnels. Snow would have made the road impassible in winter. According to MER Lingeman, the British ambassador in Kabul, one suggestion "which held the field for some time – Ismail Khan [Governor of Kataghan & Badak Inshan] spoke of it quite seriously to me – was that the greater part of the tunnelling could be avoided by a funicular railway, but the consequent need for double unloading seems to have led to this solution being discarded."3

In 1952 the British Embassy in Washington found that the US State Department was proposing to tell the Afghan government that if the Afghans were prepared to be accommodating in their desire to take Pakistani territory to form a Pathanistan, the USA would be interested in helping with the construction of a Quetta to Kandahar rail link, doubling the partly-single line to Chaman, and negotiating for Afghanistan "transit in bond facilities by that route."4

BAB Burrows, British Ambassador in Washington, thought the USA was looking at the issue from a purely economic point of view, and had not considered the political implications of building such a line. Moscow might claim a "right to a line to extend to Herat the existing Soviet line which finishes at Kushka." In the South East Asia Department of the Foreign Office JG Tahourdin thought the practical difficulties would be so great that the Soviet reaction "need hardly be advanced as additional arguments against the project". The Foreign Office’s "preliminary reaction therefore is to regard the suggested railway extension as a very doubtful starter".

The British military attaché in Kabul had asked his "painfully naive" US counterpart Colonel Mackenzie if Russian objections had been considered when the USA offered its support.5 When the potential of a Soviet line to Herat was mentioned "The gallant Colonel sat up and exclaimed, as the light dawned on him : “Oh, then there would be trouble.”"

In 1966 plans were drawn up for a short cross-border extension of the Chaman line. That September Railway Gazette reported "Work on the proposed rail link between Chaman in Pakistan and Spin Baldak in Afghanistan is to begin soon and will take about a year and a half to complete. The link will be over seven miles long and will cost about $800 000. Over two miles of the link will be in Pakistani territory."6 The line was intended to provide a route to Karachi, and unlike the Khyber Pass route would not need reversing stations. The line is shown on some maps, but was not built.7

In March 1972 Railway Gazette reported Iranian proposals for an extension from their railhead at Mashhad to Herat.8

Grand projects

In 1975 a team of Indian railway consultants surveyed 1 400 km rail network linking the cities of Herat, Kandahar and Kabul.9 Feasibility studies were carried out using a US$20m loan granted by Iran,10 and a representative of Rail India Technical & Economic Services (RITES) attended inter-governmental meetings. Estimated to cost between Rs8 000m and Rs9 000m, the network was to be based on a northwest to southeast main line. This would run from the 1 435 mm gauge Iranian line at Mashhad, through Herat and Kandahar to Chaman in Pakistan, giving access to the port of Karachi. A line from Herat would meet the 1 524 mm gauge line at Kushka in the USSR (now Turkmenistan). A line from Kandahar would serve Ghazni and Kabul. The line to Chaman would provide access through Pakistan to Zahedan in Iran, terminus of a 1 676 mm gauge line from the Pakistani rail network, but isolated from the Iranian rail network. From Zahedan a 1 435 mm gauge Iranian line was planned to Kerman and the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. The May 1975 issue of Railway Gazette International commented "there will be certainly be some difficulty over choice of gauge".

In 1976 the Afghan government’s seventh national plan (covering the years 1976-80) approved a scheme drawn up by French consultants Sofrerail for a 1 815 km, 1 435 mm gauge railway system.11 Finance was to be provided by Iran, which stood to benefit from transit traffic. The line would have linked with Iranian State railways at Mashhad, crossed the border at Islam Qala, then gone on to Herat, Farah and Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, copper mines in Logar province, Ghazni and Kabul. A Kandahar to Chaman line would have provided the link to Pakistan for traffic to the Arabian Sea at Karachi. The Herat to Kushka line was not included, but a line from Lashkar Gah to Tarrkum and then across the Iranian border to Kerman was planned. This would give access to Bandar Abbas. A branch would serve iron ore mines near Bamiyan, northwest of Kabul.12

A maximum speed of 160 km/h was proposed, with longer term plans for lightweight trainsets to run at 200 km/h. Around 75% of the network would have a minimum curve radius if 2 km and a maximum gradient of 1%. The rest of the network would have 1.5% gradients and a maximum speed of 100 km/h. UIC 45 kg/m continuously welded rail on tied-block sleepers was planned, with signalling installations backed by train radio. Kandahar would have a control centre, marshalling yards and a motive power depot and workshops. An initial fleet of 40 locomotives was planned, with provision for 65 more. Due to the high altitudes power output loses of 22.5% were expected from the 2400 hp diesels. 2 400 staff would be required in 1975, and an ultimate total of 3 300 was envisaged. Traffic forecasts predicted 1 300m passenger-km and 1 300 tonne-km in 1985. A 100 km cableway was planned to link iron ore deposits at Hajigak in the Hindu Kush mountains with a railhead, from where ore would be taken to Iranian steel works.

The US$1.20bn13 plans were abandoned following the communist coup in Afghanistan 1978, and the Iranian revolution.

Next page: Iran to Herat railway plans


  1. Industrial locomotives of South Asia, Simon Darvill,
  2. data from Lokomotivfabriken in Deutschland CD, available from but not seen by Andrew Grantham
  3. Confidential report by air bag from British Embassy in Kabul 1953-01-08 PRO FO 371/10666
  4. Letters between the British Embassy in Kabul, the South East Asia Department of the Foreign Office and the British Embassies in Washington and Moscow, December 1952, January 1953 PRO FO 371/106668
  5. Letter from MER Lindeman to J Dalton Murray, South-East Asia Department, Foreign Office, 1952-03-28 PRO FO 371/106668
  6. Focus: Africa & Asia Railway Gazette p675 1966-09-02
  7. Times Atlas of the World, 8th edition, 1990
  8. Afghanistan link proposed by Iranian Railways Railway Gazette International p85 1972-03
  9. India surveys 1 400 km network in Afghanistan Railway Gazette International p167 May 1975
  10. India surveys 1 400 km network in Afghanistan Railway Gazette International p167 May 1975
  11. Afghan network of 1 815 km goes ahead Railway Gazette International p204 June 1976
  12. Afghan rail plan among proposals for donors, CNN News report , from Reuters 2002-01-21
  13. Afghanistan – a Country Study Area Handbook Series, 5th edition 1986

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