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T r a n s - A s i a


Express Tehran - Mashhad, class 90, Tehran 1973 (WS)


"Trans-Asia" never was a project, but only the vague dream of a railway from Turkey and Iran to India and even to China. In reality during decades there were no rails between Iran and its eastern neighbors Turkmenistan (formerly a part of the Soviet Union), Afghanistan and Pakistan. In British controlled Afghanistan only in 1921 a short-lived local line Kabul - Darulaman was built, but the British Empire by strategic reasons did not allow any rail network. A Khyber Pass railway in Pakistan had been built only in order to secure the border. In 1977 the Shah of Iran wanted to finance a modern rail network in Afghanistan. In 1979 however he was overthrown and in the same year the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. Its broad gauge reached only Hairatan at the northern border. Surprisingly, even when the Afghanistan war continued, considerations about a railway from Iran via Afghanistan to Uzbekistan were published. In 2010, despite the fight against the Taliban anarchists, Railway Gazette Intl could report about Afghanistan: "A 20-year rail plan has recently been announced…". In 2012 re-opening of the line from the Uzbek border to Hairatan was reported.


Train from Peshawar with SG/S class 2494 of Pakistan Railway on the Khyber Pass line in Landi Kotal, 1976 (Marc Dahlstrom)



The Tamarlan Gate during Soviet time, on the line from Toshkent to Samarkand, a possible way to Afghanistan (TASS)

Henschel engine of the first railway at Kabul, stored at Darulaman, 1974 (Dr. Wolfram Koehler)

Trans Asian Express
A link between Iran and Turkmenistan was completed not before1996, after the end of the Soviet Union.

Opening ceremony for Mashhad - Tedzen, May 13, 1996: Special IIRR (standard gauge) Mashhad - Serakhs, consisting of an ex-Turbotrain, hauled by a GM diesel (GT22, rebuilt with cab-in-front, blue/light grey). Special TZ (5ft 6in gauge) Tedzen - Serakhs: Ex-Soviet RIC sleepers, hauled by a 2TE10 diesel (blue). Then a regional 2nd class train Mashhad - Serakhs appeared in the timetable. At the turn of the century there was not yet listed any international train service Iran - Turkmenistan. In 2001 a Memory of Understanding was concluded by the participating railway administrations “… To open international passenger traffic on Almaty - Tashkent - Turkmenabad - Tehran - Istanbul route (…) taking into account that on first stage the train will travel up to the Tehran railway station (…). Pending the accession of TCDD to OSZhD, the passenger train No.19/20 (Almaty…Tehran) will be connected to the train on Tehran - Istanbul route which is under operation since March 2001 (…). ‘Trans-Asian-Express’ Almaty - Tashkent - Turkmenabad - Tehran international passenger train No.19/20 at the first stage shall include passenger coaches of the railways of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (…) of 1-BM (which is equal to standard size 0-T accepted by CIS) (…) No.19/20 shall include a restaurant wagon of Kazakhstan Railways (…). Bogies of passenger wagons shall be changed from 1520 mm to 1435 mm and vice versa at Iranian Serakhs station (…) at the initial stage at Turkmen Serakhs station…”. According to Samuel Rachdi/ Fahrplancenter, a run with 3 sleepers Tehran - Tashkent - Almaty started in March 2002. From Uzbekistan problems with the provision of locomotives were reported and some windows were smashed. According to turksib.com, starting of the train service Almaty - Tehran was “postponed definitely” in May 2002, nevertheless Cook Overseas Timetable of 2005 mentioned it as a once-weekly express Tehran - Turkmenabad - Tashkent - Almaty, but at least in that year it did not run. Later no service from Iran to Turkmenistan was listed and passengers had to change train at the border station Serakhs.

On the Tehran - Mashhad section the ANF Turbotrains had disappeared long before. Also through trains from Tabriz, Ahvaz and Yazd to Mashhad had been started with couchette cars. In 2005 a modern intercity express Tehran - Mashhad consisted of new light-turquoise/white coaches and a generator van, hauled by a similarly colored Alsthom class 60.2 diesel engine. In the same year new diesel multiple units DH4-1 were delivered.

Maglev line Tehran - Mashhad
In 2009 considerations of building a maglev line Tehran - Mashhad were published - suprising, for electrification of the existing railway was already under construction. In 2011 Railway Gazette Intl reported Russia's and China's engagement in building railways in Iran. These two countries did not join the Western boycott on Iran on account of Iran's nuclear program.

