Rail transport in Afghanistan

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Members of the Afghan Border Police (ABP) search a locomotive near the Hairatan border crossing point in Balkh Province of Afghanistan.

Railways were planned in Afghanistan since the 19th century but never completed. At least one rail track was built in the capital of Kabul during the 1920s but was dismantled as Afghan leaders resisted the railway age. Various rail projects have been proposed in recent years, to support mining projects which would drive economic growth.

Currently there is a rail service between Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in the north.[1] The Afghan government expects to have the line extended to Kabul and then to the eastern border town of Torkham, connecting with Pakistan Railways. The work is carried out by China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and is expected to be completed by 2014.[2] The project was paid for with a $165 million grant from the Asian Development Bank.[3] Another 330 km rail way project between Mazar-i-Sharif and Turkmenistan was launched in June 2013.[4] India is finalising a plan to construct a 900-km railway line that will connect Chabahar port in Iran, being built with Indian help, to the mineral-rich Hajigak region of Afghanistan.[5]


Kabul tramway[edit]

In the 1920s, King Amanullah bought three small steam locomotives from Henschel of Kassel in Germany, and these were put to work on a 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long 2 ft 6 in (762 mm)[6] roadside tramway linking Kabul and Darulaman. The tramway closed (date unknown) but the locomotives still exist at Kabul museum in Darulaman.[6] December 1922 issue of the The Locomotive magazine mentions "Travellers from Afghanistan state a railway is being laid down for a distance of some six miles from Kabul to the site of the new city of Darulaman, and also that some of the rolling stock for it is being manufactured in the Kabul workshops". The August 1928 issue of The Locomotive magazine mentions "the only railway at present in Afghanistan is five miles long, between Kabul and Darulaman". Three small steam locomotives were acquired from Henschel of Kassel in Germany.[6]

Proposed railways[edit]

Over the last century and a half, plenty of proposals have been made about building railways in Afghanistan. In 1885, the New York Times wrote about plans for connecting the Russian Transcaspian Railway, then under construction, with British India via Sarakhs, Herat, and Kandahar. When completed, the project would allow British officers to travel from London to India, mostly by rail, in 11 to 12 days (crossing the English Channel, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea by boat).[7]

About 1928, proposals were put forward for a railway to link Jalalabad with Kabul, eventually connecting to the (then) Indian system at Peshawar. Lines to join Kabul with Kandahar and Herat would follow later. Owing to political upheavals these plans were not implemented.

Industrial railways[edit]

In the 1950s a hydroelectric power station was built at Sarobi, east of Kabul. Three Henschel four-wheel 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) narrow gauge diesel hydraulic locos built in 1951 (works numbers 24892, 24993, 24994) were supplied to the power station.

In 1979 mining and construction locomotive builder Bedia Maschinenfabrik of Bonn supplied five D35/6 two axle diesel-hydraulic 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) narrow gauge locomotives, works numbers 150-154, to an unknown customer in Afghanistan.[8]

The fate of these locomotives is unknown.

Track gauge[edit]

Rail tracks from the Afghanistan–Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, seen from a U.S. military helicopter.

The choice of future track gauges in Afghanistan presents several difficulties. Afghanistan is surrounded by three different kinds of gauge, and yet is almost completely without railways.[9]

Until the 21st century, there were fewer than 25 kilometres of railway inside the country, all of which is built to 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) Russian gauge. For strategic reasons, past Afghan governments preferred to discourage the construction of railways which could aid foreign interference in Afghanistan by Britain or Russia.[9]

Iran to the west uses standard gauge, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in), as does China to the east; to the south, Pakistan uses 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge, while to the north, the central Asian republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan use 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge.

In 2010, the gauge question was resolved so that the internal network would be initially standard gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in).[10][11]

Railway stations[edit]

There are currently no passenger services or stations in Afghanistan. If any of the various cross-border links are completed and opened to passenger service, new stations would have to be built.


Details of the preliminary list of stations to be served, which circle the central mountains of Afghanistan are available.[10]

National Rail Authority[edit]

The Afghan government is due to form a railway construction commission with technical cooperation provided by European commission, which was discussed in the G8 meeting in July 2011. The commission will be responsible to look after construction work of the railway networks in order to oversee the construction of a rail network within the country and their connection with the country's neighbors.[12] In October 2011, the Asian Development Bank approved fundings for the Afghanistan's national rail authority.[13]

Current railways and future plans[edit]

Afghanistan-Uzbekistan rail service[edit]

In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union built an approximately 15 kilometers rail line from Termez in Uzbekistan to Kheyrabad in Afghanistan, crossing the Amu Darya river on the Afghanistan–Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge.[14] In January 2010, construction began on a 75-kilometer (47 mi) extension line between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan; this line is also 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge as the first one built by the Soviets.[15] By December 2010, it began carrying construction materials for other reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.[16]

The line, which starts from Hairatan to Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi International Airport in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was completed and is operated by Uzbekistan's national railway Uzbekiston Temir Yullari for a three-year-term until Afghanistan's own railways department takes over. The first freight services began running around August 2011.[1][17][18]

Afghanistan-Turkmenistan rail service[edit]

A 10-kilometer long line extends from Serhetabat in Turkmenistan to the town of Towraghondi in Afghanistan. An upgrade of this Soviet-built line began in 2007.[19]

