Monthly Archives: Apr 2020

Good Friday: The Prophet Jeremiah: “How desolate was the city that was once thronged with people…”

A very short reflection for Good Friday.

“How desolate was the city that was once thronged with people………” says Jeremiah ………. Lamentations 1:1

I have just listened as the lay clerks and choral scholars of Worcester Cathedral Choir performed “The Lamentations of Jeremiah- Part 1” set to music by Thomas Tallis. The Lamentations of Jeremiah are sung during the Holy Week Tenebrae services in the Catholic rite. This offering for Good Friday was recorded on 20th March 2020, before the current government guidance and lock-down came into effect.

“How desolate, how lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”

It is almost impossible to avoid drawing a parallel with our experience of lock-down over Easter. The minor key the composition by Tallis expresses something of the misery that many will be feeling over these next few days as  they are prevented for sharing the holiday weekend with others, as they are prevented form gathering for worship.

The passage from the Book of Lamentations is a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem and the removal of the people of Judah into exile.

The first chapter of Lamentations goes on the evoke something to the reality of loss being experienced by God’s people:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! …
Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish. …

All her people groan as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food, to keep themselves alive. ….
“Look, Lord, and consider, for I am despised.” …

See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, …

“People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. … My groans are many and my heart is faint.”

Now, the parallels are in one way quite weak, the exile of Judah  is not the same as what we are experiencing at the moment, locked-down and locked-in by Covid-19. Most of us have not been removed from our homes. But … we are experiencing a kind of internal exile, we can no longer do the things we long for, our freedom has been curtailed and we cannot hug many of the ones that we love. And, for those of us who claim a Christian faith, we have lost an ability to be in present in Communion with each other around the Lord’s table. We cannot share the peace. We are missing out on the usual, comforting and also challenging time of Holy Week and the journey to Easter.

Listen again to the cadences of the choir from Worcester Cathedral, read again the words of lament which come from Lamentation 1: 1-22 above, allow yourself to feel the loss and the pain that is our shared experience.

And remember. ……………… Remember that the loss we feel has already been experienced, has already been consecrated and hallowed by the journey of our Lord Jesus Christ from Palm Sunday adulation, through intense loneliness during Holy Week, to the desolation of the Cross and the rupture of his relationship with God the Father.

Our pain, is his pain, our loneliness is his loneliness, our fears are his fears. We are not alone.

Railways in Iran – Part 9 – Foreign Articles – Collection C

A couple more pieces from different foreign sources, the first comes from the SJK Postvagen Forum, the second from a French magazine. As noted in my previous article, I have used Google Translate and Deepl to perform a basic translation of each of these articles and then I have sought to clarify and paraphrase what has resulted from the automatic translation. I trust that these further articles are of interest. …

1. The first is from the Swedish Railway Engineering Journal of May 1961 and is entitled Some Notes from the Journal of Chief Inspector Enar Uhlund on the Building of the Railway between Tehran and Tebriz. [1]

“In some foreign newspapers, among others, la Vie du Ran No. 785 of 19.2.1961, articles have been written about the work on the Turkey-Iran Railway link, which links the Persian Railway to the European network.” [1]

(The route is shown below with the length to be constructed shown dotted.)

The planned railway route. [1]

“At least in Persian territory the route shown is far from exact. The Railway passes through a very mountainous region  which will offer both bidders and builder of the line many difficulties. In order to help readers understand these issues, I want to provide some insights into the building of the now completed line between Tehran and Tebriz.

In 1955 and 1956, I served as a manager in a Persian contracting firm which completed a 20 km section of the around 150km southwest of Tebriz.

The Persian state directed construction management and control through a distinct railway construction organization, separate from rail administration, which also provided track laying in-house.

Terracing works, art buildings and houses are being contracted by domestic, smaller companies, each of which had a contract plot covering all works on a section of 20-30 km in length.” [1]

The goods shed at Dackatsu station on the Mianch-Tebriz line. In the background is the station house. All buildings are built in stone. [1]

“The design work had been carried out by the Danish consultancy firm Kampsax about 25 years earlier. This company had done a great job of producing drawings, job descriptions and other documents, which would enable the work to be undertaken with a minimum of technically trained operatives. The only fault with their plans was that they were no longer up-to-date. For example, structures were designed in stone or mass concrete, easily available in the 1930s. An example is shown in the adjacent picture.” [1]

“Terracing works, railway structures and houses were built by smaller domestic companies, each of which had a contract covering all work on a section of 20-30 km in length.

In addition to drawings and work descriptions, preliminary mass information and a pricing list covering all types of work are included in the tender documentation and tenderers may also qualify their tenders by providing a general discount in the list prices

Given the lack of firm control and supervision as well as the flexibility in pricing, the system favoured the contractor. The opportunity for lucrative work was increased significantly. For example, most of the prices, associated with bridge foundtions were very favorable, which meant that the foundations were built to a good size, both in terms of width and depth. In contrast, the prices for house-building work were low, so contract terms were adhered to rigorously, work was sluggish and these structures were often of poor quality.

The lack of supervision is evident from the fact that all the contract overseers were also employed as supervisors of the contractor, a peculiar relationship to a Swedish eye.” [1]

The very low wages – a day’s wage for a worker amounted to just over 2 Swedish Kroner (SEK) – in association with the difficulty for a small company to look after machinery meant that the degree of  mechanization was very low. The only motor-driven devices that appeared were a number of trucks and some motor pumps.

An underpass. which was been approved as accommodation for 40 workers. There were no windows, no furnishings, and workers slept on the floor. [1]

“The workforce amounted to a maximum of about 2,000 men, which, despite the very small numbers, caused some accommodation problems. Billets, often of an incredibly simple type had to be be arranged and each worker was assigned a daily bread allowance of about 1kg’s weight. … These bread-cakes were, in many cases, the only food the workers received. The workers were treated very harshly, and there were occasional supervisors who felt that they did not fulfill their duty unless they whipped at least two workers every day.” [1]

“The contract included a number of larger bridges, the largest of eight 10-metre spans. These bridges, which were built as circular arches in stone, are undeniably very beautiful and the skill of the stonemasons is impressive. The next four relatively poor quality pictures show the bridges under construction.” [1]

Bridge with all spans of 10 m under construction. The piers are of limestone, the arches of gray red, harder rock. Note the corbel s and the masonry plinths for the arch vaulting. [1]Bridge with eight spans of 10 m under construction. One arch just completed, 20 metres above river level. [1]A different bridge, this time with five spans of 10 m under construction. Track height above the river level will be about 30 metres. [1]Bridge with 5 spans of 10 m under construction. Each stone is carried on a stretcher by two men. [1]

“The experience that a Swedish engineer has in a workplace of this kind, is primarily that the difficulties lie in completely different areas than you might expect. For example, it is not always easy to be in charge of the technical management of a project when you are the only one in the workplace who can use a theodolite, when your manual labourers speak nothing but Persian and cannot even read our numbers or letters.

