DISTANCES between main centres are so great that most passenger services operated by Raja Trains run overnight. Fares are subsidised for social reasons, resulting in a very heavy demand estimated to be four times greater than the volume of traffic actually carried with the present service pattern.

Most trains are sold out well in advance, and passengers with reservations must also produce personal identification when boarding their train to avoid a black market developing. Access to rail travel is now much improved, with travel agents able to sell tickets and internet purchase also available.

In an early move towards privatisation, Raja has franchised some services to private operators who charge a premium fare. Refreshment services are also franchised out.

There are two international trains. Twice a week the Transasya Ekspresi service links Tehran and Haydarpasa (for Istanbul), although the train itself does not cross Lake Van. The connection at Sarakhs also sees through carriages operating once a week between Alamaty, Toshkent and Tehran.

Internally, Mashhad - Tehran - Esfahan is regarded as having prime passenger potential. Such passenger trains as are run are heavy, consisting of 15 to 20 day/night convertible corridor stock, often acquired secondhand from across Europe, although this policy has recently changed in favour of new purchase.

China is supplying passenger stock for the Tehran suburban route to Karaj, and 20 four-car DMUs from Siemens will enter service shortly to operate a new pattern of medium-distance daytime services. Suburban services also are being introduced due to severe road congestion in centres like Tehran, and 120 high-density coaches are on order from Rotem in Korea.

Nine former British Rail Class 141 railbuses were sold to Iran three years ago, and these operate newly-introduced suburban services across the centre of Tehran offering new standards of both comfort and accessibility, as passengers can simply board and purchase tickets on the train.

There are also plans to order 500 new passenger coaches to help alleviate the capacity shortage (RG 3.05 p118).