Construction of another 330 km railway track from Balkh province in Afghanistan to the Aqina dry port in Faryab province was launched in June 2013. Estimated to cost 4 billion afs, the rail line will pass through Sheberghan in Jowzjan province and connect with Turkmenistan's rail at Aqina in the Andkhoy district of Faryab province.[4]

Afghanistan-Pakistan rail service[edit]

Two broad gauge 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Pakistan Railways lines with steep gradient terminate on the border at Chaman and Torkham. In July 2010, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of understanding for going ahead with the laying of rail tracks between the two countries. Work on the proposed project is set to start in the next four months. The rail tracks would link Quetta in Pakistan with Kandahar in Afghanistan and Peshawar in Pakistan with Jalalabad in Afghanistan.[20]

On May 29, 2012, the section from Chaman in Pakistan to Spin Boldak in Afghanistan (12 km) was approved.[21]

Afghanistan-Tajikistan rail service[edit]

There is also a rail link planned between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.[22]

North-South Corridor[edit]

In September 2010, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) signed an agreement[23] with the Afghan Minister of Mines to investigate construction of a north-south railway across Afghanistan, running from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and then to the eastern border town of Torkham. MCC was recently awarded a copper mining concession at Mes Aynak which would be linked to this railway. MCC is constructing a 921 km long 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) gauge railway line that will link Kabul with Uzbekistan in the north and Pakistan in the east.[2]

Afghanistan-Iran rail service[edit]

The nearest railhead in Iran is a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge freight line which terminates at Mashhad.[24] This line is currently being extended 202 kilometers east to Herat.[25][26] On April 17, 2007 Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that the executive operations of the Khaf-Herat railway (freight only) project had begun in 2006. There is also a plan for a railway from Chabahar port in Southern Iran to the Hajigak region of Afghanistan - see Hajigak-Chabahar railway, below.

Hajigak-Chabahar railway[edit]

India is finalising a plan to construct a 900-km railway line that will connect Chabahar port in Iran, being built with Indian help, to the mineral-rich Hajigak region of Afghanistan.[5][27]

Other border links[edit]

There are no rail links to China or Tajikistan, though a connection to the latter was proposed in 2008.[28]

Breaks of Gauge[edit]

The initial phase of railway construction from 2010 sees the creation of five break-of-gauge stations.[10]

  • Kandahar 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) / 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
  • Khyber Pass 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) / 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
  • Towraghondi 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) / 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
  • Mazar-i-Sharif 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) / 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
  • Sherkhan Bandar 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) / 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)


See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "First major Afghan railway opens". Railway Gazette International. 25 August 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Construction on Kabul-Torkham Railway to Start Soon, Ministry of Mines Says. Tamim Shaheer, October 18, 2011.
  3. ^ ADB President Inaugurates Rail Line Linking Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  4. ^ a b "Work on Afghanistan-Turkmenistan railroad begins". The Gazette of Central Asia (Pajhwok Afghan News). 16 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/India-s-Track-3-Afghan-Iran-rail-link/Article1-763448.aspx
  6. ^ a b c Kabul to Darulaman railway, Railways of Afghanistan
  7. ^ "To India In Eleven Days.; Russia's Transcaspian Railway And The Time Necessary To Complete It", The New York Times, 1885-05-03 
  8. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20070430101935/http://www.ajg41.clara.co.uk/afghanistan.html#sdfootnote40sym Railways in Afghanistan, past and future
  9. ^ a b Railways in Afghanistan, past and future
  10. ^ a b c "Answering the Afghan rail question". Railway Gazette International: 63 (with map). October 2010. 
  11. ^ Railway Gazette International May 2012, p76
  12. ^ http://www.kuna.net.kw/NewsAgenciesPublicSite/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2178307&Language=en
  13. ^ Pajhwok Afghan News - ADB to give $222m for roads, rail tracks. Abdul Qadir Siddiqui. October 19, 2011.
  14. ^ "Aid train reaches Afghanistan". Railway Gazette International. 2002-01-01. 
  15. ^ Ben Farmer (13 June 2010). "Afghanistan to complete first railway by end of year". London: Daily Telegraph. 
  16. ^ "Railway Gazette: News in Brief". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  17. ^ "Afghan railway: First train runs on new line in north". BBC News. 2011-12-21. 
  18. ^ Afghan railway: First train runs on new line in north, BBC, 2011-12-11
  19. ^ "Afghan rebuild underway". Railway Gazette International. 2007-07-12. 
  20. ^ Kakar, Javed Hamim (2010-07-07). "Pakistan, Afghanistan ink MoU on rail links". Pajhwok Afghan News. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  21. ^ Railway Gazette International, July 2012, p30
  22. ^ "Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Sign Railway MoU". The Gazette of Central Asia (Satrapia). 21 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Agreement signed for north-south corridor". Railway Gazette International. 23 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  24. ^ "Modern construction methods mastered on Mashhad - Bafgh line". Railway Gazette International. 2007-07-01. 
  25. ^ "Rail Link With Herat". Iran Daily. 2007-02-27. 
  26. ^ Murray Hughes (2008-01-29). "Opening up Afghan trade route to Iran". Railway Gazette International. 
  27. ^ http://www.thefrontierpost.com/?p=75158
  28. ^ "Pointers". Railway Gazette International. 2008-06-15. 

Further reading[edit]

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