af Herat province railway inauguration loco (AfRA)

AFGHANISTAN: The country’s first standard gauge railway, which links Herat province with Khaf in eastern Iran, was formally inaugurated with a ceremony on December 10.

af Herat province railway inauguration video wall

Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani participated by video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Construction of the line began in July 2006, but suffered various delays. The project is being undertaken in four stages. Stages one and two run for 78 km from the Iranian network at Khaf to the Afghan border at Shamtiq. Tracklaying inside Afghanistan began in September 2016, on the 62 km stage three which runs to a terminal located north of Ghourian at Rozanak in Herat province on the road between Herat and the Iranian border. The first three stages were built at cost of 1·8tr tomans, with funding and support from Iran. The line is built to 1 435 mm gauge to match the networks in Iran and Turkey, and will improve landlocked Afghanistan’s access to the sea and Europe.

af Herat province railway inauguration track flags (AfRA)

The future fourth stage is being developed in two phases, backed by Italian funding. The first would add another 43 km to Robat Paryan and the second would cover a similar distance to Herat airport, taking the full route to around 225 km.

Rozanak station prresident poster (AfRA)

A trial freight train delivered more than 400 tonnes of cement from Iran to Rozanak on December 2. Freight traffic is predicted to be around two million tonnes a year, with imports to Afghanistan expected to include oil, construction materials and food and exports to include grain, dried fruit, plants and medical items.

AfRA said the operation of a passenger service is also being considered.

Regional connectivity

af Herat province railway inauguration President Ghani

‘I welcome the opening of this vital project as an important step towards recovery and development in both countries’, said President Ghani, adding that the railway would be the most efficient, useful and cheapest means of transport.

He said the project was the result of ‘tireless efforts’ by Afghanistan and Iran to improve regional connectivity and economic prosperity, adding that completion was a clear sign of their national wills and the efforts of officials, engineers, workers and other stakeholders.

Ghani noted that Afghanistan had not been part of the ‘transport revolution’ which railways had brought much of the world, as past leaders had rejected proposals for lines which could be used for invasion.

Rozanak station (AfRA)

Efforts to develop railways had been made under King Amanullah in the 1920s and President Daoud Khan in the 1970s, and two short 1 520 mm gauge cross-border lines from the USSR were built in the 1960s and 1980s, but no major projects got underway until after the 2004 Berlin Conference on Afghanistan where the importance of railways for the economic future of Afghanistan and the region was stressed.

Since then the short cross-border line from Uzbekistan has been extended by 75 km to Mazar-i-Sharif. The existing line from Turkmenistan has been modernised and a second link established.

‘Our vision is for Afghanistan to regain its central position on the Silk and Lapis Lazuli roads and to invest in trade development’, said Ghani.

af Herat province railway inaugruation President Rouhani conference

Iran’s President Rouhani said the opening day was ‘a day of peace and blessing’ for ‘two nations from the same roots, history, culture’, which had ‘maintained their brotherhood and neighbourhood as each other’s best companions.

‘Our connection has always been through our common hearts, thoughts, cultures, behaviours and efforts, and today the railway strengthens this connection.’

  • The Khaf – Herat railway project was described in detail in the January 2008 issue of Railway Gazette International magazine.