Category Archives: The Middle East

Aden Port Trust Tramway … and other things?

The Aden Port Trust was established on 1st April 1889 to take over the running of the port of Aden, which was previously carried out by the military authorities and private companies. [3][1: p184][12: IA36]

A plan of the Aden Peninsula in the period before the First World War, © Karl Baedeker jr (Life time: 1837-1911). This image is available in the public domain. [4]
An extract from the map above showing the city of Aden in the bottom right and the township of Maala. The location of Maala Pier can be made out just to the left of centre at the top of the extract. [4]
Maala Pier is more obvious on this more focussed extract. Maala Wharf should not be confused with Maala Pier. The Wharf was to the West of the Pier in the area of Somalipura on the Maala Plain. [4]
A further extract from the Baedeker map showing the Maala Plain. Maala Wharf was built out from the Maala Plain close to Somalipura. [4]

While researching the Aden State Railway, I came across a reference to the Aden Port Trust Tramway. My article about the Aden State Railway can be found on the following link:

It appears that there were a series of proposals for tramways in Aden.

A proposal to create a tramway running East-West from Crater (near to the main settlement of Aden) to Steamer Point at the western end of the peninsula, [9] ‘The Crater-Steamer Point Tramway’ was put forward in 1863. India Office Records (IOR) affirm this. [10] It seems that no action was taken at that time. However, just a few years later it seems a consignments of railway infrastructure and rolling stock/locomotives was sent to Aden from Abyssinia. [12: IA34]

Simon Darvill explains: “Following the end of the Abyssinian campaign in 1868, some of the railway equipment that had been used on the campaign was sent to Aden. It comprised of two locomotives, two carriages, two brake vans, 20 trucks, 480 rails, 3,250 chairs, 516 fishplates, 6,553 sleepers and two turntables. The equipment was unloaded in [July & August] 1868; it is thought to have been delivered on the ship Californian that left Abyssinia on 10/6/1868. A small shed and workshop was constructed in which to store the equipment. The intention was to build a railway from the pier head to the post office and possibly on to the cantonment. The line was considered to be a purely military venture and was not expected to pay its own expenses and that the main traffic would be Commissariat Stores. The 1869-70 annual report stated that it was still the intention to build the line and that the equipment was still in store in Aden. The last mention of the equipment found in the annual reports was in the 1872-73 report when the payment for a watchman for the railway plant was listed in the accounts for 1871-72. A reference appears in the Railway Stores Department records concerning correspondence on 28/2/1871 between the Bombay Government and the Military Department regarding the disposal of the equipment in Aden but unfortunately the actual correspondence appears to no longer exist. It is therefore impossible to say with certainty what happened to the equipment but it is suggested that it was either returned to India or scrapped sometime in 1871 . It is similarly impossible to say for certain which two of the six locomotives that were used in Abyssinia were sent to Aden” [12: IA34]

By 1896-97 it had been decided to lay a tramway from the head of the Maala Pier for a distance along Maala Road. “Tenders were received from a number of companies (Kerr Stuart, Dick Kerr and Boiling & Lowe [12: IA36]) for just less than one mile (1.5km) of track and wagons. The board decided that before any tender was accepted an experimental line should be laid along the length of the Pier, about 500 feet (150 metres), some old rails and sleepers were obtained from the Aden Public Works Department (PWD), this was obviously a success as the 2ft/610mm narrow gauge tramway was sanctioned in 1897-98.” [3][2] I wonder whether these old rails and sleepers were part of the consignment sent to Aden from Abyssinia in 1868? …

“In 1907-08 Maala Pier collapsed and required completely rebuilding. In 1911-12, 2,000 feet (610 metres) of 2ft./610mm. narrow gauge tramway, and other railway equipment, was purchased to link the tramway to two new sheds that were built as part of the Pier.” [3][2]

Simon Darvill records this event and notes that the work on Maala Pier was completed by December 1910. He provides greater detail about materials and rolling stock purchased at the time. He specifically mentions 8 turntables which must be the ‘other railway equipment’ mentioned above. He further notes that in early 1916, the Aden State Railway “laid a siding to Maala Pier. 24 new tramway wagons were ordered in 1919-20. The tramway was still in use when Aden became the responsibility of the Colonial Office in 1937.” [12: IA36]

Incidentally, Robert Mumford comments that “in 1910 it had been proposed to construct a 2ft. 6in. gauge steam tramway from Tawahi, a suburb of Aden close to Steamer Point where the ocean liners used to call, to Crater, the old capital, with a branch to Khormaksar and Sheikh ‘Othman.” [11] It seems likely that this is the same tramway as that referred to above and that Robert Mumford may have been misled about the gauge.

At least one locomotive was ordered for the 2ft. gauge tramway – A Kerr-Stuart ‘Wren’ series 0-4-0T locomotive (No. 1249) which bore the name ‘Sir James’ on brass nameplates. I have not been able to find a picture of the locomotive but the Industrial Railway Society provides a photograph of a sister locomotive, No. 1248. No. 1248 ‘Maipoori’ was built with tyres 5 in. wide having flanges 1½ in. deep for running on 2 ft. gauge wooden rails. The fuel racks round the bunkers are stated to have been provided for “a heavy wood fuel”. One injector and a long stroke pump driven from the right hand crosshead were provided. The illustration shows ‘Maipoori’ in its first incarnation before it was shipped to Demerara, British Guiana, on 22 November 1912. Its stay there, however, must have been short as it was back at the works in Stoke by June 1914. Alterations were made to make the locomotive suitable for normal track of 60 cm gauge, after which it was dispatched on 14 July 1914 to the City of Santos Improvements Company, Brazil. [6]

Kerr-Stuart No. 1248 ‘Maipoori’, a sister locomotive to No.1249 ‘Sir James’. [6]

The Route of the Tramway

We cannot be sure of the route. We are limited to a very few postcard images which show the tramway at specific points and it is impossible to tightly define those locations without good knowledge of the circumstances on the ground in Aden in the early to mid-20th century.

The pictures below show it present at Maala Wharf and at Post Office Bay. They show it also on Main street (Main Road) Maala and at a point on Maala Wharf where a significant wide pier extends out from the main Wharf.

Maala Wharf in the port of Aden. Two different railway gauges are visible in this postcard image. Those close to the camera are of the metre-gauge Aden State Railway. Those across the centre of the image are part of the Aden Port Trust Tramway.
The notes provided alongside this image indicate that it shows Aden Post Office Bay and Tramway in 1913: What looks like a tramway can be made out running along the sea wall in this image. It is possible that there was no tramway at this location as it is out at Steamer Point. This would mean that the apparent tramway is perhaps only a series of wheel ruts in a poor road surface! I have been unable to find any other indication that the Aden Port Trust Tramway extended out to Steamer Point. The postcard is from the private collection of Steve Moore and is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Licence, (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). [5]

This image places the buildings in the above image at Steamer Point. [14]

A colourised postcard image showing Maala Wharf. The Tramway is in evidence but there is no sign of the metre-gauge line. Interestingly, the flat wagons shown in this image appear not to have couplings which suggests that they were moved individually rather than in a train and perhaps that they were move by manpower. [7]
This monochrome version of the same postcard image bears a frank on its reverse dating it to 1940. If the date of franking correlates approximately to the date of manufacture of the postcard, this would explain the absence of the metre-gauge line as this was lifted by 1930. [8]
This postcard view is undated but probably shows Maala in the 1920s or 1930s. It has dual tram tracks in the highway of Main Road (or Main Street?) Maala. There is also evidence of a branch running off to the right of the image in front of the light-coloured building through or behind the road vehicles parked there. [13]

In summary, we know that the tramway existed from both photographic and written evidence. We know that one 2ft Gauge locomotive was purchased by the Port authority. Otherwise, there is little more available about the tramway.

Two further interesting pictures suggest that the 2ft gauge was in use outside of the limits of the Port of Aden.

The Salt Works

While looking for photographic evidence online for the 2ft. gauge line in the port area of Aden I came across one photograph which shows a narrow-gauge tramway in use in the Salt Works which were located at the northern end of the isthmus. This prompted a little more research.

Camel-power on the salt flats to the West of the isthmus on the mainland. [15]

That research led me to two websites. The first was Peter Pickering’s short history of the salt works/salt flats on his blog. [16] Apparently the salt works were leased rent-free to an Italian family and were often referred to as the ‘Italian Salt Works’. Pickering comments that the family from Trapani in Sicily. It seems that when they established their business in Aden, they based the set-up on that at their salt works between Marsala and Trapani, “including the use of windmills to pump the salt water into the pans. The renewal of the 240 acre lease was completed literally only a day or two before Great Britain and Italy went to war in June 1940. The 14 Italian employees were interned and after the war they did not return to Aden.” [16]

Pickering continues: “The salt pans painted a  picturesque scene, the majestic windmills with their broad canvas sails spread on broad wooden lattice frames, reflected in the shimmering azure water. The windmills would later be replaced with pumps, driven by small engines, located in rather unattractive tin sheds.” [16]

The salt flats in Aden. Windmills were used, at first, to power the pumps which brought sea water to the salt pans furthest from the sea and the gradually concentrating brine from one salt pans to the next. [16]

Pickering speaks of an aqueduct carrying “sea-water from the pumping-station of the salt works to the most inland of pans where the first stage of evaporation was carried out. It was then pumped from one series of pans to another, becoming stronger brine at each stage, until the salt at last crystallized out in the pans round the salt works. When the evaporation process was complete the salt was collected in metal buckets. The metal buckets were hand-carried to the conveyor belt which raised the flow of salt to the top of the pile. The piles were next to the ‘railhead’.” [16]

The second website was that of [17] which provides a map showing the location of the salt flats and two postcard images, one of which shows camels in use pulling trams/wagons filled with salt.

The location of the salt works at the North end of the isthmus. [17]
A postcard view of the stockpiles of salt at the Salt Works’ with a camel ready to haul a train of salt-filled trams/wagons. [17]

Elephant Bay Quarry

After asking for some assistance from the Industrial Railway Society (IRS) Email Group, I was sent a photograph which showed a 2ft-guage locomotive on a timber bridge at Elephant Bay Quarry which was taken in 1959. …

This photograph was taken in 1959 by Jeff Lanham. He recalls finding a very short 2’0″ line in a quarry at Elephant Bay with one small 4-wheel Diesel locomotive It was out of use at the time but in good condition. Martin Shill of the IRS commented that this appears to be a 2ft gauge 3.75 ton Rushton & Hornsby LBT, one of the earlier water-cooled batches. At a guess it might be RH 379648/1954, shipped to Pauling & Co., Aden. The photo is included with the kind permission of the photographer, © Jeff Lanham.

This diminutive locomotive was used by Pauling & Co. at the quarry in Elephant’s Bay. In 1956 the company are recorded in Hansard as being engaged in harbour development work in Aden. [18] The locomotive was built by Ruston & Hornsby (RH), The annotation ‘LBT’ referes to a sub-class or variant of loco type LB built by RH. The LB type was built 1952-1968, generally 31.5hp, for gauges between 1ft 6in and 3ft 6in.


  1. R.J. Gavin; Aden Under British Rule, 1839-1967; C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1975, accessed on 20th August 2022.
  2. S. Darvill, Ed.; Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia; The Industrial Railway Society, 2013.
  3., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  4., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  5., accessed on 20th August 2022.
  6., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  7., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  8., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  9., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  10. R/20/E/198, Item 2; “Vol III No 5 File 206 Tramway: application for a concession to build an electric tramway connecting the Crater with Steamer Point”; Jan-Feb 1896 (Records of the British Administration in Aden)
  11. Robert Mumford; Indian Outpost in Arabia; in The Railway Magazine, February 1976, p73-75.
  12. Simon Darvill; The Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia; the Industrial Railway Society, 2015.
  13., accessed on 23rd August 2022.
  14., accessed on 23rd August 2022.
  15., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  16., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  17., accessed on 24th August 2022.
  18. ADEN (COMMISSION OF INQUIRY): HC Deb 18 April 1956 vol 551 cc1011-2 – Mr. Lennox-Boyd: “Early in April, after a period of comparative freedom from industrial unrest, further strikes occurred and still continue among the dock labour at Maalla, among employees of the large trading and petrol distributing concern, A. Besse and Company, among contractors’ labour on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Pauling and Company, who are engaged on harbour development work.” …, accessed on 25th August 2022.

The Aden State Railway (Metre-Gauge)

The Aden State Railway, 1931 Map
From ‘Imperial Gazetteer of India,’ v. 26, Atlas 1931 edition, Railways & Inland Navigation, p. 50. Used here under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). [4]
A plan of the Aden Peninsula in the period before the First World War, © Karl Baedeker jr (Life time: 1837-1911). This image is available in the public domain. [11]
An extract from the map above showing the city of Aden in the bottom right and the township of Maala. The location of Maala Pier can be made out just to the left of centre at the top of the extract. Maala Wharf was built to the West of Maala Pier on Maala Plain close to Somalipura. [11]
Maala Pier is more obvious on this more focussed extract. Maala Wharf was to the West of the Maala Pier shown in these images in the area marked as Somalipura. [11]
The area of Maala Plain and Somalipura as shown on the Baedeker map above. [11]

The Aden State Railway operated for just 13 years or so, from 1916 and 1929 in Aden, a dependency of the Bombay, British Colony and Protectorate, in the south-west corner of Southern Arabia. The metre gauge railway was 29 miles(46km) long and was worked by the North Western Railway [3] of India under one of its officers who was designated ‘Engineer-in-Charge’. [1][2]

This was not, however, the first railway planned for Aden. As early as 1906 a light railway from Aden to Dthala (Ad Dali),120km inland had already been under consideration but nothing had materialised. [5]

There was a precursor to that line as well. Simon Darvill explains: “Following the end of the Abyssinian campaign in 1868, some of the railway equipment that had been used on the campaign was sent to Aden. It comprised of two locomotives, two carriages, two brake vans, 20 trucks, 480 rails, 3,250 chairs, 516 fishplates, 6,553 sleepers and two turntables. The equipment was unloaded in [July & August] 1868; it is thought to have been delivered on the ship Californian that left Abyssinia on 10/6/1868. A small shed and workshop was constructed in which to store the equipment. The intention was to build a railway from the pier head to the post office and possibly on to the cantonment. The line was considered to be a purely military venture and was not expected to pay its own expenses and that the main traffic would be Commissariat Stores. The 1869-70 annual report stated that it was still the intention to build the line and that the equipment was still in store in Aden. The last mention of the equipment found in the annual reports was in the 1872-73 report when the payment for a watchman for the railway plant was listed in the accounts for 1871-72. A reference appears in the Railway Stores Department records concerning correspondence on 28/2/1871 between the Bombay Government and the Military Department regarding the disposal of the equipment in Aden but unfortunately the actual correspondence appears to no longer exist. It is therefore impossible to say with certainty what happened to the equipment but it is suggested that it was either returned to India or scrapped sometime in 1871 . It is similarly impossible to say for certain which two of the six locomotives that were used in Abyssinia were sent to Aden” [20: IA34]

Area covered by the archived map of a proposed railway to be built from Aden to Nobat Dakim. Detail from the map is shown below. [Google Earth][21]

The next reference to a proposal for a railway that I have been able to find is a draft proposal put forward in November 1905 to the Sultan and the British Government by Lieut-Colonel R. Leigh, R.E., Assistant Commanding Royal Engineer who had been engaged in drawing up the line and at the time touring within Abdali limits between Dar-Al- Amir and Nobat Dakim for that purpose. [15: p126] A map was included in the submission and is probably that which is archived at the Qatar Digital Library (Ref No.: IOR/L/PS/10/89, f 114) which can be examined on-line. [21] The map shows the path for a proposed railway to be built from Aden to Nobat Dakim (Nawbatal-Dakim, Yemen; identified four miles north of Al’Anad but not corresponding to any place). The map was zincographed by the Vandyke Process at the Survey of India Offices, in Calcutta and its use here is authorised by the Qatar Digital Library. It covers the area shown below:

The complete archived hand-drawn map showing the path for a proposed railway to be built from Aden to Nobat Dakim [21]

This sequence of three plans shows the proposed railway route. Please note that the map extracts are not all to the same scale. ….