To the Gulf
In 1995 a railway to Bandar-e Abbas on the Persian Gulf was opened. Together with the extension northward to Mashhad it is the shortest connection between Turkmenistan and the Gulf. Building another line from Chabahar on the Gulf to Zahedan close to the border of Pakistan was started in 2010.


Refurbished Turbotrain 4007, running Tehran - Zandjan, Oct. 2005
(Thomas Meyer-Eppler)

Intercity Tehran - Mashhad, class 60.2, Oct. 2005 (Thomas Meyer-Eppler)


The "Trans Aysa Ekspersi", Tatvan, Apr 2004 (Till Klingenhaeger)

Passangers must leave the train in Tatvan an transfer on the ferry, which only takes some cargo-waggons an the baggage car of the Trans Asya Express, Apr 2004 (Till Klingenhaeger)

Iranian TransAsyaExpress betwwen border and Tabriz, Apr 2004 (Till Klingenhaeger)

Russian Sleeper and Diner car in UIC-profile, Apr 2004 (Till Klingenhaeger)

Iran - Pakistan
A railway from Russia and Iran to India had not been in British interest. In 1918 Indian broad gauge rails reached Zahedan in eastern Iran, but from 1932 the line remained demolished until 1942. The section Kuhi Taftan - Zahedan became interrupted during the '80s. Service Zahedan - Quetta was resumed in 1991. Extension of the Iranian standard gauge to Zahedan is under construction, completing the rail link Europe - Pakistan - India. Cook Overseas Timetable however informed in 2008 about the connection Zahedan – Quetta in Pakistan: “Services believed suspended due to repeated bombings.”

Special Quetta - Zahedan
NWR (5ft 6in gauge)
Arrival Zahedan, on occasion of re-opening the line from Quetta, April 20, 1942:
XA (Pacific)
3 water-tank wagons
XA (Pacific)
3 water-tank wagons
5 coaches
1 Dining Car
1 1st 2nd class
1 Inspection Saloon


An old photo shows a mixed train with 2 water-tank wagons behind the Pacific engine, c.15 freight wagons, a four-wheeler and some dark-red NWR cars. In 2005 the timetable showed only a 2nd class train and a twice-monthly express Zahedan - Qetta with 1st class (convertible to sleeping accommodation) and economy class. Then the Taftan Express Zahedan - Quetta was replaced by a mixed train.
Colors: PR diesels green/cream, then green, passenger cars green/cream.

Karachi Quetta Mail
In 1886 and 1887 two railways from the Indus plain to Quetta through the wild mountain region had been built, the Bolan line and the even more exciting railway of the Chappar Rift. Both were replaced by the Mushkaf Bolan route, completed in 1895. It became the line of the Bolan Mail. Traction was mainly by ten-wheelers of the NWR, from the 30's XA (4-6-2), and on the Bolan Pass uphill in western direction four HG/S (2-4-0), two ones in front, two ones pushing. In 1976 the Bolan Mail Quetta - Karachi consisted of one of the nice old Alco express passenger diesels of the PR, a rebuilt boxcar for the armed guard and new cars. Uphill a new Alco in front and two Alco's in the rear are reported (by Marc Dahlstroem). Then new GM and Hitachi diesels were acquired. Later the main connections became the Baluchistan Express Quetta - Karachi and the Quetta Express Quetta - Lahore - Rawalpindi - Peshawar. Only the section Khanewal - Lahore was electrified.

Pakistan’s Future
At that time, only the section Khanewal - Lahore was electrified. The “Khyber Mail” and other expresses are connecting Karachi via this line with Rawalpindi and Peshawar. In 2010 Railway Gazette Intl could publish the intention of building a high-speed line between Lahore and Rawalpindi, the railway station for the capital Islamabad. It was the first high-speed project on the sub-continent.

Train 53up Lahore - Quetta of the NWR, hauled by three 2-8-0 type HG/S class engines, Nannar Nala bridge at the beginning of the Bolan Pass incline, in the 30's (P.S.A. Berridge, coll. Olga Berridge)

Express 4 "Bolan Mail" Quetta - Karachi, Alco class ALP14, Pakistan Railway, at Mach 1976 (Marc Dahlstrom)

Tezgam express Karachi - Rawalpindi/ Lahore, class ALU-24, Pakistan Western Railway (PWR)

Quetta Express Peshawar - Quetta, 25 kV class BCU-30, Pakistan Railway, at Sahiwal 1988 (Hans-Herbert Frohn)



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