Khaf to Herat province railway

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Construction of the approximately 191 km railway from eastern Iran to western Afghanistan’s Herat province is being undertaken in four sections, two in each country. The third section taking the line as far as Rosnak was completed in December 2020. The fourth section is being planned, and will take the line closer to the city of Herat.


The Iranian government funded a number of developments in Afghanistan’s Herat province following the fall of the Taliban regime, including the USD68m construction of a 123 km surfaced road from the border at Dogharoun near Islam Qala to Herat 12 which was inaugurated on 27 January 2007.3

On 28 February 2002 Iranian Member of Parliament for Khaf & Rashtkhar and Chairman of the Iranian-Afghan friendship group Gholam-Heydar Ebrahimbay-Salami announced that USD25m had been allocated in the 2002 budget bill for the construction of a railway from Torbat-e-Heidarieh in Iran to Herat.4 Funding would also come from international aid and the Iranian Commission for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. The plan would be based on the 1975 preliminary studies by Sofrerail, and future traffic would include iron ore.5

The project got underway in June 2002 when the Iranian Transport Ministry and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works signed a memorandum of understanding.6

A further agreement was signed during a visit to Tehran by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 26-29 May 2006.7

In June 2006 Afghan officials visited Iran, and Es’haq Naderi, economic advisor to President Karzai, agreed plans for the construction of the railway with Islamic Republic of Iran Railways Director-General Mohammad Saeednejad. Iran committed to meeting 60% of the project costs from funds it had previously allocated to Afghan reconstruction programmes. Preliminary studies had already been completed for a 189 km route (86.8 km in Iran), and tendering was expected soon afterwards.8

Freight will be the principal source of revenue, with traffic forecast to reach 6·8 million tonnes/year including oil products, iron and steel as well as industrial goods. The alignment was designed for passenger trains to run at 160 km/h, and studies have predicted 321 000 passengers a year.9


The chosen route is an extension of the existing Iranian line to Khaf, and thus takes a different route to previous proposals for an Iran to Afghanistan link which had focused on a more direct route running outheast from Mashhad to the border at Islam Qala.

The single-track railway built to Iran’s 1435 mm standard gauge (see note below for more detial of the gauge issue) starts at Khaf, the penultimate loop on the line to Sangan. It then heads south and then east through a rugged and arid landscape. The border between Iran and Afghanistan is reached after 77 km.

Iran – Herat railway project construction phases

Country Stage Route Length, km Funding Construction completed
76.8 km10
Stage 1 Khaf (Kahwaf, Khawaf, Khawaaf, Khauf, خواف) (Junction at 24 km on the Torbat-e Heydariyeh – Sangan line) – Sangan11 (serves mines?) 14? Iran September 201612
Stage 2 Sangan – Myothek – Khoshbeh – Iran/Afghanistan border at Shamtiq (Shematigh, Shamtigh, Shmtygh, شمتیغ)
~62 km Iran October 2017?
Afghanistan Stage 3 border at Shamtiq – Rosnak (Rahzanak, روزنک) or Jono (Jonaw, Junaw) near the Islam Qala – Herat road to the north of Ghourian (Ghoryan, غوريان, Ghurian) 1415 61.2 Iran 30 km October 2017, rest January 201916 Formal opening December 2020.
Stage 4 Phase 1 Rahzanak or Jono – Robat Paryan (Rabat Pariyan) 43 km Afghanistan (supported by Italy) Construction approved February 201917
Stage 4 Phase 2 Robat Paryan – Herat (هرات‎‎) industrial area and Airport c.20 km Afghanistan, supported by Italy? Construction not yet approved as of February 2019
This should not be taken as definitive! Corrections would be very welcome.
Reported distances vary between sources. Spellings vary a lot.


Work officially began in Iran on 29 July 2006.18

In September 2020 the Afghanistan Railway Authority said detailed design for the second phase of the fourth section of the Khaf-Herat railway had been completed and procurement and construction was ready to begin

In September 2020 the Afghanistan Railway Authority said detailed design for the second phase of the fourth section of the Khaf-Herat railway had been completed and procurement and construction was ready to begin (Photo: AfRA)

At least part of the construction work for the first sections was undertaken by Abad Rahan Pars, which had a contract worth USD40m19 awarded by Iran’s Ministry of Road & Transportation in January 2007 and supervised by Iran Eston (who I can’t find mentioned elsewhere).20

Iranian company Ballast was awarded a contract to supply equipment and materials and undertake construction and installation works including laying rails for the section of the route in Iran’s Razavi Khorasan Province. This covered the 76.8 km route-km from the 24 km point on the Sangan – Torbat Heydarieh railway to the border point 78.8 km along the route at Shamtigh. The railway is designed for a 25 ton axleload and speed of 160 km/h. The scope of the nine-month contract included supplying 90 track-km, 54 turnouts, 224 000 m3 of ballast, 150 000 sleepers and 11 000 tons of rail.21