A series of three extracts from the map shows the path for a proposed railway to be built from Aden to Nobat Dakim. [21]

It is important to remind ourselves that the images above relate to a proposed railway from around 1905/1906 and that they cannot be assumed to relate directly to the line which was eventually built by the military. However, it is possible that, the survey undertaken for this proposed line would have informed decisions taken at a later date. It is unlikely that the tunnel referred to by Leigh (see the next paragraph) would have been part of the route chosen by the military as construction costs would have been minimised in times of war.

In his report, Leigh suggested:- “That the line would follow the road and that way would limit the expense of bridges, with an even slope and without valleys or hills. In Aden, it is suggested that a station should be located south-west of Maala, and a small branch line run to Maala Wharf. From Maala the best line seems to be to tunnel under the hill and run out through the Small Isthmus. Stations are also proposed at Khormaksar and Sheikh Othman. It would be a great convenience to extend the line from Maala to Steamer Point which can be done by running the line on the north side of the main road with a terminus on the newly reclaimed land at Tawahi.” [1][15: p108a-109a] However, as can be seen from the plans above, the submitted proposal did not actually take the line to Steamer Point.

Major General H. M. Mason, Political Resident at Aden, supported the proposal. Aden Chamber of Commerce urged the Government to facilitate the construction of the railway. [1][15: p104] No progress was made, however, as the British Government opposed the construction on political grounds. [1]

Some years later, on 30th May 1911, Lord Lamington asked the Secretary of State for India for information about a French syndicate railway to be constructed from Hodeida (on the West coast of Yemen) to Sana’a (the capital of Yemen), and whether all idea of railway extension in the Aden Hinterland had been abandoned. He also asked about progress in the dredging of Aden Harbour. [6]

He said, “Some eight or nine years ago, after the conclusion of certain operations in the Aden Hinterland, the Government had under consideration a project for the construction of a railway from Aden to the high ground in the Hinterland to a place called Dthala. … But the policy … was to withdraw altogether from the Hinterland. …. Therefore any consideration of a railway lapsed. At the same time the Chief of Lahej had granted one or more concessions for a railway to a company who wished to construct what would have been a portion of the bigger scheme—from our Aden frontier at Shaikh Othman to his capital—but even this railway was prohibited as coming under the grounds for withdrawal. …  It was obvious that if the railway was not carried on to Aden it would be of no value at all.” [6]

Lord Lamington continued, “A few days ago I saw in the Press a statement that a railway syndicate was beginning to construct a line from Hodeida to Sana’a, which is 140 miles inland and is the capital of Yemen. If it is the fact that there is now going to be a development of the southern portion of Arabia, I would ask whether it would not be advisable to reconsider the policy which was adopted … and allow the development of the Aden Hinterland by the great civilising agency of a railway.” [6]

In reply, Earl Beauchamp commented that a concession had been considered for a line East from Hodeida to Sana’a. A survey of the line which “included the construction of a harbour at Ras-el-Ketib and a railway line from Ras-el-Ketib via Hodeida to Mefak (186 kilometres) and thence to Sana’a (85 kilometres), a branch to be added proceeding north-west to Amran (57 kilometres from Sana’a).” [6] He noted that the total cost of the scheme was estimated at £1,772,000 and the Ottoman Government decided not to grant a concession to any foreign company for the proposed line for a limited number of years, but a syndicate had taken in hand on behalf of the Ottoman Government the construction of the harbour at Ras-el-Ketib and the section of the railway to Hujjula. The line was to run via Hodeida (about 116 kilometres).

Earl Beauchamp affirmed that it was “the settled policy of His Majesty’s Government to abstain from any extension of their responsibilities in the Aden Hinterland so long as the status quo [was] strictly observed by the Turkish Government. Any scheme for railway construction would be narrowly scrutinised by them in the light of this policy.” [6]

In respect of the dredging of Aden Harbour some prolongation due to physical obstacles had occurred. Earl Beauchamp stated that, “the latest information we have is a report made by the Port Trust to the Bombay Government in 1910, in which they state that difficulties had been experienced in attempting to remove the rock in the valley mouth on the south side of the channel, and that the dredger had broken down. It was therefore decided to abandon dredging in this particular spot, and to widen the other part of the channel. This alteration in the scheme was approved by the port engineer and the Port Trust, and was sanctioned by the Bombay Government.” [6][7]

Meanwhile, on the peninsula a 2ft. 6in. gauge tramway serving the City and its port had been considered. It is possible that the construction of that tramway might have met much of the perceived local need in the area between Crater, Sheikh Othman and Tawahi (Steamer Point). Robert Mumford quotes a report to the British Resident, Aden by a Mr Affleck in which he opined that “if the Tawahi (Khormaksar-Sheikh Othman)-Crater tramway were built, Sheikh Othman should develop into a large town and the combined railway and tramway should be a sound commercial proposition. However this tramway never materialised.” [12]

Details of a later 2ft. gauge tramway serving the Port of Aden can be found on the following link:

It was not until after hostilities commenced in the First World War that permission was given for the construction of a metre-gauge line North from Aden.

Pickering tells us that “in 1915 the CRE (Commander, Royal Engineers) requested permission to lay down a light railway from Aden to Sheikh Othman to supply the British forces fighting against the Turks, with the intention of extending it to Lahej once it was back in British hands. Approval was given and a 1000mm gauge military railway was built by the Royal Engineers. By December work was completed on the new railway providing a quick and efficient way to move troops and equipment to the Sheikh Othman defences. In 1919, the Aden Government approved the extension to Lahej. The 46.3 km line was made available for public traffic in 1922.” [5]

Sheikh Othman was only a short distance from Aden, even so early in the War, British control had been allowed to lapse to allow a focus to be made on defending the main settlement of Aden itself. Once the decision to retake Sheikh Othman was made on 16th July 1915 it was only a few days before it happened. Sheikh Othman was retaken on 21st July and construction of the railway soon commenced. It was completed as far as Sheikh Othman by December. [8: p256] The railway was opened as far as Lahej by February 1919, [8: p257] and Al Khudad the following year, giving a total length of line of 29 miles (46 km). [10] Plans to extend the railway to the protectorate’s frontier never bore fruit. [13] The line eventually closed in 1929 and was lifted by 1930. [1][17]

In his article, Rainbow focusses on the years of the First World War. He talks of the significance of the railway to the prosecution of the War on the Arabian Peninsula.”On 12th January 1916, 1,138 rounds were fired in one day, being the greatest number in the campaign. This had been unthinkable before the arrival of the railway. [8: p257][9]

Steve Llanso says that the Locomotive Magazine report [11][13] focused on water supply, beginning with the general observation that “Fresh water is scarce in Aden, being obtained chiefly by condensation …Much of the water used by the locomotives is taken from a small river near Lahej.” [13] Llanso comments that the limited water available was was stored in ancient storage reservoirs as well as wells further away from Aden and “delivered through an aqueduct seven miles long.” [11][13] An aqueduct supplying Aden is shown on the map below.

A 1:500,000 map of the Aden Protectorate which shows the remains of an aqueduct supplying the city. [14]

Eljas Pölhö notes that the railway carried passengers, grass, charcoal, green vegetables, potatoes, skins and other goods from Yemen to Aden, and also large quantities of water for the army outpost at Sheikh Othman, which included a mobile force of cavalry and a camel corps. To carry water, the railway was extended to Hassaini Gardens, 13 kms north of Lahej.” [16]

Robert Mumford tells us that, “In the early twenties the railway was bedevilled by both labour and sabotage problems, the first being possibly due to the fact that it was administered by mainly Indian personnel, whereas the operational manual tasks were carried out by mainly Adenis, Yemenis and Somalis. Sabotage and pilfering reached such proportions that in August 1920 the Chief Police Commissioner wrote to the First Assistant in the British Resident’s HQ that Mr. Affleck had requested a much-increased security staff.” This enhanced security was provided in the form of 9 personnel based at Maala Depot and at Sheikh Othman Depot, but this security probably became an increasing financial burden on the railway and the State.” [12]

In August 1928, the Political Resident, Aden, advised the Railway Board at Simla (India) that the conclusion had been reached that the railway could not become a paying concern and should be closed down but not immediately, the present service to be reduced by 1st October to one train each way daily between Maala, Lahej and Al Khudad, and maintained till 31st March 1929. Mumford continues: “About the same time the Colonial office advised the Ministry of Defence that the section from [Maala] to Khormaksar was of military importance, and should remain; the section from Khormaksar to Sheikh ‘Othman had a potential military value only for the protection of water borehole supplies at Sheikh ‘Othman; and the section beyond Sheikh ‘Othman had no military importance and should closed as from 1st April 1929, but it would not be dismantled immediately.” [12]

Records relating to the construction and dismantling of the Aden State Railway are held in the India Office Records at the British Library. [15] The Families In British India Society (FIBIS) tells us that an on-line search of the IOR records relating to this railway gives a number of entries, the most significant being:-

  • L/PS/10/89 “File 379/1906 ‘Railways: Aden; railway construction in Aden hinterland; Aden-Lahej Railway’; 20 Aug 1904-3 Apr 1922”. The Catalogue Contents state ‘… relating to proposals for the construction of a steam railway between Aden and its hinterland from 1904…..’
  • R/20/A/… The search gives at least 8 Records concerning ‘Tramways and Railways in Aden and the hinterland’ dating from 1904 through to 1921
  • R/20/A/3232 “File 523 Proposed discontinuance of the Aden railway service; 1928”
  • L/PS/10/703/1 “File 3082/1917 Pt. 16 Aden: railways; 1928-1930” [1]

I have only looked at the first of these references.

As we have already noted the line was closed in 1929. The process of lifting it may have taken a while as, in 1932, “the Secretary of State for India wrote to the Chief Commissioner, Aden asking if the railway equipment was still available, as they had received an enquiry concerning its purchase. The Chief Commissioner replied the railway had been sold to George Cohen & Co Ltd, London who had cleared the site by 27th August 1932.” [20: IA35]

Rolling Stock and Motive Power

Rainbow says that, “Most of the rolling stock and equipment for the Railway came from the Bombay, Baroda and Central India (B.B.C.I) Railway.” [8: p257] Shortly after its completion, the railway was transferred into civilian control. [10] Rainbow continues: “The Aden Railway was worked by the North-Western Railway of India who supplied one of its officers as ‘Engineer-in-Charge’. The B.B.C.I supplied three class F1 0-6-0 locomotives being numbers 288 (Neilson & Co., 1879), 349 (Neilson, 1880) and 727 (Dubs, 1894). They also supplied two first/second composite carriages, four third-class carriages, all being bogie vehicles, three brake vans, 12 high-sided and 56 low-sided wagons and one oil tank wagon. In 1916 the South Indian Railway Railmotor (No. 3 of 1916) arrived.” [8: p257][2]

It seems that, in addition to the three B.B.C.I 0-6-0 locomotives, the East Bengal Railway supplied a further 3 No. 0-6-0 locomotives. [13]

In 1922, just as the line opened to its fullest extent, [13] Nasmyth Wilson supplied a 4-6-0 locomotive of a standard Indian State Railways design to the Aden State Railway. Illustrations appeared in the February 1928 edition of Locomotive Magazine. [11] There was also a short article in the Railway Magazine of February 1976 about the Aden State Railway which included a photograph of the Nasmyth Wilson locomotive at Maala. [12]

Steve Llanso provides commentary on the Nasmyth Wilson locomotive and a full set of statistics. [13] The locomotive was the only one in its class. It had Walschaert valve gear and was an oil-burning locomotive. It used Holden’s system of oil-burning in a Belpaire firebox. The engine weighed 81,312lbs, the tender 51,520lbs. Its maximum axle-weight, 21,392lbs. [13]

Locomotive No. 1 of the Aden State Railway was manufactured by Nasmyth Wilson to a standard Indian State Railways design. The image comes from the Uwe Bergmann collection. [22]
Another view of Locomotive No. 1, this time photographed in Aden at work at Maala. [5]

When the line closed, the Nasmyth Wilson locomotive made its way back to India and served the Eastern Bengal as their No. 325 from 1931 on. A change of flag occurred during the 1947 Partition of India when Bengal was taken into East Pakistan. East Pakistan’s independence secured in 1971, its railway still operated No. 325 in 1973. [13][17]

Mumford provides a slightly different assessment of locomotive provision on the line: When it opened “in 1916, two 4-4-0 engines were transferred from the Eastern Bengal Railway (Nos. 561 and 563) and three of the same type from the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway (Nos. 228, 349 and 727) … A Simplex rail motor coach with Dorman four-cylinder petrol engine built for the South Indian Railway was also put into service, making six trips daily to Sheikh ‘Othman with seating for 70 passengers.” [12]

It seems as though there is a measure of confusion over which locomotives were provided. Mumford was corrected by Hugh Hughes in The Railway Magazine of April 1976: “May I point out that the reference to 4-4-0 engines being used there is incorrect. Mr. Mumford may well have been misled by an error in an article in the ‘Locomotive Magazine’ for February 1928. For working the line, the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway supplied in 1915 three of its class ‘F1’ 0-6-0 locomotives, with 3ft. 71/2in. coupled wheels and 14 in. x 20 in. cylinders; they were numbered 288 (built by Neilson & Company in 1879), 349 (Neilson 1880) and 727 (Dübs, 1894). … Three similar 0-6-0 locomotives, but emanating from the Eastern Bengal Railway, put in an appearance later on. Two of them, numbered 561 and 563, had been used by the military authorities in East Africa from 1916 onwards; no. 563 (Vulcan Foundry 1900) was transferred direct from Africa to Aden, probably in 1919, but 561 (Neilson 1898) was first of all returned to India and reached Aden in 1920. The third EBR engine was numbered 584 (not 684 as given by Mumford); it was also built by Neilson in 1898 and was transferred to Aden about 1926. As far as I can trace, none of these 0-6-0 engines worked again after the closure of the railway at the end of July 1929.” [19]

The most authoritative information about locomotives and rolling stock on the line can be found in the Industrial Railway Society’s book, “The Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia” compiled by Simon Darvill. [20]

Darvill says that, “The BBCIR supplied the following rolling stock in 1918 for the railway in Aden: six 1st/2nd class bogie composite carriages, two 38 foot bogie 3rd class carriages, four 38 foot 6 inch bogie 3rd class carriages, three brake vans, 12 high sided wagons, 28 end open wooden low sided wagons, one MG riding trolley, a ten ton crane and runner and an engine shed. In the Railway Stores Department records it is stated that in [December] 1919 six steel top wagons (with spares) and 14 miles of track of unknown gauges was supplied to the General Officer Commanding, Aden for use in a stone crushing installation. It is assumed that this was supplied as part of the extension of the Aden Railway to El Khudad, which opened in [January] 1920. In the [April] 1918 Railway Stores Department report there is a note on the question of the supply of a Simplex motor tractor to Aden. It is assumed that this was for use with the stone crushing plant but further details are unknown.” [20: IA35]

He also provides details of the motive power on the line. There were six 0-6-0 tender locomotives:

• No. 288, F Class built in 1879 and transferred from the BBCI Railway in 1915.
• No. 349, F Class built in 1880 and transferred from the BBCI Railway in 1915.
• No. 727 F Class built in 1894 and transferred from the BBCI Railway in 1915.
• No. 561 F Class built in 1898 and transferred from the Eastern Bengal State Railway (EBSR) in May/June 1919.
• No. 563 F Class built in 1900 and transferred from East Africa in 1916.
• No. 584 F Class built in 1898 and transferred from the EBSR early in 1921.