It felt particularly important to engage in such work at a stage when the terracing work being constructed for the entire line. Now, however trains are running on the line to Tebriz and just a little to the West of Tebriz work is underway on what will be the last link on a line between Europe and Iran.” [1]

2. The second is much more recent and comes from a French Journal – a 2016 edition of Objectif-Rail  [2] As above, the English text started off as an automatic translation and has then been refined/paraphrased to make the greatest sense in English. The text of this article is in Italics.

The Trains of the Country of the Ayatollahs

Iran is a little-known and hitherto inaccessible country, it has a railway network steeped in history and booming since the end of economic sanctions. Explore the railway network of the Islamic Republic of Iran (RAI): breathtaking landscapes of the Trans-Iranian Railway traveled by indestructible American diesels and in Tehran, a city served by a modern suburban network equipped with State of the art Chinese equipment. This is a visit to an exciting railway world!

lrân is a territory of 1,648,000 square kilometres, about three times the area of France. It had a population of 81 millions inhabitants in 2015 but only 19 million in 1956. The population has grown fourfold in around 60 years! The City of Tehran has  13 million inhabitants. The other major cities are lsfahan (3.5 million) Mashhad (3 million) and Tabriz (1.6 million). In 2011, 33 million tons of goods and 29 million passengers were transported by rail. This is between 9% and 11% of total transport in Iran.  The amount of freight is growing rapidly. The network owner and the main rail operator is the “Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (RAl). Literally, RAI stands for “Rah-e-Ahân lran” and means Railways of Iran. There are private operators for the services of travelers, many of whom are RAl affiliates, and for freight, like Alborz Niroo, a private operator.

The timid and tardy start of building a rail network

It was a long time before Iran built a railway line of note.  Iran was still called Persia that time. The country was a victim of a weak and confused government, subject to foreign interests and to archaic conservative religious views. The two great foreign influences were Britain and Russia. Britain wanted to protect access to its Empire in India while Russia wanted to extend its imperial influence by extending its territory to the south.

Conflicts between Russians and British, who both sought to increase their influence and develop their interests in the region, resulted in the first credible initiatives in railway construction being  stopped. There were several attempts but they all failed, with the exception of a 9 km metre-gauge line opened in 1887 between Tehran and Rey to transport pilgrims to the Abd-a-Azim mosque. Apart from some narrow-gauge military and industrial networks concentrated mainly in the oil fields and the northern forests, the first significant lines were finally opened during the First World War when Russian, Ottoman and British troops occupied the country.  

The first line of 148 km from Jolfa (at the Russian border) to Tabriz was built
to the Russian gauge of 1524 mm in 1916. Otherwise, the Persian map remained empty of railways until a wide-gauge (1676 mm) extension of  was opened in 1922 from Quetta in India under English authority (today in Pakistan), reaching the border at Mirjaveh and continuing into Iran to Zahedan. This line remained isolated and economically marginal until 2009.  It is expected that it will soon be linked to Bam, thus forming a direct link from India to Turkey. 

The railway was then taken over by the Russians north of Tehran and by the British to the south. The Trans-Iranian Railway became the famous “Persian Corridor” (the main roads between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea were also part of it). This supply corridor was essential for supplying military equipment under the “Lend-Lease” agreement and supporting the Red Army through the “back door.”

For the record, the “Lend-Lease” program was an armament plan implemented by the USA during the Second World War intended to provide friendly countries with war materiel without intervening directly in the conflict (before the entry into war of the United States), which de facto put an end to the American laws of the 1930s on neutrality. The Trans-Iranian Railway was not designed for military use, nor for the intense traffic which would have to travel over its rails during the Second World War.

There was very little suitable rolling stock for the war effort. The main line locomotives were:

– 49 No. 140 (2-8-0) type steam engines from German manufacturers Krupp, Henschel and Maschinenfabrik Esslingen, known as “Ferrostaal” locomotives. The company had been a subcontractor to Kampsax (the company which organized the construction of the line); and

– 16 No. Henschel locomotives of type 150 (2-10-0).

In addition, the Iranian State Railways owned a dozen Nohab 141 (2-8-2) locomotives which were unusable on the mountain sections and four powerful Beyer Peacock Garratts, type 241-142 (4-8-2-2-8-4) for the long 2.8% gradients in the north section between Pol-e-Sefid. and the summit at Gaduk.

From all of these, the occupying forces determined that only the 150 (2-10-0) Henschels were in “good technical condition”.

To process the expected tonnages, the English sent about 150 No. 140 (2-8-0) LMS 8F locomotives which were assembled in Iran by 3 military railway companies: the “190 Railway Operating Company”, the “153 Railway Operating Company” (exploitation) and the “155 Railway Workshops Company “(workshops and maintenance).

In 1942, the American army took over on the southern section. It brought first 91 No. 141 (2-8-2) “War Department” Ministry of War of the USATC series (Corps of Transport of the United States Army) Locomotives and then 75 No. Alco diesels of 1000 horsepower of type RSD-1 in three batches.

Before the invasion of Iran, the Trans-Iranian Railway only carried around 200 tonnes of freight per day. British troops reached an average of 1,530 tonnes per day towards the end of 1941, then the Americans largely exceeded this level with a daily average of 6,489 tonnes in 1944, mainly thanks to Alco RSD-1 diesels. The Soviets in the north used the German machines and the four Beyer-Peacock Garratts repaired by the British in the workshops in Tehran.

The Russians had to face the toughest gradients, but they didn’t have as many tunnels as the southern section between Andimeshk (146 metres above sea level) and Dorud (1454 metres).

There are 144 tunnels on the 266 km of the mountainous part of the line that the American military railway workers called “the Metro” (subway). In the tunnels, smoke and combustion gases from steam engines sometimes made the air unbreathable, creating grueling working conditions for the crews. Water supply was easier in the Soviet zone, water was a scarce resource in the British zone, before supply collapsed completely. Several stations were  supplied with water by tank wagons. Cleaning the boilers was difficult due to water restriction. Cleaning was a frequent requirement before the introduction of water treatment. The difficulties linked to steam traction (water supply, washing of boilers, exhaust gas from fuel oil heaters and other fumes in tunnels, etc.) were such that its use represented a constant limitation of the transport capacity. That is, until the Americans put the Alco RSD-1 diesels into service. The USATC began by requisitioning 13 No. Alco RS-1 type 1000 horsepower BB (Bo-Bo) engines already built for American customers, and had them converted to CC (Co-Co) type RSD-1 better suited to the lighter rail of the Trans-Iranian Railway. A second batch of 44 No. RSD-1 machines was purpose-built for Iran and a third batch of 18 engines was put into service in April 1943. These were stabled further north in Qom in 1944 to circulate from Andimeshk to Tehran. Double traction was used on the most difficult sections.

All RSD-1s were retired from service after May 1945 at the end of the Second World War in Europe and returned to the USA for the most part. At least two of them are today preserved in the USA on heritage lines.

In addition to the diesels, the Americans also introduced into Iran between October 1942 and November 1943 ninety-one 141 (2-8-2) “Middle-East” type locomotives (identical to those present until the end of the steam in Turkey). After the war, 70 entered service with Iran Railways (RAI).

