Afghanistan buys two locomotives

Afghanistan has bought two locomotives of its own, according to a recent report about the Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway. This is significant because these are probably Afghanistan’s very first mainline locomotives.

Afghanistan is expected to eventually take control of the railroad. It has already assumed responsibility for some tasks and purchased its first two locomotives.
Source: U.S. works to get Afghans on track with rail network, Drew Brooks, Fayetteville Observer, 2 May 2014.

Until now, rail operations in Afghanistan have (as far as I know) always been handled by Soviet and subsequently Uzbek/Turkmen railways locomotives from across the border.

But what are the two Afghan locos?

A recent BBC Pashto video about Hairatan showed a couple of diesel locomotives of a type I’ve not previously spotted in images of Afghanistan (at about 1:10 in the video):

Screenshot of BBC Pashto video showing railway locomotives at Hairtatan in Afghanistan

These are diesel locos ТГМ4Б-0180 (TGM4B) on the left and what looks to be a ТГМ4А (TGM4A) on the right. There are details of the TGM4 family (in Russian) at

Russian enthusiast website Trainpix lists ТГМ4Б-0180 as having been built by the Lyudinovskiy Locomotive Works (now part of the Sinara Group) in 1990. As of 2013, it was owned by locomotive repair company Remzheldorteh at Yaroslavl in Russia, where it was for sale.

So I wonder if the video shows one (or both) of the two locos which Afghanistan has bought? It would make sense for the Afghan locos to be shunters, as all long-distance rail traffic on the Hairatan line has to go to or from Uzbekistan anyway, so may as well use Uzbek locos.

Unfortunately the number of the second loco in the video is not legible, and I don’t know what the presenter says about them, as I don’t speak the language.

If anyone has any more information about these two locomotives, I’d be very keen to hear from you!

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.

Articulated steam locomotives planned for Kandahar

With Azerbaijan being in the news this weekend, it might be a good time1 to mention the book The Transcaucasian Railway and the Royal Engineers by RAS Hennessey (Trackside Publications, 2004. There is a review of it at The International Steam Pages).

On page 26 the book mentions the use of class Ѳ (an obsolete Russian letter, fita), Bryansk-built 0-6-6-0 Mallet articulated compound steam locomotives on the Transcaucasian Railway.

“An interesting speculation about these Mallets is that their basic design had in mind imperial Russian dreams of a line from Merv to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and thence to Quetta, then in British India (now in Pakistan). The tough conditions of the TCR’s Armenian lines provided a good testing ground for possible locomotives to work this line.”

The reference says this information comes from J Nurminen and FM Page’s book Russian Locomotives vol 2 1836-1904 (I think this should read 1905-24, as 1836-1904 is volume 1, by A De Pater and FM Page). I haven’t yet found a library with a copy of the book to look up the reference.

According to Hennessey, the TCR locomotives “were costly to acquire and their complexity resulted in slow, expensive servicing and maintenance […] Two were apparently spotted derelict in the 1930s at Kars, by then in Turkey.”

There are no photographs of a fita class locomotive in the book. However this photo I spotted on display at the St Petersburg railway museum in March 2011 shows one:

The Russian-language Wikipedia has some basic information on the Ѳ class, though with no mention of Afghanistan. There is also a public domain image from the Kirov plant’s archive showing one with detail differences to the machine in the St Petersburg museum photo:

  1. Tenuous link to popular culture or what? And anyway, I thought the Moldovan gnomes should’ve won.

The Russian march on India

Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXVIII, Issue 9118, 11 April 1901, Page 4 at the National Library of New Zealand. The author is presumably Sir Henry Norman, 1st Baronet.



(By Henry Norman, M.P., in Scribener’s Magazine.)