Hugh Hughes mentions Nos. 288, 349 and 727. He asserts that they were moved to Aden in 1916. Apparently, all the BBCI Railway Class F 0-6-0 locomotives had been refurbished by 1914 and were regarded as sub-class F1. He is unable to offer pictures of the locos. The first two of these locos had 13.5 in. diameter cylinders and a 10ft. 3in. wheelbase, whereas No. 727 had 14″ diameter cylinders and an 11ft wheelbase. [23: p42]

Hughes notes that No. 561, No. 563 and No. 584 had 14 in. cylinders. [23: p53]

All six were sold to George Cohen & Co Ltd, London and removed, by August 1932. [20: IA35]

Darvill also records:

• No. 1 as a 4-6-0 F Class built in 1922 supplied direct by Nasmyth Wilson and transferred in 1931 to the EBSR where it became their No. 325. (Hughes notes that the loco had 16 in. cylinders and arrived at the EBSR from Aden. [23: p53])
• No. 3 as a 4-wheel petrol-engined railcar with mechanical transmission built in 1915 which was ordered for South India Railway but requisitioned by the Indian Army for use in Aden. This was also sold to George Cohen & Co Ltd, London and removed, by August 1932. [20: IA35]

Further interesting items of rolling stock were three light railmotors for carrying officers on the line. Details of those railmotors appear in The Locomotive Magazine. [18]

“The commander of the Mechanical Transport, Capt. G.M. Eden, M.B.E., constructed three petrol rail cars in the Base workshops at Aden, and one of these is illustrated. … The body of this particular machine was an ordinary Ford car, bought from an Arab in the native bazaar. The differential was taken out and a solid axle drive substituted. On the end of the axle shaft was fitted the chain sproket for a 3.5 ton Fiat lorry, and on the rear wheel the sproket of a Halford lorry. … Flange wheels were fitted.” [18]

The Service Provided

We have already noted the kind of materials carried by the line. In his article Mumford talks of traffic on the line: “At the height of its existence there were two mixed trains a day which left [Maala] at 07.00 and 14.00, arriving at the terminus beyond Lahej at 09.00 and 16.00.  These two trains each returned an hour later. The passenger section of each train was composed usually of eight carriages. The fares were [Maala] to Sheikh ‘Othman, first class eight annas, third class three annas; Sheikh ‘Othman to Lahej, first class one rupee four annas, and third class five annas.” [12]

The Route of the line

The line’s Southern extremity was at the Maala Wharf. Its presence is confirmed in the first image below.

Maala Wharf in the port of Aden. Two different railway gauges are visible in this postcard image. Those close to the camera are of the metre-gauge Aden State Railway. Those across the centre of the image are part of the Aden Port Trust Tramway.

From Maala Wharf the line ran first eastwards and then Northeast as it followed the sea wall. Its actual route cannot now easily be seen on satellite imagery. In addition to the fact that it is now (2022) about 90 years since the line was lifted, there has been land reclamation in the area of the Port of Aden which make estimating its route difficult.

The isthmus and the northside of the old Aden settlement with a possible line for the old metre-gauge railway superimposed by a faint dashed red line. It is impossible to be sure of the actual line. We do know that it serves Maala and the Port to the North side of MainStreet on the plan, we know that there was a station at Maala. WE have already commented that the line is likely not to have been tunnelled under the higher ground at the South end of the isthmus. We know that there was a station at Khormakser, although the area known as Khormakser may have been further North than shown on the Google Maps satellite image. The international airport now covers the route of the line. The one fixed point on the route will be the bridge shown towards the top of this image. I have shown the old railway crossing that bridge which was the old road North off the Isthmus. There is no evidence of any other structure visible on satellite imagery going back as far as 1985 (on Google Earth). This satellite image is dated 2022. [Google Maps]

North of the old road bridge off the isthmus it is only possible to make assumptions about the line of the old railway. My assumption, based on practice elsewhere, is that the line probably followed the route of the road North to Sheikh Othman and beyond. The faint dashed-red line on the plan below shows a possible route which primarily follows roads to the Northeast of Sheikh Othman (Shaykh Uthman on the map) and which, at the very top of the extract meets the line of the major highway to the North.

The possible line of the old railway to the North of the isthmus which follows as much as it possible the line of what may well be the old road to the North. All guesswork on my part. However, this would mean that the railway route proposed in 1905/1906 was not followed by the military builders of the later line. [Google Maps]
The line continued North. The most obvious route is the route of the modern highway to Lahej as shown here. However this is not the route of the proposed 1905/1906 line. That alignment runs to the North of Lahej rather than through the centre of Lahej. [Google Maps]

Given that I am making significant assumptions about the route of the old railway it seems best not to try to show the detail of the route and to accept that it has been lost. We know that it served Lahej before travelling further North. If the route proposed in 1905/1906 was used then the line would have been some distance from Lahej at its closest point. The route of the line shown on the map at the head of this article follows the line of the major highway to Lahej rather than the route of the 1905/1906 proposal. The differing alignments are shown below.

This image shows the Aden State Railway, 1931 Map
From ‘Imperial Gazetteer of India,’ v. 26, Atlas 1931 edition, Railways & Inland Navigation, p. 50 again. However, I have added the approximate line of the 1905/1906 proposal in light-blue. The image is used here under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

In summary, we know that the old metre-gauge railway served Maala, Sheikh Othman, Lahej and continued on for a short distance to El Khudad. We do not know the detail of the route it followed.


  1., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  2. Robert Mumford; Indian Outpost in Arabia; by  in the ‘Railway Magazine’ February 1976 pages 73-75.
  3., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  4., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  5., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  6., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  7., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  8. J. Julian Rainbow; ‘Those Barren Rocks’: The Building of the Aden Railway During World War One; in Paul E. Waters & J. Julian Rainbow; British Military Railways Overseas in the Great War, the British Overseas Railways Historical Trust, Mainline & Maritime, Upper Seagry, Chippenham, 2018, p256-258.
  9. M. Connelly; The British Campaign in Aden, 1914-1918; in the Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1965.
  10., accessed on 19th August 2022.
  11. Locomotive Magazine, Volume 34, No. 426 (15 February 1928), p42-3.
  12. Robert Mumford; Indian Outpost in Arabia; in The Railway Magazine, February 1976, p73-75.
  13., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  14., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  15. British Library – India Office Records IOR/L/PS/10/89 File 379/1906.
  16., accessed on 21st August 2022.
  17. British Library IOR L/PS/12/1462 ‘Disposal of Rolling Stock and Material of former Aden Railway’.
  18. The Locomotive Magazine 1929, p131. My thanks to Iain Logie for pointing this out to me.
  19. Hugh Hughes; Reader’s Letter in The Railway Magazine, April 1976, p206. Again, thanks to Iain Logie for this reference.
  20. Simon Darvill; The Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia; the Industrial Railway Society, 2015.
  21. Map of the Proposed Railway from Aden to Nobat Dakim; British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Ref: IOR/L/PS/10/89, f 114; in Qatar Digital Library;, accessed on 23rd August 2022.
  22. Locomotives International Vol. 133, p32.
  23. Hugh Hughes; Indian Locomotives part 2 – Metre Gauge 1872-1940; the Continental Railway Circle, Harrow, 1992.

Railways in Iran – An Addendum.

Two shortish items in one post!

Firstly, the recollections of a locomotive driver and fireman on his time in Iran in the early 1940s. And, secondly, a short note about the involvement of the GWR in sourcing oil-fired locos for us in Iran in the 1930s.

1. Vic Cripps in Iran

During World War II a vital role was played by the Army’s railway operating units in theatres of war in the Middle East and Europe. A sapper in the Royal Engineers, Vic Cripps, shared his recollections via Paul Joyce in the November 2000 edition of BackTrack magazine. [1]

The featured image is one carried in the BackTrack article and shows two WD 2-8-0 locomotives passing in the gentler foot hills of the Iranian mountains.

Vic Cripps spent time in the early 1940s in Iran. His memories of that time are related in the journal by Paul Joyce. [1] After being ordered to Malaya and Singapore and a long sea journey, he arrived off the coast of Singapore just as the island was falling to the Japanese in February 1942. His orders were changed and he was sent to Ceylon before being transferred to Iran. His roles while in Iran centred on the Trans-Persian Railway, later the Trans-Iranian Railway. The railway was operated by the Royal Engineers alongside local staff.

The Persian system was operated by two Railway Operating Companies. The northern section from Derood to Tehran was in the hands of Vic’s, … the 153rd, whilst southwards to the Gulf was by the 190th. Both their respective lines were then further broken down into four working sections. A Sergeant Major was based at each of the latter, whilst  the Staff Sergeant would oversee the whole of the areas.” (p644)

Vic was based at Qum and remembered a fine commanding officer who had been a railway controller in pre-war times, Colonel Brash. He says that as the Sergeants were all ex-railway men, “familiarity was the norm, first names, not titles of rank, being used when solving a problem.” (p644)

Paul Joyce continues:

The ground troops were the 10th Indian Division, which had a mixture of Sikhs and Gurkhas within its ranks. This was to be one of the first Colonial Divisions to have Indian officers in command. Most trains would have eight of these Indian soldiers with their rifles riding on them as guards, mainly to keep the Kurds at bay.

The accommodation at Qum was purpose-built in the local traditional way. A large hole was dug into which soil, straw and water were added, then thoroughly mixed. The ‘gunge’ was then slopped between wooden planks and left to dry, before being cut into blocks. The roofs were of wooden slats covered in mud and when the snow came, natives had the job of sweeping them before the weight became too great for the structure to stand. Qum had a locomotive depot and so when working trains forwards a new locomotive would come onto the train. Most workings were to Ahwaz, which necessitated staying overnight in the primitive shack-like building provided for that purpose. There were no canteens, so crews took 24 hours-worth of rations with them. Their only help would be a friendly call to awaken, one hour before they were due to go back on duty.” (p644) The picture below shows a typical billet  in Iran in 1942. The primitive roof is clearly visible. (p644)


“The Trans-Persian locomotives consisted of some powerful 54,400lb Beyer Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4s for working the northern section from Tehran to the Caspian Sea. Also supplied by Beyer, Peacock were some 2-8-0s, while added to these were 77 Swedish and German 2-8-0, 2-10-0 and 2-8-2 locomotives. Unfortunately by the time the British Army had arrived most were unserviceable, having been thrashed to pieces. With no engineering background, so to speak, the Persians had never been able to maintain and overhaul them properly. The British troops at Tehran came into contact with one serviceable Beyer Garratt; based at Tehran shed, it was, for most of the unit, their first experience with one of these large complicated engines. Just like a Midland Compound, to the uninitiated, a driver was never too sure whether it was in forward or reverse gear when he opened the regulator. At least once, Vic recalled rumours of part of this long locomotive with some of its wheels hanging over a wrongly-set turntable!” (p644)

Vic remembered dramatic scenery, high mountain ranges with deep ravines, a ruling grade of 1 in 67 and substantial structures. He particularly noted two sections of the line both of 10 miles in length: “the first had eighteen tunnels, constituting 41% of its length, whilst the second had twenty, equalling 50%. At one point the line was lifted 157ft by a spiral of two loops, both 2 miles in length, which at one point were 328 yards apart in a straight line but in railway terms were ten times that distance.” (p645)

One surprising comment relates to the availability of water. Vic remembers there being no problems accessing good clean water. In previous articles in this series about Iran, I have noted a concern expressed about using steam on the route. The lack of easily available water supplies was considered to be a significant factor in the decision to use diesel power on the line after US forces took over the management of the line from the British Army.

Paul Joyce recounts Vic’s memories: “Water for the engines was never a problem, fortunately. Most of the mountains towering high above the line were per manently covered in snow and everywhere were streams descending with pure water, as there was no vegetation this high up. At frequent intervals some streams were culverted with concrete sides and diverted to pass adjacent to the track. Alongside were stationed Merryweather pumps; it was just a case of putting the basket (the large filter at the end of the hose) into the water, inserting the output hose into the tender tank, then firing the pump and just waiting while a couple of thousand gallons were taken on.” (p645)

Vic also commented that the steam engines being oil-fired made his job as a fireman on some of the strenuous climbs so much easier, even more so on the descents, although the WD Stanier locomotive benefited from a small amount of steam in the cylinders on a descent so to avoid knocking echoing around the valleys! Vic could not remember any of the locomotives having been coal-fired when first in the country.

One of Vic’s surprises was the large number of Polish troops carried southwards on the line having escaped the German advance across Poland, only to be detained by the Russians. Eventually they joined Polish units active with British forces in the North African Campaign.

Good quality British open wagons were used for a lot of the traffic and suffered undertaking such arduous journeys in rakes that were not continuously braked. Their lifespan was as a result relatively short.

The standard freight locomotives were WD Staniier 8F 2-8-0s. 50 were supplied from stock by the LMS, others were supplied new by the North British Locomotive Company and Beyer, Peacock and Company. In all, 143 of these locomotives served in Iran. The bulk of these locos arrived in 1942.

In addition to the WD 2-8-0s, Vic remembered firing a number of fine German engines. He also remembered a number of problems with the Kurds sabotaging locomotives. Sabotage could include placing oil on the rails of the mainline, or splitting air brake pipes. On one occasion when Kurds slit a train’s air pipes, “all seemed well to the crew as they departed northwards. Unfortunately the line entered a series of sharp curves … and as the train started to snake around the bends, so the pipes opened up, causing the train to block the single running line.” (p646)

During its time in Iran, the 153rd Railway Operating Company did not lose a single man to enemy action, disease was the greatest threat. “Such were the dangers of infections that Vic’s pay book recorded 30 preventative injections!” (p646)

As we discovered in earlier articles in this series about the railways of Iran, the United States of America replaced the British on the southern section of the line. As a result, Vic was transferred out of country and then prepared to join the campaign in the South of Europe.

2. The GWR and Iran

Also in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, in an article by Michael Rutherford, [2] there is a short section about the GWR and Iran.

While reflecting on Swindon’s involvement with oil-fired locos, Rutherford says: “the next step in Swindon’s oil-fired steam saga was an unusual one. During the late 1920s and 1930, Reza Shah the ruler of Persia, decided that a railway was needed from Persian-owned ports on the Arabian Gulf to the Caspian Sea: Bandar Shahpur on the Gulf and Bandar Shar on the Caspian. … The Shah became impatient with slow progress on the work and cancelled the original contract. A new one was agreed with a Scandinavian consortium in April 1933 in which work was to be completed by May 1939. There were many sub-contractors including British ones and the line was completed ahead of schedule, resulting in extensions and branches being authorised. … The first locomotive orders for the new (1933) contract, rather than being supervised by conventional consulting engineers, were put in the hands of the GWR and C. B. Collett’s Outdoor Assistant (ie in charge of locomotive running), F. C. Hall was sent out to Persia in 1933 as an adviser to the Persian government.