Between December 1941 and May 1945, more than 3 million tons of goods were carried by the Trans-Iranian Railway. During the occupation, the railway network was only increased by lines meeting military needs. An example is the new line which was built to connect with another port was built at Khorramshahr on the Persian Gulf because the quay at Bandar Shahpur was too small to handle the entire volume of imported goods.

The Development of Railways after 1945 …

The expansion of the rail network initiated during the reign of Reza Shah resumed after the departure of American troops in late 1945. But as the Americans left the country according to the plan exactly 6 months after the end of the war, the Russian troops left much later after trying to annex the Iranian province of Azerbaijan located in the Northwest of the country.

The northern lines were not taken over by RAI until May 1946. The Americans paid significant compensation to the Iranians for the use of their rail network during the war, and the Russians paid nothing at all.

It was a good investment, as large orders for American diesel locomotives followed later. The steam and diesel locomotives brought by the British and American troops were almost entirely withdrawn from service and dispatch to their country of origin or other places, apart, that is from 70 No. 141 (2-8-2) “Middle East” Class locomotives mentioned above.

During the following years, Iran was able to connect its rail network with that in Turkey.

Here is the list of the most significant line openings:

A rapidly expanding rail network

Iran has mainly relied on road transport, building a series of highways. Inexpensive and sometimes even subsidized fuel makes car journeys accessible to a large part of the population, and road lorries represent the bulk of the transport of goods. At the start of the 20th century, Iran had a population of 12 million. It is around 81 million today, which has led to a huge increase in the demand for transport, a resulting increase in pollution in big cities and a high road mortality. Rail only provides 9% of all transport. This is why Iran has announced an ambitious program for the construction of railway lines, undermined by the 1979 Revolution and more recently by several years of economic sanctions until they were lifted in 2015 in conjunction with the Iranian nuclear program being placed on hold. Despite these difficulties, several lines have been put into service since the 1990s, and investments continue, including electrification and a high-speed line project. A list of these lines is provided below, some of which are still under construction:

Other major projects are in the pipeline and will be co-funded by the private sector. Feasibility studies have recently been carried out for an ambitious project of a line along the Persian Gulf from Ahwaz to Bandar Abbas. In 2010, the Iranian Islamic State Railways intended to expand their network by around 11,000 km to 25,000 km by 2025. Elsewhere in the world, only China has such rates of expansion.

The first high-speed line between Tehran and lsfahan is under construction. For a long time, the electrification of the main Tehran to Mashhad line has been in the cards. It was on this line that the French turbotrains of the RTG type (rated at 160 km/hour) were run in Iran. [3][4] There are also plans to transform the Tehran to Mashhad electrification project into a high-speed line.

It is probably only after a complete return to normal following the lifting of economic sanctions (2015/2016), and when the price of oil rises again, that Iran will be able to finance its ambitious plans for the construction of an additional 850 km long high-speed line suitable for travel at 250 km/hr. For now (2016), there is still a shortage of many things that Iran requires to import. Railway construction sites are thus running late or have been completely stopped. The line to Azerbaijan, Qazvin – Rasht – Astara, for example, should have opened in 2011, but it is still under construction (2016).

Motive Power: the domination of American diesels

The first diesel locomotives in Iran were a series of 24 light mechanical trans-mission shunting machines of 180 horsepower built by Davenport Locomotive Works, of Davenport, Iowa, USA, and delivered to Iran in 1942 (20 further units joined them in 1949-50). The order for these diesels was placed before the Allied invasion of Iran. In the same year, the first Alco RSD-1 diesels arrived in Iran, when the British forces operating on the Southern Division of the Trans-Iranian Railway were replaced by the American forces of the USATC. At the end of the war, all the RSD-1 locomotives returned to the United States but the experience of diesels had been positive. So it is not surprising that the Iranian railways decided on a complete and fast transition to diesel power. However, they had spent a lot on the delivery of a final series of 64 huge new type 151 (2-10-2) steam engines of English origin (from the Vulcan Foundry, series 52.11 to 52.74).

Ordered in 1951 and delivered in 1953, they had a very short lifespan due to the arrival of new diesels. On 20th March 1961 (at the end of Iran’s year 1339), there were still 252 RAI-powered steam locomotives on the network, but only 35 of them were in working order. In the mid-1950s, the RAI ordered their first EMD (General Motors) diesels. They were 136 No. G12 type 66 machines of 1310 horsepower, and they were delivered between 1956 and 1962. Many are still in service today. These reliable machines convinced the management of the railways to order 30 No. more powerful CC (Co-Co) G16s, built in 1959, and a series of 13 No. BBs (Bo-Bos) of 875 horsepower type G8 in 1959. Thanks to these machines, the end of the steam in Iran occurred in the mid-1960s.

Incredible Americans

Other orders followed but the relations between Iran and the USA cooled completely with the Islamic Revolution and the Iranians found other means of obtaining the American locomotives needed on the international market. BB (Bo-Bo) G22W and CC (Co-Co) GT26CW locomotives formed the backbone of rail traffic in the mid-1980s. After the 1979 revolution, American locomotives no longer came directly from EMD. They were imported from Yugoslavia, Canada or South Korea where they were built under license. But they were still quite American!

During the years of economic sanctions, it became increasingly difficult to obtain these good old, reliable and durable diesels. Other manufacturers took the opportunity to deliver their locomotives. But as good as the products of Siemens or Alstom/Ruston, the American classics were highly appreciated for their robustness (and even “indestructibility”!), Their reliability, their ease of maintenance, their high load-pulling capacity and even their ease in digesting fuels of variable quality. You can power an EMD or GE engine with anything that smells near enough to the smell of diesel, even heavy fuel oil is acceptable and does not stop the engine. The indifference to both the quality of the fuel and the harsh climatic conditions are advantages that the new highly efficient diesel engines will never achieve. This is why, despite the arrival of a lot of new locomotives in recent years, the good old GF26CWs will not disappear anytime soon. These machines are still at the heart of the locomotive depot on some of the most difficult parts of the network, notably the Trans-Iranian Railway.

Alstom, Siemens, Chinese: the competition!

Recently, Alborz Niroo, one of the private operators in Iran, bought 77 No. used GT26 locos from South Korea and put them into service at the head of heavy trains of steel drums and iron ores and other resources on desert lines like lsfahan to Yazd. The RAI locomotive workshops are in Karaj (Tehran). Alborz Niroo is building a new workshop for its fleet of 77 No. American locomotives and 2 No. Chinese locomotives in Sistan near Isfahan. However, due to the economic sanctions, it is still difficult to buy spare parts. A major overhaul with replacement of a significant number of parts can cost more than a million US dollars in spare parts. But the Iranians are making this investment because the American locomotives will have a long life in Iran. They are ideal for the terrain. It should also be noted that most railways operating in arid and hot deserts are equipped with American machines. This is, for example, the case of Etihad Rail in the United Arab Emirates, a brand new network equipped exclusively with modern EMD machines. But there is more and more competition. The 100 CC Co-Co engines of type AD34C Alstom/Ruston from 2000-2009 (externally similar to Prima Alstom) have the great advantage of being able to be easily converted into electric locomotives when the electrification of the Iranian railways begins. In 2006, Siemens, Mapna and the RAI signed a contract worth $450 million for the supply of 150 mono-cabin, 2400 KW BB (Bo-Bo) locomotives for passenger trains. 30 machines have been built in Europe and 120 in Iran under the cover of a technology transfer agreement. Nicknamed “Iran Runner”, they have been adopted as the best locomotives for fast passenger trains and RAI plans to increase speeds thanks to them.

