Map of the country between Sind and Candahar showing the course of the proposed Railway

India, Iran and the port of Chabahar

Indian authorities initially planned to build a railway line from Chabahar to Zaranj, an Afghan town about 880 km away, so as to link up with the Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Indians in Afghanistan. Once the [Indian] Railway Ministry got into the act, it assigned its external development wing, the RITES, to do a feasibility study of the project. A team of RITES came up with the findings that it would cost roughly a million dollar per km to lay the railway line and to make it economically viable, the railways would have to carry at least a million tonnes of cargo per month. The fact that the present port facility in Chabahar was not even off-loading 2 million tonnes of cargo per year and that it could take almost a decade more to reach the required tonnage for the Indian railways made the entire project unviable, even if the Indian government agreed to spend about $850 million to lay the railway track. So the project was almost shelved.


Source: India, Iran And The Story Of Chabahar, by Ravi Joshi, Observer Research Foundation, Eurasia Review, 27 October 2014.

New book on Financing India’s Imperial Railways

A book to be published in September 2011 looks potentially very interesting: Financing India’s Imperial Railways, 1875–1914, by Stuart Sweeney.

The Indian railway network began as a liberal experiment to promote trade and commerce, the distribution of food and military mobility. Sweeney’s study focuses on Britain’s largest overseas investment project during the nineteenth century, offering a new perspective on the Anglo-Indian experience.

Chapter 3 is entitled “Military Railways in India, 1875–1914: Russophobia, Technology and the Indian Taxpayer”. The book’s index is available at publisher Pickering & Chatto’s website, and there are a number of mentions of Afghanistan, the Kandahar Railway and related matters.

By the looks of it, this will be a serious academic study. Unfortunately, and probably not unrelated to this, it will also be sixty quid…

(other forthcoming books from the publisher include “The Unpublished Letters of Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke”. Will the very existence of such a book trigger some kind of publishing grandfather paradox?)

Hajigak ore mine rail link plans

Afghanistan’s Minister for Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, speaks to India’s Business Standard about tendering of the Hajigak iron ore mine project, which includes an integrated steel plant that will consume high-grade coking coal from nearby deposits; a road or rail evacuation route.

China, which was awarded the Aynak copper mines in Loghar province, Afghanistan’s first big sale of mining rights in the post-Taliban era, has undertaken to build a railway line from the northern provinces, to Bamiyan (where Hajigak is located), to Kabul, and then to Torkham on the Pakistan border at the Khyber Pass.

Shahrani believes that a viable alternative that could form the Hajigak evacuation infrastructure would be a railway line running westwards to Iran, along the Zaranj-Delaram highway that India had built in the mid-2000s, to the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Source: New Afghanistan mining projects create opportunity for India, Ajai Shukla, Business Standard, 2011-06-07

Afghan fruit by rail

An article on the rail transport of Afghan fruit to markets in India.

Fresh Fruits from Afghanistan to India!

I fondly remember as a youngster – in late 1940’s and as late as early 50’s – the repeated shouts of burly, awesome Pathan vendors in our ‘mohalla’ in Lucknow: “Fresh luscious grapes from Chaman; red juicy pomegranates from Kandahar; “Buy them now, eat them now, lest you repent!”

But whatever the virtues of the vendors, their assertion about the quality of their products was never in doubt. So with this childhood experience when I read the following lines in P.S.A Berridge’s old classic, “Couplings to the Khyber: The Story of The North Western Railway” I became really nostalgic about the fruits which are certainly no more:

“Built primarily as a strategic line the Chaman Extension Railway served for many years hundreds of tons of luscious fruits — grapes, peaches, and nectarines in particular from Afghanistan found their way to the markets of far-away cities in India. Before 1947, in the summer months, there used to run every day a train with its ice-packaged refrigerator vans destined for places as far away as Calcutta and Madras.”

Let me now construct this interesting rail transportation story which has a human angle too.


Source: Arunachala Grace, Sacred Power Site of South India, 2009-10-18

Railways of the Raj

A website which might be in interest to readers of this site is Railways of the Raj


This website sets out to capture the flavour of the Railways of the Raj, that giant colossus set up and equipped by the British and founded on the power of steam. We take a look at impressions, reminiscences and memoirs, pictures, extracts from diaries, even that odd letter Aunt Jane wrote telling how she was stranded at Bombay Victoria Terminus station back in the twenties.

Industrial Locomotives of South Asia website launched

Simon Darvill has undertaken extensive research into industrial locomotives in south Asia, and the results have been compiled into a new website, which is now live.

There are detailed records of industrial locos which have been used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma and Bhutan (yes, really!) since the early 1850s.

Included in the section on railways used for military purposes in India up to 1947 are details of railways used for British overseas campaigns up until the end of World War I. This includes the campaign in Mespotamia (now Iraq).

Simon has supplied this site with details of locomotives in Afghanistan; his site also has an Afghan section.