Locomotive specifications were drawn up by Hall firstly for five 2-8-0s (delivered in 1934) and then for four massive 4-8-2/2-8-4T Garratts (delivered in 1936). All were oil-fired and detailed design and construction was carried out by Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester.” [3]

It seems that Collett was able to position the GWR as a expert in the supply and ordering of locomotives without having a great deal of effective departmental experience in oil-fired locos. F.C. Hall’s involvement as a consultant resulted in the GWR design office gaining its first experience of oil-burning equipment. Rutherford cites this as a significant factor (alongside others) which led to the GWR ameliorating its agnostic stance on the use of oil.


  1. Paul Joyce; Memories of the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Corps: 1939-46; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p643-646.
  2. Michael Rutherford; Crisis? What Crisis?Coal, Oil and Austerity; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p665-673.
  3. Locomotives for Iran; in Great Western Railway Magazine Vol. 48, May 1936, p225.

Railways in Iran – Part 11 – Anglo-Persian Oil Company Ltd.

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was founded in 1908 after the discovery of a large oil field in the South of what is now Iran. [2] Masjid-i-Sulaiman was the location where oil was first discovered in the Middle East. [3]

At the beginning of the 20th century, Khuzestan was one of the most impoverished and least urbanized areas of Iran, itself a desperately poor country. “In 1900 Iran was a fairly primitive, almost isolated state, barely distinguishable as an economic entity. About one fifth of the population lived in small towns; another quarter consisted of nomadic tribes, while the rest eked out an existence in poor villages” [9][11]. “Historical cities of Shushtar, Dezful, Ramhormoz, Hoveyzeh, and Behbahan, had small populations ranging between 7 and 25 thousand. Ahvaz (the provincial capital to the North of Abadan) was initially a large village, but it had been turning into a fast growing market town following the opening of Karun in 1880s to steamship commerce and the construction of the mule transport “Lynch Road” from there through Zagros to Esfahan.” [9].

William Knox D’Arcy, under contract to Ali-Qoli Khan Bakhtiari, obtained permission to explore for oil in Iran, he discovered oil near Masjid-i-Sulaiman in 1908. [3][4][5] This was the first time that oil  had been discovered in the Middle East, changing the history of the region and resulting in wealth beyond what country leaders could ever have hoped for or imagined. The oil discovery led to a petrochemical industry and the establishment of industries that strongly depended on oil.

Masjid-i-Sulaiman, is situated among the foothills of the Iranian plateau, about 130 miles inland from the Persian Gulf. The reserves are very significant and resulted in the construction of a pipeline to link Majid-i-Sulaiman, and another oilfield at Haft Kel, with the Persian Gulf, an oil depot, and what became a large refinery at Abadan.

An early view of the Oilfield at Masjid-i-Sulaiman. [16]

Near Masjid-i-Sulaiman, the pipe line is carried on a suspension bridge. In this illustration men are seen assembling the lengths of pipe line after the completion of the bridge. [17]

Construction of the refinery commenced in 1910 and the contraction was completed in 1912. Its capacity was 2500 barrels/day and it was the first oil refinery in the Middle East. [18]

The island at the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris. The depot of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Oil fuel was of utmost necessity for the Mesopotamian river traffic in the advance on Baghdad in the First World War. This image is a a view of Abadan from the river at the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris, seen at night. There is a dhow with sails down in the foreground, and the lights and outlines of an oil depot in the background. Date: (First World War). [12]

In 1914, the British government purchased a 51% stake in the oil company, [6] and during the First World War, Abadan refinery was expanded to provide fuel for warships. [18]

The development of Abadan oil refinery accelerated in 1932 and in 1935, APOC was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) when Reza Shah Pahlavi asked foreign countries to refer to Persia as Iran. An institute of technology was established at Abadan in 1939. [18]

In World War II, after the Allies lost the Burmese oil and refinery, more attention was paid to the expansion of Abadan refinery and it became the largest refinery in the world. It supplied 25,000 barrels/day of aircraft gasoline during the war with the amount of 25,000 barrels per day and, as a result, contributed significantly to the Allied victory in WWII. [18]

Embed from Getty Images

An aerial view of barges in a dock at Abadan, Iran, 12th January 1947. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images) Parts of the 3ft gauge rail network are visible in this image. One track runs alongside the road to the left of the image. Two lines run parallel to each other to the left of the dock wall. They run between the legs of the rail mounted cranes. Wagons can be made out on these lines. This image is embedded from the Getty Images website with their kind permission. [14]

Later the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized the company’s local infrastructure assets and gave the new company the name National Iranian Oil Company. Mohammed Mosaddegh was Prime Minster of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d’état which was orchestrated by the CIA and MI6. [7]

An aerial view of Abadan in 1951, when the Iranian government nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Source: The Illustrated London News, London, 8th September 1951, (Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International) [13].

In 1954, after the coup, the Company was renamed again to the British Petroleum Company (BP). [2] The products of Abadan refinery were once again sent to international markets at a rate of up to 300,000 barrels/day. By 1977, the capacity of the refinery had increased to 600,000 barrels/day. With that expansion, Abadan refinery regained its status as the largest refinery in the world. However, in 1980, the Iran/Iraq war brought all production to an end. [18] 

Recovery and further development has been slow and has been significantly affected by the international blockade.

The Railway Network in and around Abadan

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company had its own railway network at their Abadan Oil Depot and had a series of other lines which accessed the oil fields. The Wonders of World Engineering Magazine which was published from Spring 1937 to Spring 1938, [16][17] has two articles about the Iranian oilfields. The adjacent sketch map  is included in the second of those articles. [17] The dark lines represent oil pipelines which were already transporting oil in 1937/1938. Of interest for this article are the two railway lines shown. One is the Trans-Iranian Railway which heads North from the port of Bandar Shahpur. Eariier articles in this short series about the railways of Iran cover that line. Towards the top of the map is a short line running from Dar-i-Khazineh to the oilfield at Masjid-i-Suleiman.

Also, it is interesting to read a military report which was written in 1940. Iain Logie, an online acquaintance through the Continental Railway Circle (CRC) and author of an article about the Dar-i-Khazineh Fields Railway in The Narrow Gauge magazine [32], pointed me to this document which is available on the Qatar National Library website. [19] That document focuses on possible supply routes from the Persian Gulf to the North of Iran and so is not particularly interested in the pipeline supplying oil to Abadan.

It is probably very appropriate to note at this point that Iain Logie’s scholarly article in The Narrow Gauge magazine [32] is a comprehensive and detailed look at the Dar-i-Khazineh Fields Railway. I only received a copy of the article after having written this present article based around the 1940 Military Report. I have reviewed the text below in the light of receiving Iain Logie’s article and corrected some things which were incorrect.

The landscape between Abadan and Ahwaz. The River Karun was used for transporting oil/good to and from Masjid-i-Suleiman. (Google Maps)

I find the content, of what was a very long military report fascinating, but for our present purposes, we need to focus on the route to the oilfields. The report tells us that in July 1940: “From Basra, Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) or Abadan the recognised and only reliable all-weather route to the oilfields is by river craft. At Ahwaz transshipment is necessary owing to the rapids.” [19: p13]  The river used was the River Karun. Details regarding transshipment are given later in the military document. I have unearthed some footage from the early 20th century which is shown below. Transshipment took place by means of a tramway at Ahvaz. Sadly I cannot translate the Persian subtitles which appear from time to time.

The Military Report from the 1940s has a plan showing the new railway link to the Trans-Iranian Railway in the centre of Ahvaz. The transshipment tramway is marked on that plan and is highlighted by a light red line on an extract from that plan below. [19: Map 3] By the time the report was written the tramway was no longer in use.

Central Ahvaz in the late 1930s. [19: Map 3]

The short film above and the author of the military report confirm that, “Dar-i-Khazineh is the riverhead, and a light railway (via Tembi) and metalled road to the oil-field (Masjid-i-Suleiman) area start from there.” [19: p13]

The Dar-i-Khazineh Fields Railway

Dar-i-Khazineh is North-northeast from Ahvaz on the River Karun. The location is shown on the satellite image immediately below. The transshipment wharf was at the riverside. The railway only had a few access sidings at that location. A little further to the Northeast were a series of holding sidings.

Dar-i-Khazineh in the 21st century. (Google Maps)

The plan below was included with the 1940 military report, it is from a survey undertaken in the late 1930s and shows the Dar-i-Khazineh site. It is followed by two enlarged extracts. A key to the numbered buildings has also been enlarged below. The railway layout is clear on these plans.

Alongside these sidings you can see the locomotive shed which was the oil-supply point for the locomotives ((10) on the plans). (7)(8) and (9) were the stores, offices and railway workshop. (5) and (6) were living accommodation. (3) was a goods shed and (4) was a store house. (2) was an explosives store. (12) was guest accommodation and (13) was the superintendent’s house. (14) was the site water tank and (15) was the water pump-house.

At Dar-i-Khazineh, the wharf was 150 to 200 feet long and could accept 5-ton axle loads. Access to the wharf was by good metalled roads and the light railway. The wharf was occasionally submerged during periods of floods – around once in 5 years. Two cranes served the barges. One 15-ton Scotch derrick and one 10-ton travelling crane. [19: Appendix X, p91]

Dar-i-Khazineh transshipment point between river and rail. [19: Map 4] If the numbers can be made out in the image then the key below will be useful!Dar-i-Khazineh, riverside. [19: Map 4]Dar-i-Khazineh, sidings. [19: Map 4]

Key to the maps above. [19: Map 4]

The Light Railway from Dar-i-Khazineh to Masjid-i-Suleiman was a single line 2ft 6 in gauge railway of 36 miles in length, (increasing to 40 miles if sidings are included). The Rails on the earliest section of the railway were 30 lbs. secured to steel sleepers by steel keys. The track was ballasted with sandstone and river shingle. The notes go on to say that the railway had:

“Curves 5° to 45°. Maximum grade 3.2%. There are 3 main bridge[s of] Hopkins Truss type of spans 105, 120 and 120 feet. The line follows the metalled road from Dar-i-Khazineh towards Masjid-i-Suleiman to Abgah after which it turns south-east following the Tembi River to Tembi Power Station and thence runs to Masjid-i-Suleiman and Chashm-i-Ali. There are stations at D.i.K., Abgah (12 miles) Batwand (16 miles) Tembi (27 miles) M.i.S. (32 miles) Chashm-i-Ali (36 miles). The average time taken from D.i.K. to Chashm-i-Ali is 4.5 hours.” [19: p19]

The old railway followed the metalled road between Dar-i-Khazineh and Abgah, (Google Maps). The route f the line has been imposed on the satellite image as a faint red line hugging the South side of the road.The narrow gauge railway followed the road from Abgah to Batvand. It’s approximate route is shown by a faint red line imposed on the satellite image. Close to Batvand the line left the metalled road and followed the course of the River Tembi. 

As a point of clarification, the old railway probably dictated the route of the metalled road at least as far as Abgah. [32] Iain Logie includes a superb picture of the bridge which carried the railway over the River Tembi close to Batvand. [32] His article also includes the map below.

Iain Logie produced this plan of the route in 2017 and included it in his article about the railway [32] Used by kind permission.

I have not been able to find any sign of the route of the railway on Google Earth close to the River Tembi. Nor can I find any modern reference to Tembi Power Station on the internet. For the military report to refer to it, it must have been a reasonably significant structure. All we know from that military report is that between Batvand Railway Station (the location of which I have failed to ascertain) and Tembi Railway Station close to the Power Station was a distance of around 11 miles (18 kilometres).

There was apparently a short branchline from the main line to Masjid-i-Suleiman which was built to serve the construction work on the power station. [32]

The river approaches Masjid-i-Suleiman from the Southwest, that was the direction from which the narrow gauge railway approached the town. Iain Logie has an excellent map of the route of the line and some additional pictures which come from the BP archive.

Masjid-i-Suleiman Station Yard. [20]

I have been able to find one relatively grainy image of the station yard at Masjid-i-Suleiman on wikiwand. It shows what appears to be a saddle tank (possibly an ALCO 0-6-0ST which would have been supplied from Egypt) in steam and a range of goods wagons. [20]

Further searching on the internet identified one Iranian website which covers the story of the construction of the line and provides some other interesting pictures. [21]

That site tells the story like this (translated using Google Translate): “In 1921 AD, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company started the construction of a railway line from the River Karun to Masjed Soleiman and completed it in 1923 AD. The length of this railway was 57 km and the track-gauge was 76 cm. In fact, a railway of this length had never been built in Iran until then. Previously, the only railway linked the city of Rey with Tehran. The national railway of Iran was not inaugurated until 15 years later.” [21]

Stations were established along the way which included Abgah, Haji Abad, Tembi, Malkarim, Masjid-i-Suleiman and Chashm-i-Ali, and finally a Food Depot and Gunpowder Depot. The train stopped at these stations to supply the coal and water it needed, or to pick up and drop off passengers. At Tembi station, the sulfur for transport to Abadan or abroad was loaded. At Malkarim a passing loop was provided and alongside the line a Gypsum Factory produced gypsum for delivery by goods train to various places for use. At Chashm-i-Ali there was a goods warehouse and locomotive maintenance depot.

The railway had eight locomotives, initially it commenced operation with light locomotives that  had been received from the Army Delegation and Sales Board at Kantara railway station in Egypt. (These locomotives were used in World War I). In 1925, two 2-6-0 tank locomotives made by Kerr Stuart and 25 wagons from Britain were transferred to this line. And in later years newer locomotives were added to the line. The fuel for these locomotives was initially coal, but soon changed to oil. [21]

There were several small and large bridges along the railway, some of which still remain. There were four large bridges, three of which were at the intersection of the Tembi River, which were made of metal, and another with crescent-shaped openings on the Behlool River (Batvand), where only traces of concrete or stone pillars are visible. In general, the route has disappeared.” [21]

At the peak of its activity, the railway moved about 9800 tons of goods per month. During its 27-year life, the railway transported more than one million tons of goods and during the first years of its operation also transported passengers. It played a very important role for the oil industry and the development of Masjed-e-Soliman. [21]

The 1940 Military Report continues:

“From D.i.K. to Abgah and from Tembi to M.i.S. the maximum useful lift per train is 45 tons; between Abgah and Tembi, 85 tons.

At present, the A.I.O.C. run an average of one train per day. moving 60 tons from end to end. The maximum ever moved by them in one month is 3,600 tons, or 120 tons average per day.” [19: p19]

The military report then goes on to estimate how much greater use could be made of the line and notes, in 1940, that the locomotives in use burned oil fuel. 

Locomotives and Rolling Stock

The military report [19] has an Appendix which covers the available motive power and wagons in 1940. [19: Appendix XI, 19: p92-93] There were 3 No. Peckett Locos and 3 No. Kerr-Stuart Locos on the line at that time. In addition a Drewry Railcar was available as an inspection vehicle. This does not tell the full story of what motive power was available at different times on the line. But we consider the 6 oil-fired steam locomotives mentioned in the military report, first.