The first locomotive was built by Siemens in early 2010 and was able to be delivered thanks to a special agreement due to the sanctions which permited such deliveries. The last 5 locomotives need to be delivered in autumn 2016 by Mapna. In May 2016 we were able to see, at the depot in Tehran, No. the 1646 carrying out its first tests after delivery. Since it will take longer than expected to electrify a large part of the network, RAI will have Mapna build 38 additional units. Negotiations with Siemens have already started in this direction. Iran also bought Chinese machines, but the DF8Bi ( ‘i’ stands for produced in Iran) was a failure. These machines were only effective as long as Chinese technicians took care of them during the warranty period. Shortly thereafter, outages occurred and have continued continuously to this day. The DF8Bi may well be the last diesel locomotives delivered by China before for some time.

In Iran, when any machine or device of any kind breaks down, before considering repairs, it is usual to ask if it is of Chinese manufacture and if so to give up all hope. 

Due to current electrification projects, the purchase of additional diesels may well cease. However, reducing the size of the fleet is not an option, given the growth in freight traffic, the construction of new lines and the possibility of creating a new transit route between Asia and Europe. So we can be sure that the good old American diesels will still last a long time. And for the Trans-Iranian Railway, they will remain the go-to locomotive for freight traffic.

Diesel Locomotives in Iran. …

Electric Locomotives, self-propelled vehicles, turbotrains and railcars …

Alongside its diesel fleet which is the pride of the network, Iran also has electric locomotives and railcars:

  • The Tabriz-Jolfa line (formerly broad-gauge, now in standard-gauge) electrified in 25KV 50Hz is served by 8 Swedish BBs (Bo-Bos) ASEA RC4 dating from 1979-80.
  • The Tehran metro is of recent construction – the first line dates from 1999. It is served by electric self-propelled vehicles of Chinese origin.
  • One of the lines of the Tehran metro, line 5 Téhéran-Karaj-Mehrshahr is 43 km long and of the Réseau Express Régional type (RER). [5] It is served by units of 8 cars with 2 levels and 56 Chinese electric locomotives similar to the SS8 locomotives of 3200KW. [8]

RTG Turbotrains

The company ANF [10] built and delivered four RTG Turbotrains [3][4][11] to Iran by 1975, to run at 160 km/hr between Téhran and Mashhad on a single track line with manual points, U33 rails [15] and joints on wooden sleepers. The RTGs had to be adapted to the hot climate and especially to the sand which entered the ventilation openings of the turbines. They were stopped during the Iranian revolution of 1979 then 3 trains were put back into service in 1990. The last 5 SNCF RTGs based at the Vénissieux depot were sold to Iran in 2004 to provide spares for the other active sets. But some have been repainted in the colours of the Iranian Railways and put into service between Tehran and Mashhad. In 2008-2009 the trains remaining in service were converted to diesel trains with Volvo engines. In October 2015, one train still in service was demotorized and towed by an “Iran Runner” diesel on the Tehran to Mashhad line. We do not know whether this situation continues today (2016) or how many RTGs without an engine have been driven in towed trains.

BR Class 141 English railcars (Pacers)

The first railcars appeared in 1940. More recently, 12 two car railcar sets of British origin were bought from BR (British Railways) in 1997 (ex-BR Class 141) and used until 2005 (Rated for a maximum speed of 121 km/hr). Built by British Leyland in 1984, they were not a success in Iran. [16]

The Siemens Paradise DH4-1 trainsets

In 2001, RAJA Passenger Trains, the RAI passenger subsidiary, placed an order with Siemens Austria for 20 diesel fast-running trainsets with hydraulic transmission composed of 4 carriages all motorized and fitted with air conditioning, suitable for speeds up to 160 km/hr and intended primarily for the Tehran to Mashhad line. They were delivered in 2004-2005, they were equipped with MAN engines with a power of 4×588 KW.

The Hyundai Rotem multiple units

In 2004, the Korean manufacturer Hyundai Rotem won a contract for the supply of 150 diesel multiple units. The first 24 trains were built in South Korea and 24 trains were then to be assembled in Iran by the Iranian railway manufacturer Irico from kits. The remaining trains were to be built entirely by Irico with support from Hyundai Rotem. However, the international sanctions imposed in 2010 only made it possible to deliver 68 items without payment to the Korean manufacturer. Irico resumed construction of the trains in July 2015 and was able to deliver the 17th train assembled in Iran to RAI in February 2016 . With the lifting of the sanctions, Hyundai Rotem has announced new negotiations with RAI to recover the payment of the $76 million owed to it and to complete the initial order.

Discovering Iranian railways in 2016

Since the lifting of economic sanctions, it has become easier to travel to Iran. In particular, it is possible to buy services such as hotels and rentals by car or coach. You need to have a visa for each trip, but that does not present any other difficulty than filling out the forms correctly and queuing twice at the embassy.

The other problem for the railway lover is the ban on photographing trains (and other sensitive subjects) in Iran. In the midst of nature, far from cities or outside major stations, this does not present too many risks. It is important to be discreet. So, individual trips for rail photography are possible.

A small independent group of three amateurs successfully completed such a trip in April 2016 without any notable incident other than a puncture. But one can always come across formidable “Guardians of the Revolution” which can create more or less serious troubles. And above all, there are areas that are strictly prohibited, but that are not visible on the map or on the ground. Fortunately in May 2016, Bernd Seiler, the dynamic boss of FarRaiI Tours ( organized  a first trip for photographic and rail video enthusiasts, with official authorization to photograph trains wherever the route (duly validated and approved) took the party, but he could only obtain this privilege in return for the “purchase” by Far-Rail of a useless charter train, which served as “cover” for the payment to the Iranian railways (RAI) of substantial financial compensation. As usual, Bernd did an excellent job. Besides the free visit (without orange vest!) to the Tehran workshops, the group benefited from access to sites along the length of the Trans-Iranian as spectacular as they were inaccessible. The group were offered the use of inspection and maintenance vehicles which transported them to rural stations and sites for photography which allowed the pictures in the article (see the Appendix) to be taken. The only regret was the presence of fog in the region from the Caspian Sea to the pass at Gaduk in the Elburz Mountains, which prevented a good pictorial record of the fascinating loops and structures near Veresk. But even the best of the organizers is not in control of the weather … FarRail Tours will be organizing further trips to Iran, the first in the spring of 2017.