Merv – once the “Queen of the World,” and a household word in England, thanks to O’Donovan and Marvin and Vambery, as the possible cause of war with Russia, whose absorption of Central Asia brought her here m 1884— just a year before Parliament, at Gladstone’s behest, voted £11,000,000 of war money at a sitting in view of Rusia’s next step south. Now the whole oasis of Merv, one of the most fertile spots m the whole world, is as Russian as Riga, and when you say “Merv” in Central Asia you mean a long, low, neat stone railway station, lit by a score of bright lamps in a row, where the train changes engines, where in a busy telegraph office a dozen operators sit before their clicking instruments; and if you are a Russian officer or official you mean also a bran new town where a pestilent malarial fever is sure to catch you sooner or later, and very likely to kill you. But Merv has long ceased to be a Russian boundary, for m the dark you can see a branch line of railway stealing southward across the plain. This is the famous Murghab branch, the strategical line of one hundred and ninety miles along the river to the place the Russians call Kushkinski Post, on the very frontier of Afghanistan, a short distance from Kushk itself, and only eighty miles from Herat. The Russians keep this line absolutely secret, no permission to travel by it having been ever granted to a foreigner. My own permission for Central Asia read, “With the exception of the Murghab branch.” A foreigner once went by train to Kushk Post, however, but this was an accident and it is another story.
This line is purely strategic and military. Neither trade nor agriculture is served by it; nor would anybody ever buy a ticket by it, if it were open to all the world. Moreover, it runs through such a fever-haunted district that Russian carpenters, who can earn two roubles a day, throw up the job and go back to earn fifty kopecks at home. The line is simply a deliberate railway menace to Great Britain. It serves, and can ever serve, only the purpose of facilitating the invasion of India, or of enabling Russia to squeeze England by pretending to prepare the first steps of an invasion of India, whenever such a pretence may facilitate her diplomacy in Europe. This fact should always be borne in mind. Nothing would embarass Russia more than to “have her bluff called,” in poker language — to be compelled to make her threat goood. But it may safely be prophesied that many a time we shall hear of troops going from the Caucasus to the Afghan frontier, as she did for an “experiment” last December, and when this happens England must look, not at Afghanistan, but to China or Persia or the Balkans. Some day — and perhaps before long — she will collect a mixed force there without England’s knowledge, and seize Herat by a coup de main, m the confident belief that the British Government will do once more That it has so often done before, namely, accept tamely the accomplished fact. In simple truth, Herat is at her mercy. And the cat does not look at the cream for ever. The Merv-Kushk line, I may add, is now completed, and two regular trains a week run over it, at the rate of something less than ten miles an hour, reaching the Afghan frontier terminus in eighteen hours. But I do not fancy that Kushk Post itself has anything very wonderful to show yet in the way of military strength. It is interesting, however, as one stands here on the edge of the platform and looks down the few hundred yards of this mysterious line visible in the dark, to reflect that if the future brings war between England and Russia its roaring tide will flow over these very rails for the invasion of India, and that if it brings peace this will be a station on the through line between Calais and Kandahar. Some day, surely, though it may be long, long hence, and only when tens of thousands of Russian and British soldier-ghosts are wandering through the shades of Walhalla, the traveller from London will hear on this very platform the cry, “Change here for Calcutta !”

Imperial Gazetteer of India 1909 map of Afghanistan

Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Afghanistan from 1909 showing the Russia railway from Merv (Mary) to Kushka (Serhetabat). (Source: Digital South Asia Library)

Russian agrees to facilitate transit traffic

NATO-Russia Council Joint Statement at the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council held in Lisbon on 20 November 2010

We, the Heads of State and Government of the NATO-Russia Council, met today in Lisbon and affirmed that we have embarked on a new stage of cooperation towards a true strategic partnership.

We underlined the importance of international efforts in support of the Afghan Government and in promoting regional peace and stability. In that context, the revised arrangements aimed at further facilitating railway transit of non-lethal ISAF goods through Russian territory are of particular value.