Peckett and Sons Locomotives

It is known that at least two locomotives were supplied to the railway by Peckett and Sons of Bristol. A detailed description of one of these locos is provided in a paper in the Industrial Railway Record (IRR). [8] The paper was a reproduction of an article first published in ‘The Locomotive Magazine and Railway Carriage & Wagon Review’ on 14th March 1931.

0-6-2 tank locomotive, 2 ft. 6 in gauge, for the Anglo-Persian Oil Co., built by Peckett and Sons, Bristol. This locomotive is No.1750, ‘D.I.K 1928’, of February 1928, a Peckett Type M5. [8]

These locomotives were oil-fired. When fully loaded they carried 520 gallons of water and 200 gallons of fuel oil. [8]

That same article explains that there were around 40 miles of track “linking up the different oil wells at Masjid-i-Sulaiman and providing means of transport for stores and supplies between that district and the depot at Abadan, which is also the port of shipment for the oil.” [8]

Martyn Bane also provides a copy of the paper in the IRR [8] He goes on to say that the “Anglo-Persian Oil Co. must have been happy with their locomotives as “Peckett’s later supplied two more machines: Locomotive No.1816 of October 1930, named ‘D.I.K. 1930’ came first and was followed by No.1909, ‘D.I.K. 1936’ in October 1936.” [1] It was Martyn Bane’s article that first alerted me to the 2ft 6in network at Abadan.

No.1909, ‘D.I.K. 1936’ of October 1936. It is possible that this photograph may be a re-touched version of the photograph above showing No.1750. [1]

Wikipedia lists these locomotives as below:

4 No. Peckett Locomotives used at Abadan. [15] It seems that, at the time of the military inspection only three of these were available. [19: p92] Since first publishing this article. I have been informed that No. 1751 was not built. The M5 classification is also strictly incorrect as these locomotives were a variant, an M5 special. The M5 locos were 0-4-0T locomotives.

Kerr Stuart Locomotives

The following Kerr Stuart Locomotives were purchased by Anglo Persia Oil Co. for their 2ft 6in gauge line running from the River Karun to Masjid-i-Suleiman:

Kerr Stuart No. 4189 – May 1923 (Huxley Boiler).
Kerr Stuart No. 4190 – May 1923 (Huxley Boiler).
Kerr Stuart No. 4191 – May 1923 (Huxley Boiler).

They were from a series of 21 No. 104 H.P. 0-6-2T locomotives to a design first built in 1912. Kerr Stuart christened the class, “Matary”. The design was suitable for gauges between 2ft and 4ft 8 ½ inches and rails of between 25-30 lbs per yard. The metre gauge locomotives had inside frames and locomotives with narrower gauges had outside frames. [23]

Further details of the class can also be found on the Fourdees website. [24]

These are noted as being available in the 1940 military report. [19: p92]

Other Motive Power

W.G. Bagnall Locomotives

Internet searches show that Fourdees also make a model which is based on the Bagnall version of the “Matary.”. They say that two of these Bagnall 0-6-2T locos were supplied to the Dar-i-Khazineh line in 1941. [25] There is a series of historical railway photographs from Iran on on ‘flickriver’ [26] among which are the front [27] and reverse [28] of an order card from Bagnall’s works showing one of these locomotives.

A letter to ‘The Narrow Gauge Magazine suggests that these two 0-6-2T oil-fired Bagnall Locomotives were actually ordered in 1944 and delivered in 1945/6. [29] Iain Logie agrees with these dates. [32]

Before the line was settled enough to order new locomotives 8 steam and petrol locomotives were in use on the line, all ex-ROD locomotives. Iain Logie has full details of these in a table of the motive power used on the line.[32]

ALCO Locomotives

The 8 steam locomotives were all ALCO locomotives which were manufactured during the Great War and supplied to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. British  manufacturers were unable to meet the delivery requirements of the Army and so an American supplier was used. Iain Logie says that the locos were first required  for a 2ft 6in gauge light railway which served an elaborate system of defences along the Suez Canal. [32] He continues: “The ALCOs  proved to be rather limited in power and they were soon confined to shunting and local freight trips, rather than being used on the mainline where they were replaced by newer more powerful locomotives.” [32] Iain Logie has one picture of a loco of this class at work in one of the station yards. [32]

It appears that 24 of these locomotives were bought by the ROD in 1916 for use in Egypt. [33]

Hawthorn Leslie Petrol Locomotives

Iain Logie syas that two Hawthorn Leslie petrol locos (Army No 67 and 75) were purchased by APOC in 1922 and were used as shunting locos at Chashmeh-i-Ali and were operated by the stores staff rather than railway staff. [32]

Drewry Railcar

In 1940, one Drewry Railcar was available in the line. It was a 25 hp vehicle. [19: p92] It is likely that this vehicle was the one shown earlier in this article. The photo is repeated here.

In an article in The Narrow Gauge Magazine, [29] Rodney Weaver writes of a series of 19 No. Drewry Railcars were supplied during the 1st World War to 2ft 6in gauge as ambulances for Mesopotamia. The order was designated ‘Mesrail 14’. it was placed on “20th November 1916 and confirmed on 22nd December.
The first nine cars were handed over on 29th March 1917 and delivery was completed on 1st June, Like all Drewry cars between 1911 and 1930 they were actually built by Baguley Cars Ltd. (later Baguley (Engineers) Ltd.) of Burton-upon-Trent.” [29: p19]

Weaver goes on to say: “The cars were built on standard B-type chassis as used for hundreds of more orthodox (and a few more unorthodox) railcars over the years, The frame length was 16ft and the wheelbase 7ft, the light cast wheels being 24″ diameter. Power was provided by a Baguley petrol engine, a four-cylinder unit of 90mm bore x 130mm stroke rated at 20 hp. There was a three-speed gearbox, and a reverse box, one axle only being driven by a roller chain from the latter.” [29: p19]

Weaver describes the railcar like this: “The body comprised two driving platforms with a stretcher compartment between them. Two stretchers could be carried on either side of the car, one resting on top of a folded canvas seat that formed the floor and the other
carried on an upper platform that could be swung out and down on a form of parallel motion. Alternatively both stretchers and the upper platform could be removed and the canvas seat erected, when six walking cases could be accommodated. Between the stretchers was a corridor and seat for the attendant, access to which was gained by a door at one end of the car. The car could thus carry four stretcher cases, two stretcher and six walking cases or twelve walking cases as required.” [29: p19]

He continues: “In service the sides of the cars were normally covered by canvas screens bearing the Red Cross insignia, the rest of the vehicle being painted khaki.” [29: p20]

It seems that APOC must have seen these Railcars in action and decided to purchase two direct from Bauley in 1924. Iain Logie comments that these were intended to provide a passenger service on the line. At the same time as their purchase one trailer was also bought. [32]

The passenger service on the line was short-lived and abandoned in 1930. It seems as though the construction of the metalled road meant that a much quicker journey from Dar-i-Khazineh to Masjid-i-Suleiman was available. Iain Logie also comments that one of the ex-Army bogie vans was converted to provide better passenger facilities. The wartime use of the Drewry vehicle is illustrated below. [29: p22]

Drewry Railcar ambulance for Mesopotamia. [29: p22]

Baguley/Drewry Inspection Trolleys

APOC purchased a number of inspection trolleys, one of which is shown earlier in this article. These are listed by Iain Logie as well. [32]


Iain Logie’s article goes on to survey the goods wagons available on the line before highlighting the rapide decline of the railway after the Second World War. By the end of the War the military construction of roads had dramatically improved road links. The “road distance from Abadan to Masjid-i-Suleiman was 262 kilometres (163 miles) and that journey could be completed in 8 hours, whereas using the existing river and rail route, the distance was 382, kilometres and the journey would take 4 days, or longer.” [32] The railway closed in 1948 and its track was lifted in 1949.

Abandon Oil-Depot, Port and Refinery

There were railways at the port of Abadan as the image earlier in this article shows. The Abadan Depot and Refinery lines were set at 3ft gauge. More of them can be seen on the photographs below.

An Aerial view of Abadan from sometime in the 1920s or 1930s [10] This image appears to show rail tracks just above the T-junction on the bottom right of the photograph and again at the extreme bottom right with one line apparently running across the image on the near side of the road.Ships unloading at the Abadan waterfront in 1942. The rail lines and some wagons are in evidence. [30]Ships unloading at the Abadan waterfront in 1942. The rail lines and some wagons are in evidence. [30]Another postcard image of the wharf at Abadan. The rails providing access to the wharf are visible near the centre of the card image. [31]

The layout of the refinery railway is shown on the next two images which are taken from the 1940 Military Report. [19] The majority of the network is illustrated on the two extracts.

A two-part plan of Abadan Refinery in the late 1930s contained in the 1940 Military Report. The Railway network is visible although the resolution is not that good. [19: Map 2]

Oil production rose from a capacity of 2,500 barrels per day in the early 1910s to 650,000 barrels per day in the late 1970s. [36: APOC Abadan Refinery Railway]

Notes kept in the Narrow Gauge Railway Society library  say that the railway network at the refinery was 65 miles in length. They say that there were 405 points, that as the refinery expanded around 3 miles of track were laid each month.  Maintenance work saw around 2 miles of track lifted and reconditioned each month with around 5 miles of track ballasted each month! [34]

Iain Logie kindly sent me a distillation from the 1940 Military Report Map above which is held in the Narrow Gauge Railway Society Library. It is much easier to read than the original map. [35]

A map of Abadan as it was in the 1930s. [35] The railways can more eaily be [picked out on this plan.

The Narrow Gauge Railway Society Library holds a set of notes which incorporate the best of the sources about locomotives into one document. [36: APOC Abadan Refinery Railway]

The first railway at the refinery and port was a 2ft gauge railway purchased from a War disposal auction after the Great War. The Company were less than content with the 2ft gauge and despite there being a great deal of 2ft-gauge stock available in the post war years, decided that a 3ft-gauge railway would be meet the needs of the refinery. [36: APOC Abadan Refinery Railway]

The locomotive list for the site in quite long! It included Petrol (4No.), ‘Light’ Diesel (8 No.), ‘Heavy’ Diesel (16 No.) and Fireless (15 No.) Locomotives. [36: APOC Abadan Refinery Railway][37]

Iain Logie very kindly sent me the next two images which show a Hunslet 0-6-0 Diesel Mechanical locomotive as supplied to APOC/AIOC in the late 1930s and during WW2, and Hudswell Clarke Fireless Locomotive Works No. 1646 which was supplied to Abadan in June 1931.




  1., accessed on 26th March 2020 and 18th November 2020.
  2., accessed on 23rd July 2020.
  3., accessed on 23rd July 2020.
  4. M.S. Vassiliou; Historical Dictionary of the Petroleum Industry; Lanham; Scarecrow, Maryland, 2009.
  5. Peter Frankopan; The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; Alfred A. Knopf;New York, 2016, p. 319
  6. Daniel Yergin;  The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991; p138–147, 158.
  7., accessed on 16th November 2020.
  8. The Industrial Railway Record, Volume 53, April 1974, p202-203;, accessed on 18th November 2020.
  9., accessed on 18th November 2020.
  10., accessed on 18th November 2020.
  11. Julian Bharier, Economic Development in Iran 1900-1970; Oxford University Press, London, 1971, p19.
  12., accessed on 19th November 2020.  This image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Photographs taken, or artworks created, by a member of the forces during their active service duties are covered by Crown Copyright provisions. Faithful reproductions may be reused under that licence, which is considered expired 50 years after their creation.
  13. Carola Hein; Oil Spaces: The Global Petroleumscape in the Rotterdam/The Hague Area; Journal of Urban History. Volume No. 44, 2018, p1-43; accessed on 19th November 2020.
  14., accessed on 19th November 2020.
  15., accessed on 19th November 2020.
  16., accessed on 19th November 2020.
  17., accessed on 19th November 2020.
  18., accessed on 19th November 2020.
  19., accessed on 20th November 2020, full details are in Appendix 1, the document can be accessed using this link which is repeated in the Appendix.
  20., accessed on 22nd November 2020.
  21.احداث-خط-آهنی, accessed on 22nd November 2020.
  22., accessed on 22nd November 2020.
  23., accessed on 22nd November 2020
  24., accessed on 22nd November 2020.
  25., accessed on 22nd November 2020.
  26., accessed on 23rd November 2020.
  27., accessed on 23rd November 2020.
  28., accessed on 23rd November 2020.
  29., accessed on 23rd November 2020.
  30., accessed on 24th November 2020.
  31., accessed on 24th November 2020.
  32. Iain Logie; The Dar-i-Khazineh Fields Railway: A British Narrow Gauge Railway in Persia; in The Narrow Gauge Magazine No. 252, January 2019.
  33., accessed on 26th November 2020.
  34. Iain Logie provided access to the notes about the refinery railway at Abadan. They come from the BP Archive – File: ARC 44257. Iain Logie advises caution in reading these notes as they provide some detailed information which is different from other sources. This is particularly true in the details provided about motive power and rolling stock. [36]
  35. The Narrow Gauge Railway Society Library.
  36. A series of notes provided by the NGRS covering the railways of Iran, of which the NGRS says the following: ‘These research notes are intended to provide users of the Narrow Gauge Railway Society’s library with an introduction to the narrow gauge railways of Iran as a starting point for personal research projects. Additional, more specific sources for further research are noted in the text for each railway.’ 
  37. A.C. Baker & T.D. Civil; Fireless Locomotives; Oakwood Press, 1976.

Appendix 1

Military Report on The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s (South Iranian) Oilfield Area

Reference IOR/L/MIL/17/15/24
Date(s) 1940 (CE, Gregorian)
Written in English
Extent and Format 1 volume (69 folios)
Holding Institution British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers

A copy of this document is available via the Qatar National Library and can be accessed freely under an Open Government Licence. Full details of the licence can be found on the link below.

Rather than printing this document in full as part of this post, it can be viewed on the following link:                 

Railways in Iran – Part 10 – Motive Power

Early Iranian Locomotives

We have already noted in this series that Iran had a very limited railway network at the turn of the 20th century. Essentially just one railway line which was of a narrow gauge and was no more than 6 miles long. Glyn Williams says that the line, as built, … was approximately 5.5 miles in length and had two branch lines of 2.5 miles in length. [22]

Its roster of locomotives was limited to five in total. And details of these can be found on the manufacturer’s listings, as tabulated below. [21] The full article is in french. The locomotives were built in Belgium by La Tubize.

Tableau des locomotives Tubize livrées pour la Perse (Iran)
n°     Année   Voie     Essieux             Destinataire
662   1887     1000   Cn2t / 0-6-0T     CF et Tramways en Perse, Téhéran-Rey No. 1
663   1887     1000   Cn2t / 0-6-0T     CF et Tramways en Perse, Téhéran-Rey No. 2
664   1887     1000   Cn2t / 0-6-0T     CF et Tramways en Perse, Téhéran-Rey No. 3
665   1887     1000   Cn2t / 0-6-0T     CF et Tramways en Perse, Téhéran-Rey No. 4
1436 1905     1000   Cn2t / 0-6-0T     CF et Tramways en Perse, Téhéran-Rey No. 5
Source : liste établie par Sébastien Jarne
Cn2t = 3 essieux moteurs, vapeur saturée, 2 cylindres, tender (tank in UK terminology)

No. 3 in display in Mellat Park, Tehran. [24]

La Tubize Locomotive No. 665 – No. 4 on display in Rey, (c) Alireza Javaheri, used under a Creative Commons Licence. [25]

What is perhaps surprising, is that the oldest preserved La Tubize locomotives in the world are in Iran. These locomotives were ordered by Shah Abdul Azim for the Railways and Tramways in Persia. They were to serve on the Tehran-Rey line and carried the company’s numbers 1 to 5. All of them, it seems, were preserved. In Iran, they were called the “Mashin Doodi”, or smoking machines.