  1. The reference information for this extract was provided in Swedish: NAGRA GLIMTAR FRAN ETT PERSISKT JARNVAGSBYGGE Av overinspektor Enar Uhlund, DK 625.111(560), it comes from Jarnvags-Teknik (Railway Engineering) of May 1961,ärnvägar/page2, accessed on 2nd April 2020.
  2. Jean-Marc Frybourg and Bernd Seller; Globe Trotter: Des Trains au Pays des Ayatollahs; in Objectif-Rail No. 77 September-October 2016, p68-86. This article is written in French. A copy of the article is provided below in the Appendix.
  3., accessed on 8th April 2020.
  4., accessed on 8th April 2020 – “Four units of Turbotrains were introduced in Iran in 1974/5 with max speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) between Tehran andMashhad that later in 2008 were converted to DMU by substitution of diesel instead of turbines.”
  5. The Réseau Express Régional (English: Regional Express Network), commonly abbreviated RER , is a hybrid suburban commuter and rapid transit system which serves Paris and its suburbs. The RER combines the operations and roles of a local city-centre underground rail system and suburbs-to-city-centre commuter rail. Inside the city centre, the RER functions much like the Métro, but is faster as it has fewer stops. This has made it a model for proposals to improve transit within other cities across France and elsewhere in the world. [6][7]
  6.éseau_Express_Régional, accessed on 9th April 2020.
  7. e.g. “Regional Rail for New York City – Part I” dated 16th July 2009;, accessed on 9th April 2020 and quoted in reference [6] above.
  8. The Shaoshan 8 (SS8) is a semi-high-speed electric locomotive used on the People’s Republic of China’s national railway system. The SS8 is based on its predecessor, the SS5, and was developed and built by CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Works. [9]
  9., accessed on 9th April 2020.
  10. Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France was a French locomotive manufacturer, based at Crespin in the Arrondissement of Valenciennes, northern France. Later known as ANF Industrie or ANF the company was acquired by Bombardier Transportation in 1989 and is now part of Bombardier Transport France S.A.S. [14]
  11., accessed on 9th April 2020.
  12. Gas turbines: After the encouraging results obtained during the first tests on an experimental gas turbine rail car in 1967, the SNCF brought 14 ETG turbotrains into service (4 different bodies, mixed gas turbine and diesel engine power-plant) and then ordered 39 RTG turbotrains between 1970 and 1974 (in service in 1976) of a more sophisticated kind (5 coaches, all-turbine power-plant, new-type bogies and air-conditioning). All these turbotrains were being used successfully on high-speed express and non-stop services on non-electrified lines of medium traffic density. A point to note is that six French-built RTG turbotrains are in service in the United States and four in Iran. [13]
  13. Resolutions of the Council of Ministers of Transport and Reports Approved in 1976; The European Conference of Ministers of Transport Volume II; p137;, accessed on 9th April 2020.
  14., accessed on 9th April 2020.
  15. The profile of U33 rails is shown on the adjacent diagram., accessed on 9th April 2020.
  16. Neither were they considered a success in Great Britain. However, it seems as though the Iranians were much quicker at abandoning them than the British have been!


A copy of an Article in ‘Objectif-Rail’ No. 77 in 2016.

Maundy Thursday – John 13

Headline news on Huffington Post (an internet news site) in 2014:

On April 17, 2014, Pope Francis will visit the Centro Santa Maria della Provvidenza Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi home and wash the feet of the residents, many of whom are elderly and have disabilities. The ritual will happen on Maundy Thursday, which remembers the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his disciples, when Jesus humbles himself and washes the feet of his apostles prior to their Passover meal.

Shortly after being elected, Pope Francis made headlines when he washed the feet of two women at a Rome youth prison, a sharp departure from the foot-washing of 12 priests in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica. [1]

Wikipedia says that : “In a notable break from the 1955 norms, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome 2013. In 2016, it was announced that the Roman Missal had been revised to permit women to have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday; previously it permitted only males to do so.” [2]

Over many years, the usual papal ritual has been for the Pope to wash the feet of 12 selected priests in an endeavour to mirror Jesus’ action at the last supper. Pope Francis sought to move away from this careful and beautiful choreography towards something more meaningful.

As Pope Francis did this, he symbolically took the place of Jesus and his message was the same. Jesus said, “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Pope Francis was saying the same to those who accept his leadership: “If I, you spiritual leader, have washed the feet of the elderly and infirm, the least you can do is treat them as human beings and honour them by serving them as you would serve your Lord.”

This is the most obvious challenge in the passage from John 13 for those of us who want to faithfully follow Jesus. If we were to stop with that thought, we’d have something worthwhile to think about on Maundy Thursday.

However, this is not the only challenge that faces us in the passage from John 13.

Let’s think about Peter’s response to Jesus. He says, “You will never wash my feet.” In these words is another challenge, which for many of us might be more significant?

So often our focus in the evening service on Maundy Thursday is on Jesus, and rightly so. His humility and servant love call for a response. And so, perhaps, we make a mental note to be a little more generous in the way we deal with other people. Or we feel something as the service progresses – our emotions are affected and we feel like behaving differently.

But what does the story feel like, if instead of identifying with Jesus, we take Peter’s place. … What was it that provoked Peter to say: “You will never wash my feet.”

Was it a sense that it wasn’t right? Perhaps Peter felt that a leader should not do something usually done by the lowest of slaves.

Was it embarrassment? My feet are so dirty, they’ve got corns and bunyons, my toes are mis-shapen. I don’t want you to see.

Or, was it embarrassment for another reason? Did none of the disciples want the job? Were they looking round at each other wondering who would crack first? And then shock, horror – it is Jesus who picks up the slave’s towel.

Or, was it pride? Under no circumstances am I going to be so demeaned as to have you touch my feet.

What do you think it was that provoked Peter’s response? .Take a few moments to think about this. …….

Then I’d like to ask you a few other questions.

In a moment or two, in this article, we will move on to think about the particularly unique circumstances which face us in Holy Week in 2020, but let’s for a moment stick with the story in John 13 and with our attempt to identify with Peter.

What is it that has governed your decision on Maundy Thursday in the past. When you have been presented with the opportunity in church to have your feet washed. What has it been that has kept you in your seat? Or come to that, what is it that propels you out of your seat to come forward to have a foot washed?

Let’s translate the same question into more general circumstances. … When someone offers to serve you in another context, or seeks to help you, what is your response? Would it be one of these?

‘I am not prepared to accept charity.’

‘Go away, I don’t want your help.’

‘What is in it for you?’ ‘There must be a catch!’

What governs/governed your decision? Is it, or was it, a sense of propriety? Is it, or was it, embarrassment? Was it pride? … Is (or was) your response like that of Peter: “You will never wash my feet.”

There is a phrase we sometimes quote: “It is better to give than to receive.” There are times, however, when the giving is easy and the receiving is so much harder. It is actually often easier to serve than be served; often easier to serve than to take praise for our service; it is sometimes easier to give than to receive. The real challenge for us can be the need to be willing to receive the love shown to us by others.

Perhaps you could take a few moments to think about how you respond to love shown to you before you go on to read the rest of this reflection. …………………………….

We are in very strange circumstances in 2020. It feels as though Holy Week and Easter has been cancelled. Not that they have, of course. Our additional challenge is to find a way to engage over the next few days with the most important stories of the Christian faith and to do so in a way that unites us as members of the body of Christ.