In a written answer in the British House of Commons on 21 November 2007, Minister for International Development Shahid Malik responded to a question on Afghan railways. “In early 2006 Afghanistan began work on a railway project connecting Hirat [Herat] city to the Iranian border at Sangan. 60 per cent. of the project is funded by the Iranian Government.” Malik said discussion was underway on constructing lengthier railways in Afghanistan, but he cautioned “there needs to be a very careful economic cost-benefit analysis of any major railway investments to ascertain whether this is the best use of investment resources as compared with other priority investments.”22

The project was slowed by “security challenges”.23 In November 2007 an Iranian engineer working on the railway was kidnapped by armed men while in the Ghoryan district. He was subsequently released, and the head of Herat Security Command’s press office, Nour-Khan Nikzad, “did not rule out the possibility of financial motives behind the abduction.”24

In May 2008, Hamid Behbahani, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Roads & Transportation, said 60% of the work in Iran and 40% in Afghanistan had been completed.25.

In October 2008 Iran’s Ministry of Public Affairs said the line was being built by the government of Iran, was still 60% complete, and was expected to be completed by the end of the year. “The ministry said it planned to build more railway lines to meet the demand for transportation links between Afghanistan and its neighbours, who use Afghanistan as a transit route for goods travelling to other parts of the region.” Rail was said to be five times cheaper than transporting goods by road, but construction of 1 km of railway in Afghanistan “costs about $2 million” according to the Ministry, “and a planned railway between Herat and Tajikistan will cost about $4 billion”.26 These numbers don’t seem to add up, though there may be extra costs for specific major works such as bridges, plus freight terminals and the like.

Herat province railway construction

Herat province railway construction (Photo: AfRA)

In January 2009 Quqnoss reported that construction was underway, in an article which talked about the line being the first stage of a $2bn 1200 km route between central Asia and Iran which would be completed throughout in five years.27

In March 2009 the railway “to the Maslakh in Herat” was reported as 97% “accomplished” and it was to be “used as soon as possible”. Maslakh is the site of a camp for internally-displaced persons, around 20 km west of Herat. “The construction work has been accomplished at least 97 percent in Zanga Saba village of Ghoryan district. 200 bridges and ditches have been built.”28

Two police officers and two Taliban militants were killed in an armed clash at a checkpoint in a railway area in the Ghoryan district on 1 July 2009.29

A ceremony at the border point of Chahsorkh in Herat Province on 7 September 2016 marked the completion of track laying as far as the border and the start of tracklaying on the third stage, and first Afghan section, of the route.30

Iranian ambassador Bahrami said the railway project had been delayed by several years, but Iran had finally finished its section; many people would be watching the Afghan portion closely.31. The first section inside Afghan territory was the 62 km in Ghoriyan district, which was expected to be completed in 4 months.32. The fourth section that would connect to Herat city was in the early planning stages, with Italy promising funds for it.33

Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Works, Mahmoud Baligh, said the Afghan government would provide security for the staff constructing the railway as the corridor was of great significance for improving Afghanistan’s trade with the open markets of the world. Minister of Finance Eklil Hakimi said the railway would boost the volume of trade between Iran and Afghanistan from USD2m/year to USD6m.

“This project enhances bilateral relations of Iran and Afghanistan”, said Iran’s Roads Minister Abbas Akhundi, “and it links Afghanistan with Europe, China, and Central Asia via the transit corridors of Iran.”

Contracts for the construction of administrative buildings for the Herat and Balkh railway directorates were signed on 3 February 2018

Contracts for the construction of administrative buildings for the Herat and Balkh railway directorates were signed on 3 February 2018 by Afghanistan Railway Authority Director General & CEO Mohammad Yamma Shams and Mohsen Amin, Deputy Manager of State Corps.34 State Corps is a construction company which began by working on projects for the United State Army Corps of Engineers, and the expanded into the energy sector where it has woorked on high voltage transmission lines and other power distribution projects.35

AfRA said construction of the administrative building for the Herat railway directorate would cost AFN 45,927,337.38 (about €533 00036), while construction of the Balkh building would cost AFN 43,451,155.21 (about €504 00037). Work
was scheduled to start that month and be completed within 10 months.

On 18 February 2019 Afghanistan’s National Procurement Commission approved the 43 km Phase 1 of Stage 4 of the line, covering the section from Ghoryan district to Rabat Paryan. This was to be be built by a company from Kazakhstan and financed from the Afghan government’s development budget.17

On 19 May 2019 a “terrorist mine explosion” killed and injured a number of Iranian and Afghan nationals working on the railway project.39

On 15 January 2020 the Afghan parliament approved a €65m long-term loan from Italy for the Rabat Beryan to Herat airport section of the project. The 40-year loan with a 29 year grace period will be paid in installments of €40m, €40m and €25m, and no interest will be charged.40

Khaf - Herat province railway track

Khaf – Herat province railway track (Photo: AfRA)


On 28 October 2020 a test train carried officials from Iran and Afghanistan on the 62 km third section of the railway under construction from Khaf in Iran to Afghanistan’s Herat province.41

A trial freight train on 2 December 2020 delivered 500 tonnes of cement on the new railway from Khaf to Rosnak (Rahzanak, روزنک). A passenger train also ran from Iran to bring officials to and from a meeting with their Afghan counterparts.