Luc Delporte, writing in French in 2017 comments that, “It is not easy to find recent and verifiable information on these locomotives. However, it is possible to glean some information on the web to locate and, in some cases, verify the location of the locomotives.” [17] He goes on to undertake an internet search for the locomotives which are preserved in a non-operational condition. ……..

Un-numbered La Tubize Locomotive in Mellat Park in Tehran, (c) João Amado (Google Maps).

Un-numbered La Tubize Locomotive in Kosar Park, Tehran, (c) Mahdi Sarkhani (Google Maps).

The fifth of the five locomotive, again unnumbered outside the PARS Wagon Works in Arak (c) Hamid Hajihusseini (CC BY 3.0). [72]

No. 664 – No. 3 – has been kept in Mellat Park in Northern Tehran.

No. 665 – No. 4 –  Is on display at the entrance to Shahr-e-Rey Metro.

There are three further static displays of locomotives which means that the full set of 5 were retained for display. The remaining three are not numbered. They are as follows:

An additional locomotive in Mellat Park In Tehran. Another has been in Kosar Park in Tehran, probably  since 1963. The third, and final, locomotive is on display in Arak at the PARS wagon factory.

Locomotives prior to World War Two

The Railway Gazette of 1945 informs us [18: p159] that, in the period before the British took control of the Iranian (Persian) network, the State Railways owned the following locomotives:

49 German 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders.

16 German 2-10-0s with double bogie tenders.

12 Swedish 2-8-2s with double bogie tenders.

4 Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated engines.

5 Beyer-Peacock 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders, and

20 (or so) shunting locomotives.

This list may not be comprehensive – the Beyer Peacock Locomotive Order List, Garratt Locomotives, Customer List V1 (PDF); suggests that the company supplied 10 No. Beyer Garratt Locomotives of the same class (Class 86) to Iran. [8]A Beyer-Garratt in Iran. [5]Iranian State Railway. 418 – 421 (BP 6787-6790/1936) later renumbered 86.01 – 86.04. [7]

Wikipedia tells us that German manufacturers supplied 65 steam locomotives for the opening of the line in 1938. [10][26: p112] As we have noted above, these were of two classes. “49 were 2-8-0 ‘Consolidations’: 24 from Krupp forming class 41.11; 16 from Henschel und Sohn forming class 41.35; and nine from Maschinenfabrik Esslingen forming class 41.51. The other 16 were Henschel 2-10-0 ‘Decapods’ forming class 51.01.” [10][26: p107]

Wikipedia continues: “The Trans-Iranian acquired 10 of the locomotives that Kampsax had used to build the line. [26: p107].” These are not in the list provided by the Railway Gazette above. They were: “Gölsdorf two-cylinder compound 0-10-0 freight locomotives built between 1909 and 1915 as Austrian State Railways class 80 by Wiener Neustädter Lokomotivfabrik, Lokomotivfabrik Floridsdorf and Lokomotivfabrik der StEG in Vienna and by BreitfeldDaněk in Bohemia.” [10][26: p107] Apparently, the Gölsdorf 0-10-0s kept their original Austrian numbers. [26: p107]

The revised roster with these alterations looks more like this:

24 German Krupp 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders.

16 German Henschel und Sohn 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders.

9 German Maschinenfabrik Esslingen 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders. (Ex-works images of these locos can be found on Flickr.) [27][30]

16 German Henschel und Sohn 2-10-0s with double bogie tenders. (An image of one of these locos can be found on Flickr.) [31]

12 Swedish 2-8-2s with double bogie tenders.

10 Austrian State Railways 0-10-0s with double bogie tenders.

10 Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated engines.

5 Beyer-Peacock 2-8-0s with double bogie tenders, and

20 (or so) shunting locomotives.

“All the 65 German engines needed immediate repairs, as their fireboxes, tubes, stays, motion, and rods were all in poor condition because of lack of maintenance. The 12 Swedish locomotives were all out of service, awaiting modifications necessitated by excessive slipping. The four Beyer-Garratts were also out of commission as they required new fireboxes, longitudinal cracks having developed across their tube-plates. The 2-8-0 Beyer-Peacock locomotives had been excellent engines, but needed overhaul.” [18: p111]

The ’20 or so’ shunting locomotives referred to in the Railway Gazette article of 1945 probably include some locomotives used in the oilfields. There were a number of tank locos and at least these tender locomotives, although I don’t know details. These tender locomotives were in use:

  • some  2-6-0 steam locomotives which left Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1932 and were probably in use in the Oilfields in the South of Iran – an example can be seen on Flickr. [28]
  • some 2-8-0 Beyer Peacock locomotives delivered in 1934 – an example can be seen on Flickr. [29]

The Second World War

Two distinct phases of operation occurred during the War. The first was British led, the second, in the south of Iran, was led by the USA.

1.  Iran’s Railways under British Control

After the arrival of the British Railway Engineers (Royal Engineers) a series of additional locomotives were ordered and received from abroad:

39 coal-burning “W.D.” (British) 2-8-0s. (A photographic example of these locos can be found on Flickr.) [32]

104 oil-burning “W.D.” 2-8-0s.

96 oil-burning U.S.A. 2-8-2s.

6 German 2-10-2s diverted from China.

3 Kitson-built 2-6-4 and 4-6-4 tank engines from the Kowloon-Canton Railway, and

22 0-4-0 diesel shunting engines from the U.S.A.

Coal for the first batch of 39 “W.D.” 2-8-0s also had to be shipped from the United Kingdom.

The Railway Gazette articles of February 1945 catalogue a whole series of difficulties which needed to be overcome by the British Engineers:

  1. Only senior railway men in Iran (Persia) were experienced in railway operation, and “their training in various European countries had been academic rather than practical. Though they were, individually, competent and clever, they were not capable, collectively, of producing a really good and simple organisation to insure the satisfactory working of a railway beset with such topographical and climatic difficulties, especially in view of the ignorance of their subordinates.” [18: p112]
  2. Initially, “subordinate staff understood no English and the British … knew no Persian.” [18: p112]
  3. As we have noted already, “there were in the country ample engines and stock for light traffic working, an incredible percentage of them [however, were] out of order and laid up awaiting repairs, or [were, unsuitable] for working on long continuous mountain grades. Repair facilities and spare parts were also inadequate. ” [18: p112]
  4. The British majority of the British troops were inexperienced and young and numbers were inadequate.
  5. The arid nature of the country traversed meant that water supplies could only possible support “eight double-headed trains daily between Ahwaz and Teheran.” [18: p112] Indeed, later in the War, it was this fact that most influenced the American Eningeers who took over the running of the line to import 65 No. 1,000-h.p. diesel-electric locomotives.
  6. “The intense heat, as well as causing constant trouble with injectors and. being responsible for excessive slipping due to oil leakage on to the track, became almost unbearable for the European staff on the lower sections of line.” [18: p112]
  7. All the locomotives and wagons supplied from the U.K. and U.S.A. “were, in many respects, completely unsuited to the abnormal requirements of Persia, especially in regard to brake equipment, super-heaters, sanding and draw gear, and chilled cast-steel wheels.” [18: p112]

So significant were these issues that the article in the Railway Gazette repeated them alongside other difficulties. The wider list included: inadequate repairs and stores; hot weather troubles; failure of water supplies; carriage and wagon chaos; faults in locomotive depots; and a low standard of general organisation. [18: p159-160]

2. American Control

In the last two years of the War, the roster of locomotives was dramatically changed on the Southern section of the Trans-Iranian Railway (from the coast to Tehran) which was controlled by the Americans. Diesel power meant that the levels of traffic required could be achieved and the Americans brought with them 13 ALCO diesel locomotives. [15] The locomotives, made in Schenectady, New York, by the American Locomotive Company, required prepping in Iran prior to use. [16]

These ALCO (RSD-1) locomotives were intended originally as what the Americans call a road switcher, designed to both haul freight in mainline service and shunt them in railroad yards. They were rated at 1,000 horsepower (750kW) and rode on two three-axle bogies. [17]

At this time a number of American Mikados (WD/USA series 1000-1199) had been leased to the British forces and “had just started working in Iran, although it was realised that the extreme temperatures in the southern plains and above all the scarcity of good water along the whole line made the operation of heavy trains by steam locomotives extremely difficult. Moreover, the 1000 ton “Aid-to-Russia” trains required double-heading over the mountain sections, where gradients of 1 in 67 were frequent and the fact that there were 144 tunnels in 165 miles meant that locomotive crews suffered considerable hardship from smoke and oil fumes.” [33]

Some of the 1000hp diesel-electric locomotives worked the more difficult sections of the Trans-Iranian Railway. The first batch of USA/TC RSD-1 locomotives, numbered 8000 to 8012 arrived in Iran in about March 1943. On relatively level lines with little gradient, they were used singly. This was primarily between Ahwaz and Bandar Shalpur, Khorramshahr, Tanuma and Andhimishk.

A second and larger tranche of these RSD-1 locomotives was delivered to Iran within a few months. These were number 8013 to 8056 and “were fitted for multiple-unit working so that two locomotives could be worked with only one engine crew. … They were stationed at Andhimishk and Arak, and normally worked in pairs hauling all the heavy northbound freight trains over the mountainous sections between these two places. On the return journey, as many as five were coupled together to work back to Andhimishk.” [33]

No. 8014 at the head of a train in the mountains, (c) R. Tourret Collection. [33]

In May 1943, numbers 8007, 8009, 8010, 8011, 8012, 8028, 8029, 8031 and 8034 to 8056 were still awaiting finishing. Numbers 8000, 8001, 8002, 8003, 8004, 8005, 8013, 8015, 8018 and 8030 were allocated to the Southern Division and 8006, 8008, 8014, 8016, 8017, 8019, 8020, 8021, 8022, 8023, 8024, 8025, 8026, 8027, 8028, 8029, 8032, and 8033 were allocated to Andhimishk/Arak.

No. 8048  at Durud in Iran in June 1945. In Iran, the heat was so intense that the Alco diesels operated with the engine access doors removed, despite the increased risk of damage due to the ingress of sand (c) H.C. Hughes. [33]

“From September 1943, some of them worked as far north as Qum and by May 1944 some were working regularly through to Teheran. Between Arak and Teheran it became a common sight to see a diesel and a USA/TC steam 2-8-2 coupled together at the head of a train, and on at least one occasion two diesels and a 2-8-2 were used on a passenger train.” [33]

Following the war, these diesel locomotives were shipped back to the US where they continued to work either hauling freight on military installations, used for training, or were sold to railroad companies. [19] Steam power once again held sway in Iran and continued to do so until the late 1950s. [20]

Steam After the Second World War

As noted above, there were steam locomotives at work throughout Iran during the War. A good number of “American S200s operated in the Middle East, including Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon. One was destroyed by fire at El Arish in Egypt in 1942. 29 of this batch was later supplied to Turkey where they became the TCDD 46201 Class. In 1946 another 24 were transferred to TCDD which added them to the same number series 46201–46253. 51 S200s built in 1942 served on the Trans-Iranian Railway, where they became Iranian class 42.“[34][26: p125]

Turkish Railways USATC S200 Class Locomotive No. 46224 at TCDD Open Air Steam Locomotive Museum, Ankara, Turkey (c) Ex13(CC BY-SA 3.0). [34]

By the end of the Second World War, motive power on Iranian State Railways reverted to steam and a number of new purchases were made.

Iranian State Railways Steam Locomotives

Jonathan D.H. Smith provides the catalogue of Iranian Railways Steam Locomotives below. He maintains a database of a similar nature for most countries in the world. All dimensions metric: lengths in mm, areas in m2, weights in metric tons, pressures in atmospheres. There is no indication in the table of the dates that the locomotives were active. [2]

Class Axle arr-
Diameter x Stroke
B.P. Ad.
30.1 C 1270 435×610 10 33 33 1.4 82 none  
30.2 Ct 1100 380×550 13 34 34 1.3 65 none  
31.0 1’C 1350 490×600 14 44 57 2.6 168 total  
31.2 1’C 1170 405×560 12.3 34 41 1.6 94 none  
33.30 1’C2’t 1560 485×660 12.7 51 91 3.0 168 none KCR 3
34.60 2’C2’t 1560 560×710 12.7 60 106 3.2 229 none KCR 9
41.0 1’D 1220 510×660 12.3 57 67 3.2 167 30  
41.1 1’D 1450 560×720 15 68 75 3.9 185 65  
41.10 1’D 1435 470×710 15.8 64 73 2.7 153 23 LMS 8F coal
41.15 1’D 1435 470×710 15.8 64 73 2.7 153 23 LMS 8F oil
42.0 1’D1′ 1350 500×660(3) 12.5 64 86 4.2 165 51  
42.40 1’D1′ 1520 535×710 14 65 89 4.3 201 58 USATC S200
51.0 1’E 1450 630×720 15 89 99 4.5 213 78  
52.0 1’E1′ 1370 560×710 14.8 75 102 5.0 217 70 Ex 52.50
52.1 1’E1′ 1295 605×660 14 82 109 6.1 254 81  
80.1 E 1260 590(1)/850(1)x630 14 69 69 3.4 135 34 KköStB 80
86.0 2’D1′-1’D2’t 1350 490×660(4) 14 118 201 6.3 336 81 Garratt

The most dramatic of the locomotives purchased by Iranian State Railways after the War were 2-10-2 Locomotives. They supplemented what was left of the locomotives from Hencshel, Krupp, and Maschinenfabrik Esslingen.

A Vulcan supplied Iranian Railways 2-10-2! [6]A pre-war 2-10-0  locomotive (Henschel 24054/1938) was photographed in 2015 by Bernd Seiler on a Farrail trip. [12]The same plinthed locomotive (Henschel 24054/1938). This time the picture shows a full three-quarter view [13]

The Vulcan Foundry Co. was a British locomotive builder sited at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. The Company produced a series of large locomotives in the 1950s for locations around the world. [35] The Company’s own records show that 40 No. 2-10-2 locomotives were made for Iranian State Railways and delivered in 1952 and a further 24 No. were delivered in 1954. These were monsters! The Vulcan Magazine article about them (from Winter 1952/53 (Volume 2 Number 8) [3][4] can be found on the website, [35] along with the Vulcan/Iranian State Railways Brochure. [6][35]

Just a few limited facts about the Vulcan 2-10-2 locomotives:-

They were built entirely to metric dimensions and set up for oil-firing rather than coal. They had a tractive effort of 49,000 lb at 85% pressure and were provided with boilers with a total evaporative heating surface of over 2,730 sq. ft. [6]

The contract for these locomotives was negotiated in 1950, they were expected to cope with trains of 592 tons (600 tonnes) on a 1.5% grade and 296 tons (300 tonnes) on a ruling 2.8% grade where curves of 22 metre radius were the norm. [3][4]

Full details can be found by following the links [3][4] and [6] in the references section below.