We have been told that Archbishop Justin Welby, “will not be conducting the annual Maundy Thursday public ceremony of foot washing this year.” [3] That statement was made before a decision had finally been taken to close our Churches to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is true. No clergy will this year be washing the feet of members of our congregations. It seems as though many things now serve only to emphasise our isolation – the inability to share in the physical Eucharist, the loss of our regular services, the need to communicate only by phone, email, text, face-time and letter, the loss of physical contact with people from other generations in our families. All these things, and more leave us alone or even lonely – isolated from what means most to us.

Yet, the spirit of service, that essential commitment to caring for others, which is so dramatically played out in the story of John 13 is with us in the most purposeful of ways. There are those today who are choosing to touch what is untouchable, who are choosing to place themselves in harm’s way. There are those who, without the benefit of suitable PPE are touching and washing not just the dirty feet of others, but whole bodies as well, bodies that are infected and so are dangerous to touch. What seems to have brought isolation to so many, is also demanding so much from others.

The idea of foot-washing seems to be somewhat irrelevant in the context of all that is going on. The loss of the ceremony seems almost to be an unimportant footnote in the current crisis.

But the loss of this ceremony is significant. The loss of this, specific, personal contact is relevant. This loss is symbolic not only of all our other losses, but symbolic too of the selfless giving of others. I hope that in future years we will be able to see this ceremony as a focus for our gratitude that physical contact is once again possible for all of us, and as an act of gratitude for the love and care of others. I hope that we will all see having our feet washed as one essential part of the flow of the seasons of the church’s year.


  1., accessed on 5th April 2020.
  2., accessed on 5th April 2020.
  3., accessed on 5th April 2020.

Palm Sunday – 5th April 2020: Isaiah 50: 4-9a and Matthew 21: 1-11

Our Old Testament reading used the phrase, “I have set my face like a flint.” How might we phrase that today? “Go for it, no matter the cost.” “Climbing over dead men’s bodies.” “The end justifies the means?”

The phrase conjures up a sense of dedication and a refusal to be deflected no matter what happens. Determined, committed, purposeful.

It could be like a powerboat moving so fast towards its destination that its wash overturns everything in its wake. Real winners don’t put time limits on their commitments! They are committed with no conditions, and when they begin, they’ve made up their minds to finish!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said something a bit different: “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michael Angelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

Ambition, determination, whole-hearted commitment to our goals are quite good things in themselves. Often, however, when our hopes conflict with the interests of others we can produce all sorts of justifications for less than generous attitudes and actions. Our readings speak of whole-hearted commitment. Jesus, on Palm Sunday, sets his face like a flint towards Jerusalem, nothing will stop him fulfilling God’s will – nothing will deflect him from the path of the cross.

Success for Jesus is, however, measured in terms of apparent personal failure. In Jesus’ weakness, God’s purposes are fulfilled. For Jesus to meet his goals he has to die.

In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant, sets his face like a flint into the suffering that is coming his way – confident of God’s help to endure. There’s no disgrace, no shame, in the torture he faces because he knows that he can trust God for his future, for his ultimate vindication.

How different these attitudes are to our own? We struggle and strive to protect ourselves. We’ve learnt to be self-reliant. “Look after number one – no one else will!”

We’ve learnt to see failure and weakness is shameful. Success in the world=s terms is important to our sense of self-worth. We cannot be seen to fail, even if that means that we need to put others down.

Is that a fair assessment? Is that what I am like?

Perhaps I need to ask my self a few questions. …. How willing would I be to embrace apparent failure, like Jesus did, for the sake of others? … Would I be prepared for you to think bad of me, to reject me – if I only knew that I was doing what God wanted?

But things are never quite as stark as this. Things are never that clear-cut. It=s in the smaller things that I need to learn to place the needs of others above my own, in the smaller things that I need to learn to set aside self-protection and look to the interests of others. So, what does Christ-like determination and commitment look like?

Our reading from Isaiah gives us a clue:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens  – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

Says Isaiah – we need the “tongue of a teacher” – the openness that doesn’t hoard knowledge (because knowledge is power) but shares it with others. Openness that shares ourselves with others. Openness which allows us to share the glory and praise with others. Openness that makes ourselves vulnerable so as to lift others from their weariness.

And, says Isaiah, it is not only a willingness to share but a willingness to listen. … We must not close our minds in some sort of self-righteous crusade. (We know what is best and we’ll do it. Blow everyone else!)

No. It was because Christ was open to others, vulnerably sharing himself with them listening to their needs, that he set his face like a flint to the cross. Because he loved of others – he chose suffering a death.

The challenge for us is to be so open with others that we are prepared, if necessary, to set aside our well-being, our comfort, so as to meet their needs. So, how do we succeed?

Jesus answer: “By becoming vulnerable, willing to die, willing to embracing failure.”

By accepting that Palm Sunday’s adulation will give way to Good Friday’s rejection.”  A very different measure of success!


Loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ set his face like a flint toward the cross. Give us, your people, such love and compassion for others that we, like Christ, may be prepared to place others needs above our own. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Let us pray for the world and the Church and let us thank God for his goodness. ….. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you promised through your Son Jesus Christ to hear us when we pray in faith.

We bring before you the needs of our nation: we pray for those living below the poverty line, for the unemployed, the homeless, the dispossessed, those unjustly accused, those longing for justice.

We pray for all who govern and lead us. The Queen and her minsters of government, the opposition, civil servants and other government employees. Our Councillors and local authority workers. All who make decisions which affect our daily lives. We pray for the rule of law and that we will be justly and peaceably governed.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for nations around the world, for regions of conflict. Bring peace to our world, bring to power those who seek not only for their own good but for the good of others.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world, across all our denominations. Bring unity and a sense of common purpose in serving you. Help us to see Christ in one another and be alive to each others needs. Strengthen our bishops, church leaders and all your church in the service of Christ. May we, and they, place serving you above party spirit and narrow ambition.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, in silence we lift to you the names of those we love, our families, friends and neighbours. … Break down the barriers that we so easily erect, and open us up to sharing with each other in love

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit – those whose names rest heavily on our hearts, …. those in our street, our parish, our community and further afield, who we don’t know, … those known only to you – all of whom need your healing touch. Gather them into the warmth of your embrace, give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Hear us as we remember those who have died, those whose funerals have taken place this week. May we, and they, share in your eternal kingdom.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A prayer over your Palm Cross

If you have been sent a Palm Cross, or if you have one from last year, please use this prayer and give the Cross pride of place in your home over Holy Week and Easter. ….

God our Saviour, whose Son Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as Messiah to suffer and to die, let these palms be for us signs of his victory; and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Railways in Iran – Part 6 – Foreign Articles – Collection A

As I have shared this series of articles about Iranian Railways on the internet, I have been pointed to articles in Swedish, Danish and German which cover the early years of Iran’s Railway network….

Contributors to the SJK Postvagen (the forum of the Swedish Railway Club) have been particularly keen to share some of these. I have used Google Translate to create a first translation draft of each article and then sought to clarify anything unclear.

The articles and extracts below are of particular interest because they are written from the perspective of the time, rather than with the benefit of hindsight!

Here are the first three items:

The first is a short extract from an article which was originally written, I believe, in German in the Traffic Engineering Journal in 1933: [1]

A Trans-Persian Railway.

