WAGONS loaded with new sections of track wait in sidings at Kerman and Bam. Shortly they will be hauled east to the railhead of what is destined to become a major link between the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
The line being built between Kerman in the southeastern corner of Iran and the terminus of the Pakistan Railways branch from Quetta at Zahedan was completed over the 225 km as far as Bam in December 2004. A visit to the region in 2005 found scant evidence of work progressing eastwards from Bam, but since then work has been substantially accelerated (RG 1.06 p15).
Between Kerman and Bam there is a daily passenger train in each direction, and the trip through spectacular desert scenery takes around 3 h. Apart from the construction trains, there is little evidence of freight movement, although the line was used to carry materials to help rebuild the city of Bam after it was struck by a serious earthquake in December 2003.
For the first 100 km east of Bam, about as far as the town of Shur Gaz, the alignment of the new railway runs close to that of the road to Zahedan. A visit in the second half of 2006 determined that tracklaying had reached a point about 60 km east of Bam, and civil engineering and other construction works were visible for another 30 km, with bridge construction well in hand.
East of Shur Gaz the alignment diverges from the road, running well to the south where an easier route is possible - the road over the last 100 km to Zahedan passes through very rugged terrain that would make railway construction costly and difficult.
The Iranian line is being built to 1 435 mm gauge, which will require gauge-changing facilities at the point where it meets the line from Pakistan. Local officials confirmed that the new line will run over an alignment just to the south of Zahedan, meeting the 1 676 mm gauge route from Quetta about 15 km from the city centre.
It would be unrealistic to run the new line into the existing PR station at Zahedan as this is entirely surrounded by dense urban development, which also rules out location of the gauge-changing facility here as it will require space for sidings and possibly transhipment facilities. A new passenger station is therefore likely to be built south of the city, while the gauge-changing facility will probably be built slightly to the east of the new passenger station at a point on the existing broad gauge line. It is understood that construction of the gauge-changing facility will start later this year.
The official target date for completion of the link is 2008. It remains to be seen whether this will be met, but steady progress is certainly being made. RAI expects the line to give its international traffic a major boost, but any significant volume of business would require major upgrading of the line between Zahedan and Quetta, where the rail service has suffered badly from bus competition on a parallel road. Until a few years ago the line was served by the Taftan Express which offered restaurant service and sleeping cars. The only train now is a mixed service running just twice a month to the border at Mirjaveh and Quetta, with the few remaining passengers accommodated in just two or three elderly coaches.
Facilities for handling freight are minimal, with no containers in evidence and wagons being manually unloaded at Zahedan. Recent, but as yet unconfirmed, reports indicate that all services between Zahedan and Quetta have been temporarily suspended following a series of bomb explosions on the line in Pakistan.
- CAPTION: Newly-laid track about 15 km east of Bam - last August the railhead was about 60 km from Bam, with construction work progressing steadily eastwards
- CAPTION: One of the few intermediate stations on the completed section of line from Kerman to Bam. A daily train connecting in and out of overnight Raja express services from Tehran makes the trip in around 3 h
- CAPTION: Sections of new concrete sleepered track to be laid on the final section of the Kerman - Zahedan line wait to be moved to the railhead from sidings at Bam
- CAPTION: The initial section of the Kerman - Zahedan line has been completed this is the view of the first part of the line east of Kerman
- CAPTION: The twice-monthly Zahedan - Quetta international train waits to leave Zahedan. A few years ago the Taftan Express on this route featured sleeping and restaurant car facilities, but the only train is now a mixed service with just two or three passenger coaches (inset)
- CAPTION: Prayer stop at Torbat-e-Heydariyeh: three Bandar Abbas - Mashhad passenger trains a week currently operate over the Bafgh - Mashhad line that was opened in 2005