Ex-Russian group E from the Djulfa broad gauge line, Tabriz, Iran 1973. [1]

There were still, in the 1970s, some 5ft 3 in gauge tracks rusting away in Iran which had been built by the Russians. The adjacent picture shows an ex-Russian Steam Locomotive on broad-gauge tracks near Tabriz. The main line was converted to standard-gauge in the late 1950s to coincide with the line being built between Tabriz and Tehran in standard-gauge.

Istanbul – Tehran, Iranian 90-510, Razi border station August 1973. [1]

The broad-gauge was also evident at the border as can be seen in the next image. Broad-gauge is most clearly in evidence on the right of the picture

“In 1945, before the Cold War started, the Soviet Union got the first modern diesel engines, Db series from Baldwin, employed Tuapse – Samtrediya and Gudermes – Ordzonikidse, decorated with the Soviet star.” [1]

Diesels After the Second World War

Electroputere Sulzer Diesel Locomotives

A pair of these locomotives were sent for testing in Iran in the late 1950s. It seems as though around 10 of these locomotives were purchased. [36][37]

Name Type Specifications and Notes Maximum speed Years built
Class 60 (DA) Diesel electric 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Co-Co axle formula 100 km/h (62 mph) 1959–1981

One of three views of a pair of Co-Co Class 60 DAs led by 0518 that were sent for testing in Iran. All three pictures can be seen on the Derby Sulzer Website All three views were taken at the town of Arak. (c)  F Burdubus. The other two follow below. [23]

These were among the earliest in a long line of purchases of Diesel Locomotives by the Iranian State Railways. Details can be found on the link at reference [37] below. They included:

General Motors – EMD Locos (1950s)

Many of the early diesel purchases made in the late 1950s by Iranian State Railways were from General Motors (GM-EMD(USA)). A series of purchases began with a significant number of G12 Bo-Bo locomotives in 1957. A total of 137 of these locomotives were delivered. These were number 40.001- 40.137.A GM-EMD G12 Bo-Bo Locomotive. These locomotives had a long life having first seen service in 1957. This picture was taken in 2016, (c) blackthorn57 on Flickr (CC BY 2.0). [38]

By 1959, Iranian State Railways had also purchased 13 No. GM-EMD G8 Bo-Bo locos; and 20 No. GM-EMD G16 Co-Co locos from General Motors.A preserved G8 Locomotive in Australia, (c) Zzrbiker, English Wikipedia, (CC BY-SA 3.0). [39] A RENFE GM-EMD G16 Co-Co Locomotive in service in Spain. [40]

The G8s were of a lower power rating than the G12s, 643kW as opposed to 963kW. They were numbered 40.401- 40.413.

The G16s had two three axle bogies and a power rating of 1323kW, they were numbered 60.301-60.320.

General Motors – EMD Locos (1960s onwards)

Further purchases were made from General Motors (USA) over the years:

  • 2 No. GM-EMD G18W Bo-Bo Locomotives were purchased in 1968. Their power rating was 735kW. They were numbered 40.451-40.452. [37][45]
  • 193 No. GM-EMD GT26-CW Co-Co locomotives were bought in 1971. They had a power rating of 2205kW and were numbered 60.501-60.569, 60.801-60.914 and 60.975-984. [37][44]
  • 41 No. GM-EMD G22W Bo-Bo Locomotives were purchased and delivered in 1975 & 1982. Their power-rating was 1103kW. They were numbered 40.138-40.178. [37] Nos. 40.158-40.178 were constructed under licence by Đuro Đaković [42][43]
  • 70 No. GM-EMD GT26-CW2 Co-Co Locomotives  were purchased in 1984. Their power rating was 2205kW and they were numbered 60.915-60.974 and 60.985-60.994. All of these locomotives have three 48 inch fans instead of the standard two which is a necessary provision for hot climate of Iran. [37][41]

Locomotives from Japan (1970s)

A single contract was arranged with Hitachi for the delivery of HD10C Locomotives. It seems that these were delivered in 1971 and 1975. They had a lower power-rating (707kW)and were used for shunting. They were numbered 60.601-60.138.A Hitachi HD10C Bo-Bo at Tehran Loco depot.This picture was taken in 2016, (c) blackthorn57 on Flickr (CC BY 2.0). [38]

General Electric (Canada) (1990s)

In the 1990s Iran contracted with General Electric in Canada for the supply of further locomotives:

  • 21 No. U30C Co-Co Locomotives were purchased in 1992. They had a 2240kW power rating and carried the fleet numbers 60.2001-60.2021 [37][46][47]
  • 41 No. C30-7i Co-Co Locomotives bought in 1993 and delivered in 1993 and 1994 had a power rating of 2240kW and were numbered 60.2022-60.2062 [37][47][48]

A Union Pacific GE U30C Locomotive similar to those used in Iran. [46]A GE C30-7i in use in Estonia, (c) LHOON (CC BY-SA 2.0). [48]

Lugansk Locomotives from Ukraine (1997)

Iran bought 5 No. 2M62U Co-Co (x2) Locomotives from Lugansk in the Ukraine in 1997. They were rated at 2942kW and were used for heavy freight duties. Their wheel arrangement was unusual – Co-Co + Co-Co. They were effectively two large locomotives paired together which operated as one unit.LDz 2M62U Locomotive at Ziemeļblāzma Station, (c) Jindřich Běťák (GNU Free Documentation License). [49]

Newer Diesels (2000 onwards)

Recognise these? Pacers. Iran imported them from the UK but scrapped them long before the UK! They were exported to Iran in 2001/2 (Numbers 141001, 141004, 141006, 141008, 141010
and 141013-141019) [14][50]

Alstom Locomotives

In 2002, Alstom Locomotives were ordered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI). “Of the 100 units ordered by RAI, Alstom built the first 20 machines in its plant in Belfort, France, including 5 kits. The remainder was produced by Wagon Pars in Iran. For the 20 units built in France, Ruston supplied the engines (16 RK 215). The engines for the remaining 80 locomotives were built in Iran by DESA as agreed in a technology transfer agreement.” [51] The 100 locomotives were designated as follows:

  • 30 No. Alstom DE43CAC Co-Co Passenger Locomotives with a power rating of 2880kV and numbered 201-230. [37]
  • 70 No. Alstom DE43CAC Co-Co Freight Locomotives with a power rating of 2600kV and which were numbered 231-300. [37]

An Alstom Prima DE43 C AC. [51]

Ziyang Locomotive Co. Ltd GK1C Locomotive. [53]

CRRC Ziyang in China

Five modern diesel shunting Locomotive were purchased in 2008 from CRRC Ziyang in China. These are GK1C B-B Locomotives with a power rating of 990kW [37] although figures quoted elsewhere are higher than this [cf. 52]

Siemens “Safir” Locomotives

In In 2006 Siemens, MAPNA and the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) agreed a contact for the supply of 150 four axle Bo-Bo Locomotives. The first locomotive was manufactured by Siemens in early 2010, a further 199 were eventually supplied – the first 30 were built in Germany. [37][54] The remainder were built/assembled in manufactured in Iran under a technology transfer agreement. The value of the contract for the first 150 was $450 million (€294 million). [55]

These are single-ended passenger ER24PC locos with a power rating of 1960kW. They are sometimes referred to as “IranRunners” or “Iran Safirs”. They are numbered 1501-1700. [54]A pair of Siemens ER24PC “IranRunners” of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways at Tehran, (c) Kabelleger/David Gubler (CC BY-SA 4.0). [54]

MAPNA MLC Locomotives

MAPNA is an Iranian Industrial concern. “In 2016, a contract for production and sale of 25 MAP24 locomotives was signed between MAPNA Railway Operation Development & Maintenance Company as the clientو and MAPNA Locomotive Engineering & Manufacturing Company. The first unit of the 25-strong batch was delivered to MAPNA Railway Operation Development & Maintenance Company and started trial operation in March 2018 at Tehran depot.” [56]

The MAP24-S90 Co-Co Locomotives have a power-rating of 2238kW. [37]A MAPNA MAP24-S90 Co’Co’ Locomotive in Tehran. [56]

DMUs (Diesel Motive Power Units)

We have already noted the presence of Pacers in Iran. Other DMUs include:-

The French RTG DMU-5 Turbo Trainsets (Class T2000) which were delivered in the mid-1970s and power rated at 2020kW. four units were delivered in the mid 1970s [58]  and a further 5 were bought from SNCF in 2005. [37]French Turbotrain RTG DMU-5 (c) Bernd Seiler used with the kind permission of the photographer. [57]

20 No. DMUs from Seimens, Austria were delivered in 2004. These DH4 DMU-4 units had a 2352kW power rating. [37] They were intended, initially, for the 1000km route between Tehran and Mashhad. 5 units were built by Siemens, and Wagon Pars Co. in Iran built 15 of these units as a sub-contractor to Siemens. They were designed for a maximum operating speed on 160km/hour.DH4 DMU-4 Unit in Tehran. [59]

50 No. DMU-3 sets from Hyundai Rotem (Korea) were ordered in the early 2000s and delivered two batches in 2007 and 2016/2017, these were primarily built for suburban traffic. The delay in the delivery schedule can be accounted for by the imposition of international sanctions. [37]

A further 150 No. DMU-3 sets were the subject of negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) and Hyundai Rotem (Korea). A deal was struck in 2016 for the supply of 150 DMU cars for Raja Passenger Train Company. 50 No. of the trainsets were to be made by Hyundai Rotem and 100 no. by Iranian Rail Industries Development (IRICO). [37][60][61] Hyundai Rotem employs around 3,800 people and exports to 50 countries worldwide. [62] In 2020, the order was still being fulfilled. [37] the contract continues as a result of Hyundai-Rotem being able to recover frozen payments of US$74.7 million from Iran in 2016 which were stopped because of sanctions. [71]Hyundai-Rotem DMU-3 in Iran. [71]

Electric Locomotives

Iran has been pursuing a programme of electrification. As yet there is much to achieve in this respect. The line between Tabriz and Jolfa was electified in time to order eight Rc4, Bo-Bo 3440kW power rated locomotive from SJ (Sweden) in 1979. These locos were used for freight between Tabriz and Jolfa and, much later, for commuter trains between Tabriz-and Azarshahr. They were numbered 40-651 – 40-658.m [37][62][64]

These locomotives were known as the RAI 40-700 class. They were based on the Swedish Rc4 but with Rm-type bogies, sand-proof air filters and no round windows on the side. [63]This photo was taken in 2009 and shows a RAI 40-700 Class Electric Locomotive (c) Ghorbanalibeik [63]

New electrification projects were started with the completion in 2012 of a 46km length of line between Tabriz and Azarshahr to the south. The primary aim of electrifying the five-station single-track route at 25 kV 50 Hz wass to improve services for students travelling to the university at Azarshahr. No additional locomotives needed to be purchased to support this service. [65] 

Plans are afoot to electrify 2 lengths of railway. Negotiations started  in 2016 to make this happen. The two lengths involved are the line between Tehran and Tabriz and the line between Tehran and Mashhad. [66] Italy offered to undertake the work on the Tehran to Tabriz line. [67]

“Iran has been in talks with Germany’s Siemens as well as Chinese companies to electrify the Tehran-Mashhad Railroad. In October, Germany’s Siemens signed a contract to supply components for 50 diesel-electric locomotives, which will be used in the 926-km railroad, to Iran’s MAPNA Group. Another agreement was signed between the two companies to jointly manufacture 70 electric locomotives for the route.” [66][cf. 68]

Detailed studies for the line were completed in 2018 and construction was due to start later in that year. [69] At present, I cannot find details of the construction programme for the electrification nor of detailed plans for the manufacture of the planned 50 or 70 locomotives. Siemens withdrew from the project in 2018 after pressure from the USA. [70]


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Railways in Iran – Part 7 – Some limited reflections on Iran’s Railways in the 21st century

For Iranians, life changed dramatically in 1979.

It is easy, from a Western perspective, to assume that Iran is a country that has chosen to avoid progress. So, I have to admit to being surprised by the current state of the railways in Iran. The network has been developing at a significant pace. Since 1979 there have been a significant number of major construction projects and there have been some significant changes in motive power.

There are holiday companies [1][2][3] advertising railway trips to Iran. Given what is reported about the instability of the country and its sponsorship of, what to Western eyes are, terrorist groups, these holidays do not feel very attractive. Yet the picture on the ground in Iran is seemingly one of relatively energetic technological development. “Since the first railway project was implemented [after] the revolution, 12 railway projects, that is 4676 km of the total 10171 km of the total network have been constructed. That is about 46% of the total rail routes in the country.” [21]

I hope that this article will provide a taster of what things are like on the railways in Iran today.

Before looking at the situation in detail, here is a video which focusses on the Trans-Iranian Railway in recent times. It was shared by D6700 a member of RailUKForums as part of a thread about Iranian Railways. [4] It is produced by a German team but the dialogue is in English. It gives a good impression of technological developments and notes a reluctance from many of the people encountered to talk with the Western film-crew.

The Trans-Iranian Railway. [4]

The notes that follow are inevitably far from comprehensive and rely heavily on sources on the internet (which are all referenced). A railway map of the network in Iran in the 21st century is provided by the national rail service, Islamic Republic of Iran Railways. The schematic plan they provide is shown immediately below. Not all routes are however shown on the map.The Iran Railway Network in the 21st century. [6] 

Wikipedia [5] notes the long-distance schemes which were undertaken by the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways in the 21st century, these include:

Bafq — Kashmar                        800km     1992—2001 (but see the comments  below)

Kerman — Bam                          225km     1999—2002

Bam — Zahedan                         546km     2000—2009

Isfahan — Shiraz                         506km     2001—2009

Khorramshahr — Shalamcheh   16km     2009—2012

Gorgan — Incheh Borun              80km     2012—2013   [22]

Tehran — Hamedan                   268km     2001—2017   [23]

Arak — Kermanshah                  267km     2001—2018   [24]

In addition to long-distance services, Iran has also developed commuter service for the major cities and a series of light rail/tramway schemes too.

For example, Tehran Metro carries more than 3 million passengers a day. [7] In 2014, 815 million trips were made on Tehran Metro. As of 2019, the total system was 229 kilometres (142 miles) long, [8] 186 kilometres (116 miles) of which is metro-grade rail. It is planned to have a length of 430 kilometres (270 miles) with 9 lines once all construction is complete by 2025. [9][10]

Commuter Services are currently available in Tehran, Tabriz, Kuzestan, Lorestan, Mashhad and Mazandaran-Golestan. [5]

Commuter and Metro Services are not covered in detail in this article and will have to await  a further post as time permits. ……..

Major Schemes

Wikipedia provides the list of schemes [5] above which shows construction, commencing in 1992, of a line from Bafq to Kashmar. Farrail, however, indicates that the line from Bafq to Kashmar and on to Mashhad was not started until 2001, this is verifiable from other sources as well. [11] [12]

1. Bafq to Kashmar and Mashhad – Despite its relatively small size, [13] Bafq has become a major junction on the Iranian rail network. Kashmar is in the Northeast of the country. It is in Razavi Khorasan Province and is located near the River Sish Taraz in the western part of the province, and 217 kilometres (135 miles) south of the province’s capital Mashhad. In  the 2006 census, its population was 81,527, in 21,947 families. [14][15] The city is the fourth most important pilgrimage city in Iran. [16] It is a major producer of raisins and has about 40 types of grapes. It is also internationally recognized for exporting saffron, and handmade Persian rugs. [14] It appears to be some distance from the railway. The town of Mehneh, approximately 50km Southeast of Kashmar, is close to the railway but has no railway station. This is also true of Shadmehr, which is 55km due East of Kashmar. Mashhad is the second-most-populous city in Iran and the capital of Khorasan-e Razavi Province. It had a population of 3,372,660 (in the 2016 census), which includes the areas of Mashhad Taman and Torqabeh.[27] It was a major oasis along the ancient Silk Road connecting with Merv to the East.