The Persian government has been working the construction of a railway across Persia from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf for several years. Around 400 km of this line have already been completed at both ends. The remaining distance of about 1000 km is now to be tackled. The entire engineering work has been outsourced to two Danish companies and one Swedish company. The railway starts from the southern tip of the Caspian Sea. The Persian plateau is reached after about 100 km. There is only one major city along the route, Tehran, of course. At the southern end of the railway, the southern Iranian Zagros mountains are crossed. The Persian government intends to cover the estimated cost of RM 240 million from the normal state budget. The construction work is expected to take 6 years.

The second extract was originally written in Swedish. The contributor on SJK Postvagen provided only pictures. They are, however, intriguing. The notes associated with each picture are direct translations of the original notes: [2]

Locomotives in Persia

A Steam Locomotive from South Persian State Railways, built by Baldwin as Works No. 61670 in 1932. Note that the locomotive has short buffers and AAR coupler combined with screw coupler. Probably the locomotive was oil-fired because the ash box seems to be missing.

Iranian Railways locomotive made by Beyer Peacock.

Iranian Railways  2-10-2 made in England after the Second World War.

Iranian Railways oil-fired steam locomotive, built in America.

The pictures above have limited information associated with them. It is to be hoped that I can fill out details when I come to focus on the motive power on the Iranian Railway Network in a future article.

The third article is from a Danish source it is an Appendix containing a lecture by P. Swartling given at the Danish Engineering Federation on 17th March 1933.

Proceedings of the Danish Engineering Federation 1933: Appendix 2 – Page 19-31

P. Swartling: Railway Construction in Persia. 

Persia was only in name a free country with a ruler who spent most of his life in Europe. It was completely in the hands of its neighbours, Russia in the North and Great Britain in the South.

In order to prevent Russia from stretching its tentacles down into India, it was in Britain’s interest not to expedite the development of communications in Persia. … The result has been that the country is now significantly behind in this regard. As late as 1918, cars and other motor vehicles were completely unknown in Persia to the greater part due to the lack of import provisions. The country’s topography also mitigated against the development of communications.

While much of the country is made up of a pasture. This is surrounded in the north By the Elburs Mountains and to the west and south by the no less imposing Zagross Mountains. The difficulties in advancing and building through these mighty mountain ranges have been too great.

In the spring of 1918, after the Brest-Litovsk peace deal, the Russians withdrew their troops from Persia. An example of the difference this made to the British occupation of Persia was that they were forced to build a road from Kanakin (Iraq) on the Persian border across the Zagross Mountains to Hamadan to enhance the already existing road to Baku, previously built by the Russians.  At the same time, British forces were busy building a road from the port city of Bushir to the town of Shiras, located about 1000 metres above sea level. From Shiras, one can access the other larger cities in southern Persia such as Kerman, Yezd and Ispahan without too much difficulty.

Map of Persia with its surrounding states.

Talard Valley in the neighbourhood of Pol-e-sefid

As a result, wagons and cars flooded into Persia, giving an impetus to interest in them. The now reigning Shah, Riza Kahn Pahlevi, who ascended the throne after the revolution in 1925, is very interested in the development of communications. In the relatively short time he has been in power, these have progressed rapidly.

According to reports, at the end of 1930 there was a network consisting of about 1950 km first class routes, 9500 km second class and 2200 km third class routes, all accessible by motor vehicles all year round. These figures clearly show that development has moved quickly.

The ruling Shah has a burning interest not just in roads, but perhaps to a still greater extent in railways. One of his first acts after his accession in 1925 was also to introduce a tax on tea and sugar, the yield of which is intended to be used entirely for railway purposes. This tax amounts to about 20 million kroner a year and has even in 1932 brought in about 100 million kroner of investment of which 60 million has already been spent.

Before I focus on the construction company on the present project, I want to touch on some previous projects. An important issue just before the war was the construction of a route running west to east, which would link India with Europe. It should have been an extension of the so-called Baghdad railway. However, with the outbreak of the World War, these plans were completely shelved.

During the war, England, which is in charge of the neighboring country of Iraq, built some railways in that country, and in 1919 the Basra — Baghdad — Kanakin line was opened at the Persian border. A continuation of this line into Persian territory across Kermanska — Hamadan to Tehran then became possible. Of course, this project has great advantages. Using an existing route, it would cross the Zagross Mountains at one of their lowest points. The line would to a large extent follow the traffic route that was already used, and thus go through neighbourhoods with some human settlements. As an advantage, the existing oil canals at Kanakin can also be accessed, which could mean cheap rail costs.

Vreskdalen, whose steep rock walls will in the future be joined by an iron-arch bridge 120m above the valley floor.

However, the project has a very big disadvantage, as the railway would not end at a port within the borders of Persia, but in a port owned by another nation, which if relations sour could have unforeseen consequences.

Another proposal has the same disadvantages – a line from Tebris (Tabriz) to Trebizond (Trabzon) at the Black Sea.

It was believed, and probably with reason, that no project is satisfactory, which does not end at a port – a sea-port located in the Persian territory and under the control of the Persian state. The line, which is now under construction, fulfils this requirement and should largely be a good solution to Persia’s communication problems. The line will connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf and thus cross the entire country and so has been named The Trans-Persia Railway. It is about 1450 km long and has been estimated to cost about 500 million pounds.

From Bender Shapur port on the Persian Gulf, the railway route ascends along the Karun River, crosses it with an 1100 metre long viaduct at Ahvas and continues up to the city of Disful. This route of nearly 300 km is completed and is currently operated by two trains a week. From Disful, the railway begins to meander up into the high Zagross Mountains. This is the first length of the work under American leadership under the auspices of the Persian state. The ongoing route has yet to be finally determined. One option is to connect Hamadan-Kaswin to Tehran, alternatively, a more direct route may be followed. The direct route saves approximately 70 km of travel but loses the advantage of passing two large cities. The longer route is preferable.

The so-called ‘north line’ from the Caspian Sea to Tehran starts at the port of Bender Shah, situated on the Caspian Sea about 20 km east of the city of Bender Guez. A test track from Bender Shah to Shahi, about 130 km in length was completed by a German consortium with Julius Berger as the main stakeholder, and this part also operates in traffic with two trains a week in each direction. The remaining line, from Shahi to Tehran, is about 300 km long and is being constructed by a Swedish company. The work was started in the winter of 1932 with Captain Ragnar Sjodahl as work manager.

The Abbasabad valley as seen from the future Kirnveig line.

Shahi is at the foot of the Elburs Moutains and the railway route must run through these to Tehran. This mighty mountain range’s lowest pass is at an altitude of 2200 metres above sea level. Once this point is passed, the line descends in a narrow valley down to Binnekou, after which the line can be completed without difficulty through the countryside to Tehran, which is at a height of 1200 metres above sea-level.

The German syndicate which built the Bender Shah – Shahi line provided complete proposals for the entire Shahi – Tehran route. For the so-called north ramp (nordrampen), the uphill slope of the Elburs Mountains up to the tunnel under the pass, two alternatives were established. The first, which was fully developed, was based on a maximum grade of 2% with a minimum curve radius of 300 metres. The second, which was not fully developed, was based on a maximum grade of 3% and with the lowest curve radius of 220 metres. The line in general was based on a maximum rise of 1.5% and minimum curve radius of 300 metres.