A note on place names

The romanised spelling of the various place names varies quite a bit, and its not uncommon to see Herat fall victim to a spellchecker and become “Heart”.

A note on gauges

The new Iran to Herat railway is 1435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) gauge. Known as “standard gauge”, this is the nost widely used gauge in the world and is found in Iran, Turkey, most of the Middle East, China and most of Europe (except the former USSR, Finland, Iberia and Ireland).

The other railways into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan (1 line) and Turkmenistan (2 lines) use the 1520 mm (5 ft) broad gauge, commonly called “Russian gauge”, which is used instead of 1435 mm in the former USSR, Finland and Mongolia. Pakistan uses the even broader “Indian gauge” of 1676 mm (5 ft 6in), although the network does not reach Afghanistan.

This means that in the event of a futue railway line being built from Herat to Torghundi (for Turkmenistan) or Mazar-i-Sharif (to connect with the line from Uzbekistan) there would have to be a break of gauge somewhere. While gauge-changing trains exist, for most freight you may as well just transfer containers between ordinary wagons of different gauges, which is what happens every day on the border between China and the 1520 mm gauge region.

Next page: Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif and beyond


  1. Iran’s Spending Spree in Afghanistan Jason Motlagh, Time, 2009-05-20
  2. Iran Strives to Free Abducted Nationals, Fars News Agency, 2008-08-24
  3. Khatami, Karzai inaugurate Dogharoun-Herat road, Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 27 January 2005.
  4. Allocation of $25m for Afghan rail link, Nimrooz, 2002-02-08
  5. The Iran-Afghanistan Railway will be constructed, Raja Trains, 10 March 2002
  6. Opening up Afghan trade route to Iran, Murray Hughes, Railway Gazette International, January 2008
  7. Afghanistan Signs Bilateral Agreements, Embassy of Afghanistan, Volume 32, June 2006
  8. Iranian, Afghan officials discuss Sangan-Herat railroad project, Tehran Times, 19 June 2006 quoted at Iran’s Ministry of Roads & Transport.
  9. Opening up Afghan trade route to Iran, Murray Hughes, Railway Gazette International, January 2008
  10. Khaf-Harat Laying Rail Project, Ballast Manufacturing & Infrastructure, Iran
  11. آغاز ریل گذاری مسیر خواف – هرات, ISNA
  12. آغاز ریل گذاری مسیر خواف – هرات, ISNA
  13. آغاز ریل گذاری مسیر خواف – هرات, ISNA
  14. Implementation Action Plan of CAREC TTFS, Government of Afghanistan (2010?)
  15. Priority Investment Needs for the development of the Trans-Asian Railway Network, UNESCAP
  16. Third Phase Of Khawaf-Herat Railroad To Be Launched, Tolo News, 8 January 2019
  17. Design and Construction Phase 1 of Part 4 of Khwaf – Herat Railway Approves, Afghanistan Railway Authority, 19 February 2019
  18. Opening up Afghan trade route to Iran, Murray Hughes, Railway Gazette International, January 2008
  19. The International Projects of Iranian Companies, Information Center of International Contractors of Iran
  20. Abad Rahan Pars
  21. Khaf-Harat Laying Rail Project, Ballast Manufacturing & Infrastructure, Iran
  22. Written Answers for 21 November 2007, Hansard. “Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what railway construction projects are (a) planned and (b) under way in Afghanistan.”
  23. Herat Khaf railway is to accomplish,
    Qasem Abdullahi (Trans: Jawid Ashraqzada), Herat Press Club, 15 March 2009
  24. Abducted Iranian freed in Afghanistan, Press TV, 3 December 2007
  25. Railroad to Link Pakistan to Europe via Iran Fars News Agency, 14 May 2008
  26. Railway to Iran nears end of the tracks, Zabiullah Jhanmal, Quqnoos, 2008-10-19
  27. 1200 km Long Railway will be Completed in the Next Five Years, Ququnoos, 2009-01-19
  28. Herat Khaf railway is to accomplish, Qasem Abdullahi (Trans: Jawid Ashraqzada), Herat Press Club 2009-03-15
  29. The conflict leaves five casualties in Ghoryan district, Shoaib Tanha (Trans: Jawid Ashraqzada), Herat Press Club 2009-07-02
  30.”>Iran-Afghan Railway Enters its Third Phase of Construction, RECCA.AF via the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Turkmenistan
  34. Administrative Building of Herat, Balkh Railway Directorate Contract Signed, Afghanistan Railway Authority, 5 February 2018
  35. About Us, State Corps
  36. XE Live Exchange Rates, 5 February 2018
  37. ibid
  38. Design and Construction Phase 1 of Part 4 of Khwaf – Herat Railway Approves, Afghanistan Railway Authority, 19 February 2019
  39. Iran slams Khaf-Herat railroad mine blast, Mehr New Agency, 20 May 2019
  40. House passes Italy loan for railway project, Afghanistan Times, 15 January 2020
  41. Afghanistan Railway Authority Facebook post, 28 October 2020