Source: NATO, 2010-11-20

NATO transit traffic

From Russian Transport Daily Report, 1 February 2010:

NATO Cargo Transit through Russia May Start within Days

Railway transit of non-lethal NATO freight through Russia and Central Asia to NATO forces in Afghanistan may start within days. This would seriously supplement transportation through the main transit route, which passes through Pakistan. Pakistan will most likely remain the main transit route for the foreseeable future. Cargo to be transported through Russia and Kazakhstan will not include weapons or ammunition. A transit deal with Russia signed in 2008 needed approval from Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries to come into force.
Source: Interfax News Agency

Russia’s March to the East

An April 1899 article form the Timaru Herald, based a journey through the Russian empire, and the railway from Merv to Kushka (Serhetabat in Turkmenistan).


Mr John W. Bookwalter, of Ohio, who has just returned to London from a two months’ journey through Russia, informed a press correspondent in an interview that he enjoyed unusual facilities for observing what is going on in that country. He travelled 17,000 miles to the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the end of the line reaching the frontier of Afghanistan, and to the end of the one penetrating China through Manchuria. Mr Bookwalter says :—

“Russia in three years has done more to open the doors of China than Great Britian and all the rest of the world has done in 50 years. No one who has not seen it with his own eyes can have the faintest conception of what Russia has done and is still doing in Central Asia. I have travelled over twelve hundred miles of railway which she was built from the Caspian Sea to Tashkend. in Turkestan ; over a branch of this line which runs to the northern frontier of India, and over another branch which goes from Merv to the border of Afghanistan. This last branch was not completed when I was there, but it will be open to traffic shortly. There are also Russian lines all along the Persian frontier and penetrating into that country, either completed or rapidly approaching completion. All the work on these lines has been done by soldiers, who in this way are not in Russia, as elsewhere, non-producers.

“All this tremendous Asiatic railway system is owned and operated by the Government. All the lines are admirably built and splendidly equipped. Why, I saw a bridge across the Amu-Daria, in Central Asia, at a point where the river is three miles wide, that cost 20,000,000 roubles, and is the greatest piece of engineering work ever accomplished. There is nothing like it anywhere else m the world, the celebrated Forth Bridge, near Edinburgh, Scotland, not excepted.

“Wherever I went I saw cities and towns springing up – such as Askabad, in Turkomania, for example, which already has 25,000 inhabitants. Near Merv the Czar is building a magnificent palace. New Bokhara, twelve miles from Old Bokhara, has 12,000 inhabitants. The Russian policy in Central Asia is not to bring the new and the old in too close a contrast, and so she builds her railway stations a few miles away from the old centres of population, thus forming newand entirely modern centres. Where do the people come from to inhabit these towns? Why, from European Russia. The Government is turning her surplus European population into Central Asia, just as the United States turned the surplus population of her Atlantic States into her great Western territories. What I have just seen in Central Asia is almost an exact reproduction of what I witnessed years ago in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, when the emigrants from the East were pouring into the West. No human power can stay the onward march of the Slav through Russia, which will be the feature of the twentieth century, just as the the march of the Anglo-Saxon through America has been the feature of the nineteenth.”
Source: Timaru Herald, Volume LXII, Issue 2916, 4 April 1899, page 4, accessible at the National Library of New Zealand

Medvedev backs rail projects

A Reuters report saying Russia’s President Medvedev backs Afghan railway projects.

Russia aims to spur Afghan region economy, win aid

By Roman Kozhevnikov and Anastasia Onegina

DUSHANBE, July 30 (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday brought together the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and their neighbour Tajikistan to try and spur regional economic recovery and attract huge aid flows.

“We have a common space, which should be filled with all sorts of projects,” Medvedev said in the Tajik capital after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

“We were talking about energy projects, railway projects,” he told a news conference after talks also attended by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon.

Source: Reuters 2009-07-30

ISAF transit cargo

From the July 2009 Russian Railways e-mail newsletter, sent out on 5 August 2009.

RZD specialists took part in the interdepartmental meeting concerning the issues of transit of cargos meant for International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. An exchange of opinions on the procedure of the cargo transit to Afghanistan took place.