As the north ramp will be one of the most interesting railway routes, I will focus more closely on this part of the line. It follows the Shahi Talar River valley up into the mountains, but because the river rises significantly in its upper course, considerably more so than a railway could accommodate, the line meanders from side to side to reach sufficient height to reach the pass tunnel at Gaduk. The German syndicate, in its suggested alternatives,  provided an ingenious route using the side valley of the Talar – specifically the Shurmast and the Delilam valleys.

The most serious issue with these proposals is that these side valleys lie quite far down from the pass tunnel. The line will almost certainly, as a result, runs at a considerable height above the Talar Valley floor 600-700 metres! This entails high construction costs. In addition, the side valleys chosen show signs of relatively recent or old landslides and so must be completely avoided.

A surveying party in the mountains. There is hard work ahead!

It was clear that new proposals had to be drawn up and the aforementioned valleys completely avoided. Furthermore, we adopted the principle of following the valley floor as long as possible. When this was no longer feasible, due to the steep slope of the valley floor, we used spirals and tunnels, etc. to gain sufficient height above the valley floor. The line will always lie in the valley floor except when when the terrain is easier to climb higher up on the lateral slopes of the valley. Furthermore, costs are kept to a minimum and the  transport of all building materials will be more economic.

The most important issue, a question that obviously has the biggest consequences for the future of railway traffic, was the determination of the maximum grade. The only fully prepared proposal was based on a maximum increase of 2%, which is not steep enough to for such a pronounce rollercoaster of a journey.

A significantly steeper ascent should be used. …. A gradient at least as steep as used in Central Europe which has much higher traffic flows should be considered. A gradient steeper than for example, the one at the Gotthard Railway (2.7%) or the one at  the Arlberg Railway (3.14%) should therefore be justified.

In this context, it may be appropriate to mention, as a comparison, that the highest altitude of Persian Railway at Gaduk (2050 metres above sea level) is almost twice as high as the highest point of Gotthard Railway (1150 meters above sea level). For our main proposed route, we intended a maximum grade of 3.2%, but cost comparison purposes, we considered alternatives based on a range of maximum gradients between 2.5% and 4%.

Theoretically, one can calculate the most suitable maximum gradient if one fixes a certain amount of freight to be transported, and determines the rolling stock to be used. The latter can be done but would be rather difficult to make assumptions about the future amount of goods.

Professor Blum has, in an investigation found in the Verkehrtechnische Woche, vintage 1930, concluded that the largest increase of 35% would be the most suitable. He compiles two curves, one constituting the variable operating costs for different gradients, and the other line costs for different gradients, where in the line costs are assumed to be interest and amortization of the construction costs, track maintenance and transported freight costs.

Before we were able to complete this interesting investigation of the best maximum gradient. Hans Maj. Shahen fixed the maximum gradient at 2.8%. I believe that a steeper gradient would have been feasible and therefore acceptable.

The choice of the minimum permissible radius of curvature is governed by impact on construction costs. Due to the development of technology, it is clear that one should be able to make use of a significantly smaller radius of curvature than for example used on the approximately 50-year-old Gotthard Railway (Gotthardbahn – between Switzeralnd and Italy), where curves of 280 metres radius were used. At stations, point curvature is fixed at a radius of 160 metres. Of course, a larger radius must be allowed on the line between stations. On the Trans-Persia Railway, the minimum radius of curvature has been fixed to 220 metres, although 200 metres can also be defended, and even less could be defended, for instance as used on the  Semmering Railway (Semmeringbahn – in Austria) which has a minimum radius fixed at 190 metres.

The distance between the stations on the line is about 15 km, but between each station there is a rest area with 0.25% slope, which may later be converted to a station site.

We generally use the process of staking/fencing the route to allow for mapping of the planned route. After general observation by the human eye a provisional line is determined approximately in the position of the future railway. Angles and lengths are measured and fixed with stakes. By using a tachymeter or possibly with phototheodolite, the terrain is measured on each side of the line and a map is drawn.

The route of the line is then more firmly determined and the ground cover removed. The staking/fencing of the line was led by the engineer Harry Hacklin, who remained on site throughout the work on the northern gradient into the mountains. The work is of utmost importance and demanding.

Under Hacklin’s leadership two survey teams of six men and one staking/fencing team were at work. Maps were made at a scale of 1:1000, contours were set at one or two metres but on steep ground the contours were set at 5 metres.

An insignificant offset of the line sideways on a level map with 5 metre contours can have a significant effect on the line’s position. Many times adjustments to the line as shown on paper had to be carried out in the difficult terrain at the time of fencing , before the line was handed over for construction.

En-route from Sbahi to the tunnel at the head of the pass at Gaduk, the railway continued to follow the Talar river. As far as Pol-e-Sefid 560km from Bender Shah, the line is in the valley bottom with a maximum rise of 15%. From Pol-e-Sefid, where a locomotive station is planned, the line rises at 28% with a reduction for curves and tunnels. Through a change in the Talar Valley, the line travels on the valley floor to Sorkhabad. Here the real difficulties start. From this point the river valley climbs steeply to the pass at Gaduk – a stretch of 12 km – with a rise of 1:15. Since the railway has to rise by no more than 1:40, the line has to deviate significantly to achieve the necessary gain in height. Two alternatives were considered for this stretch of the line. The first – the spiral proposal – required 5 spirals and two tunnels. The second – the ‘lacet’ proposal – required the line to be laid in long loops. … The latter proposal will probably come to fruition because of its cheaper construction costs.

As staking/fencing progressed, we were urged to make an immediate start on construction work.

The whole stretch from Shahi to Tehran was divided into 4 building sections 5 or 6 parts each. The length between Shahi and Gaduk was divided into 2 sections of 65 and 45 km length. The first section, which was divided into 5 parts, was in progress along its full length when I left Persia in November last year.

Of the whole second building section, only two parts had started by that time. The workforce was between 8000 and 9000 men, but will almost be doubled if the program for building the northern track in 5 years is to be met.

That it was not an easy task to organize and get started on this work should be pretty clear when one considers that contracts were let to a series of sub-contractors and the company had to direct their work.

Even if the start was difficult, you can easily see that the continued construction work will not be easier. I want to express the hope that the new Swedish leadership will succeed in completing the work expeditiously and that Persia will gain the hoped for benefits of the railway route.


  1. The reference information for this extract was provided in German: Verkehrstechn. Zeitschr 1933: N.B., onärnvägar/page2, accessed on 3rd April 2020.
  2. No specific reference information was provided on SJK Postvagen:ärnvägar/page2, accessed on 3rd April 2020.
  3. The reference information for this lecture was provided in Danish: Swartling var då han skrev nedanstående vid BJ. Troligen var han senare SJ Distriktschef i Giiteborg. Jårnvågsbyggnader i Persien. (Foredrag av gyste byråingenjiiren P. Swartling vid Ingenibrsfiirbundets extra måle den 17 inars 1933.) p19 Bilaga 2., onärnvägar, accessed on 2nd April 2020.