Trains to Mashhad from Bafq have about 800km to travel to their destination.

As we have already noted and as shown below, the Railway Station at Bafq is on the South side of the town.Bafq Railway Station is on the South side of the town of Bafq. It shown at the bottom of this map extract [17]

East of Bafq Station a triangular junction has the line to Kerman and Bandar Abbas heading away to the South and the line to Kashmar setting off the Northeast. A short distance beyond the town limits this line also divides. The more northerly of the lines serves the Choghart Iron Ore Mine.Choghort Iron Ore Mine in February 2019 (c) Reza 39 (Google Maps). [18]Choghort Iron Ore Mine in January 2020 (c) S.I.G Group (Google Maps). [19]

The main line then also curves round to the North by-passing the industrial complex which surrounds Cloghort MIne and continues on towards Kashmar. It curves past another open-cast mining site and climbs into the hills by means of a series of loops. Mining sites and sidings are a regular occurrence on the route through the hills.

This satellite image shows the trailing connection with the branch-line which serves Chadormalu Iron Ore Processing Plant (at the bottom of the picture) and the loop which allows trains from the branch to head towards Bafq (Google Earth).

En-route through the hills a trailing junction is made with a line that serves Chadormalu Iron Ore Processing Plant and extends on some distance to Meybod. (See Part 5 of this series. [20])

Leaving Yazd Province the line enters South Khorasan Province and continues predominantly in a Northeasterly direction across open wilderness and gradually getting closer to Route 68. A long tunnel takes the line very close to the road and the two transport modes run alongside each other to Dashteqarrān and Tabas.

Tabas is the first station on the line after leaving Bafq. In the satellite images there are a signficant number of large open wagons stored in a significant number of sidings.

Tabas Railway Station is sited to the Northwest of the city (Google Earth).

Leaving Tabas, the line heads North-northwest for a distance, passing through a small station at Dehshour before once again turning towards the Northeast and then leaving South Khorasan Province and entering Rasavi Khorasan Province.

The railway line runs into more mountainous territory once again and almost immediately passes through a long tunnel. It then crosses further open plains near Neygenan. A view typical of this area can be found below the satellite images of Tabas Station.

After some distance the line passes under Route 87/91 and through the adjacent railway station pictured in the landscape satellite image further below.

A closer view of Tabas Station (Google Earth).

Before the railway passes under Route 95, the surrounding land begins to be more cultivated. The line then passes to the Southeast of Mehneh and follows Route 95 towards Torbat Heydarieh Railway Station.

The Station at Torbat Heydarieh is also shown on a satellite image below.

After passing under Route 36, the line heads in a northerly direction, looping round to gain height as it once again enters hilly terrain and then follows Route 95 once again. After a time in the mountains the railway line  returns to relatively flat land. It passes Fathabad before once again entering the hills.Open plains near Neygenan. [25]Route 87/91 and its adjacent railway station (Google Earth).Torbat Heydarieh Railway Station (Google Earth).

Closing in on its destination of Mashhad the line encounters a triangular junction close to Dizbad Pa’in. At Dizbad Pa’in, the line heading North West through Dizbad Railway Station heads for Neyshabur and the North. That running to the Southeast heads for Mashhad. Triangular junction east of Dizbad Pa’in and south of Mashhad (Google Earth).

Between Dizbad Pa’in and Mashhad, a further triangular junction sees the line to Mashhad continuing North and a line to Turkmenistan heading East. Almost immediately, trains travelling East enter Martyr Motahhari Railway Station shown on the satellite image below. The line passes through the mountains and on to Sarakhs and over the Garagumskij Canal in Turkmenistan. [22]Martyr Motahhari Railway Station (Google Maps).Mashhad Railway Station (Google Maps).

The line terminates at Mashhad, and, rather unusually for Iran, the station is well within the city limits.

2. Kerman to Zahedan via Bam: Construction started on the line from Kerman to Bam (225km)  in 1999 and was finished in 2002. The 546km line from Bam to Zahedan was started in the year 2000 and finished in 2009. In a previous article we noted that Kerman‘s population was 821,394, in 221,389 households, making it the 10th most populous city of Iran.[15]

Wikipedia comments: “Kerman is … the most important city in the southeast of Iran. It is also one of the largest cities of Iran in terms of area. Kerman is famous for its long history and strong cultural heritage. The city is home to many historic mosques and Zoroastrian fire temples. [28]

Bam‘s popluation at the 2006 census was 73,823, in 19,572 families. [15] Before the 2003 earthquake, Bam had gradually developed as an agricultural and industrial centre, and until the 2003 earthquake was experiencing rapid growth. In particular, the city is known for its dates and citrus fruit, irrigated by a substantial network of qanats (gently sloping underground channels transporting water from an aquifer or water well to surface for irrigation and drinking). [30]

Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan Province. At the 2016 census, its population was 587,730. [31]

Kerman Railway Station (Google Maps)

The new line set off from Kerman Railway Station in a Southerly direction, heading for Reyan. The Railway Station at Reyan is on the Northeast side of the town.

From Reyan, the line heads South-southeast before later turning due East, then Southeast, then East again to head for Bam.

Bam Railway Station is well outside the town limits to the South. The line so far has been relatively level.

Reyan (Ryan) Railway Station (Google Earth).Bam Railway Station (Google Earth).

Beyond Bam the railway turns East. It passes under Route 84, the Bam-Narmashir Road and then follows Route 84 (now the Zahedan-Narmashir Road) on its Northside to the state boundary. The line then enters Sistan and Baluchestan Province and leave Route 84 behind. It crosses open country gradually drifting slightly to the North of East before it encounters mountainous country. The line follows river valleys, first Northeast, then in an Easterly direction, but with tight curves and steep grades, and then predominantly in a South-southeast direction  still in mountainous country towards Shuru.

The railway leaves the mountains close to Shuru and then follows the Zahedan-Shuru Road, often switching from one side to the other of the road, to meet Route 95 beofre following Route 95 until close to Zahedan, where the line turns directly East and runs across the South side of the city.

The line runs due East across the south side of the city and then connects with the old line which served Zahedan’s Central Station – the old line linking with Pakistan. The two images immediately below show the old railway station at Zahedan.Zahedan’ Central Railway Station. One of a few which relies on a turntable to turn locomotives rather than a triangle (Google Maps).Zahedan’s Central Railway Station – The view from the concourse. [32]

There is a newer station to the South of the City just to the West of the point where the line from Bam meets the line which heads off to Pakistan. This station is shown on the satellite image below.Zahedan Railway Station (Google Maps).

3. Isfahan to Shiraz – Isfahan is almost precisely due South of Tehran. We have noted before that it is the third largest city in Iran with a population of more than 2 million people. [33] Shiraz is the fifth-most-populous city of Iran . It has a population of around 1.9 million and is one of the oldest cities of ancient Persia. [34]. The size of the population of these two cities suggests that a railway line linking the two makes economic sense, particularly given that otherwise Shiraz would have remained isolated from the rail network in Iran.

As we have already seen, the station at Isfahan is a terminus trains all leave the station heading to the Northeast before turning south to a junction with the inter-regional lines. We have already followed a line West from Isfahan to Zarrin Shahr. [35] The route to Shiraz takes that line as far as Seyd Abad Railway Station. Then, immediately south of Seyd Abad Railway Station a junction allows the railway to Shiraz to head East back towards Route 65 (the Isfahan-Shahreza Expressway). The road and railway share the same corridor to Shahreza.

Shahreza Railway Station is situated on the Southwest side of the city, immediately adjacent to the Ring Road (Route 65) and the line and road continue roughly together to the Isfahan Province boundary and then enter Fars Province. The line follows along the Southwest side of Route 65 (now the Shahrez-Abadeh Expressway) to Abadeh Railway Station and then passes under Route 78 (Eqlid-Sumaq Road) and heads through open country to meet Route 65 (now the Abadeh-Safashahr Expressway) again.

South of Safashahr Railway Station the line runs on the East side of Route 65 (Sa’adatshahr- Safashahr Expressway) before heading away to the South-southeast and then South across the Qaderabad-Harat Road and then through open country in a westerly direction before running for a short distance alongside the Qaderabad Road before following Route 65 (Sa’adatshahr- Safashahr Expressway) into Sa’adat Shahr railway station. From there the railway stays alongside Route 65 (now the the Marvdasht-Sa’adatshahr Expressway). The line and road trun south for a short distance before they separate temporarily. The railway curves away to the West through an outcrop and then emerges from a short tunnel and back to align with Route 65, adjacent to a village called Khalaftahuneh. It then heads generally in a Southwesterly direction towards the city of Shiraz, crossing the Nahr-Azam River and entering Shiraz Railway Station.

Shiraz Railway Station (Google Maps).

The picture below shows the view of the station at Shiraz on the approach from the main road.Shiraz Railway Station in 2016 (c) Hussein Karim Almaliki (Google Maps [36]

4. Khorramshahr to Shalamcheh – this is a short, 16 km length of line in the South of the country. Khorramshahr  was used as an alternative port during the Second World War and a line was built from there North to join the Trans-Iranian Railway. This resulted in a significant increase in the port capacity for the supply effort to Russia during the War.

Passenger Train en-route between Khorramshahr and Shalamcheh, (Google Maps).

Khorramshahr is also known as Muhammarah. In the 2016 census its population was 133,097. It is an inland port city located approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) north of Abadan. The city extends to the right bank of the Arvand Rud waterway near its confluence with the Haffar arm of the Karun river. [37]

Shalamcheh is situated on the border with Iraq, north-west of Abadan. The town was one of the main sites of invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War. Some 50,000 Iranians died in the fighting around the town, and there is today a war memorial in their memory. [38]

The line West from Khorramshahr appears to be truncated some distance short of the border at Shalamcheh with no evidence of more than a single line running to a terminus and no obvious station. However, Google Earth’s imagery close to the border comes from 2004 while only a short distance to the East the imagery comes from 2016. The line is visible in the 2016 imagery and, unsurprisingly (as it was built between 2009 and 2012), not visible on the 2004 imagery.

There are plans at present (2019/2020) to extend this rail link to Basra in Iraq. [39][40][41][42] This would create a rail corridor running between Iran and Syria.

5. Gorgan to Incheh Borun 

Gorgan lies approximately 400 km (250 mi) to the north east of Tehran, some 30 km (19 mi) away from the Caspian Sea. In the 2006 census; its population was 269,226, in 73,702 families. [15][43]

Incheh Borun is little more than a small town on the border between Iran and Turkmenistan. At the 2006 census its population was 1,764, in 334 families.[15][44] Its station is about 1 km Northwest of the small town.

Gorgan Railway Station (Google Maps).

The line from Gorgan to Incheh Borun forms part of the Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran transit corridor east of the Caspian Sea which is being developed under a 2007 agreement between the three countries. The section within Kazakhstan was opened on 11th May 2013, and the Turkmen section was under construction in 2013. Bogie changing facilities are to be provided at the break of gauge in Incheh Borun. [22] The Iranian section, a length of 80 km (50 miles) was completed in 2013. The full line was opened in 2014. [45]

The line from Bandar Torkaman travels East to Gorgan. Around 15 to 20 km short of Gorgan there is a junction. The line into Gorgan continues Eastward and the line to the border turns to the North and follows Route 73 to Incheh Borun.

Transfer facilities are provided at Incheh Borun to allow for the change of gauge between the two countries. Iran uses the international standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in). Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan use the Russian standard gauge of 1,520 mm.

6. Tehran to Hamedan (Hamadan)

Hamedan (Hamadan) is believed to be among the oldest Iranian cities. It is possible that it was occupied by the Assyrians in 1100 BCE; the Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, states that it was the capital of the Medes, around 700 BCE. At the 2016 census, its population was 676,105 in 210,775 families. [46]

Construction of the line between the two cities was started in 2001 but not finished until 2017. [5] Work stopped in 2004 before being restarted after the easing of sanctions in 2015. [23]

Hamedan Railway Station is sited some distance Northeast of the city itself. The line now continues South of Hamedan for no more than a kilometre. I guess to allow for future expansion of the railway network.

Just North of the station a junction allows for trains to travel towards Tehran (first heading North) and for a route travelling in a Northwesterly diirection which at the time the Google satellite images were taken in the  first quarter of the 21st century was under construction.

The route to Tehran first heads North for some 15 to 16 kilometres before running parallel to Route 37/48 in a Northeastlerly direction, and then parallel to the Saveh to Hamedan Freeway (No. 6) in a more easterly direction. It passes under Route 47 and continues to follow the same transport corridor as the Freeway (at times running immediately adjacent to the road. Route 48 re-appears and for a reasonable distance takes up an alignment between the Freeway and the railway. Close to Nowbaran Route 48 crosses the railway, as in a kilometre or two, does the Freeway.

The Freeway and the railway continue to follow similar paths but with the railway now on the North side of the Freeway as far as Saveh Railway Station.

Saveh Railway Station is 6 or 7 kilometres North-northwest of the city. A little to the East of Saveh, the land begins to rise and the railway and the Freeway find their own way into the hills. Beyond this point it is the Tehran to Saveh Freeway (No. 5) that the track follows.

A line from the South meets the Tehran-Hamedan line near Parandak and from this point two lines head Northeast. The more southerly of these lines passes through Roodshur Railway Station.And then through a series of sharp curves to gain height while also crossing the Shur river valley.The more Northerly of the two lines climbs more steadily and in a gracefully curved bridge crosses the Shur valley.The two lines eventually come togther as they approach Robat Karim Railway Station in Vahidieh on the Southwestern apporaches to Tehran. The line then passes through Kolmeh Station and Eslamshahr Station on the southside of Aprin and on into Tehran.

7. Arak to Kermanshah 

This is another line for which construction started in 2001 and was then held up by sanctions. Completion was finally achieved in 2018. It needed 175 kilometres of track laying across a difficult terrain which included building three kilometres of tunnels and seven large bridges. [24]

Kermanshah is located 525 kilometres (326 miles) from Tehran in the western part of Iran. According to the 2016 census, its population was 946,681 (and the 2019 estimate is 1,046,000). [47]

Arak has a population of 526,182, in 160,761 families. [15] The city is nicknamed the “Industrial Capital of Iran”. Arak produces around 50% of the needs of the country in steel, petrochemical, and locomotive industries. [48]Kermanshah Railway Station (c) Mohammad Yousefvand, (Google Maps).

Kermanshah sits adjacent to the border with Iraq in Iran’s western hills. As befits a line completed in the last few years, its station is of a highly modern design.

The line from Kermanshah heads East under the City By-pass – Route 48 – and then runs parallel to Route 48 on its Southern side, crossing under Route 35 and then over the Gamasiab River near Faraash. Route 48 stays on the Western side of the river.

The railway passes from Kemanshah Province into Lorestan Province and finds itself travelling through hilly terrain. It, once again, crosses the River Gamasiab and follows its Northern slopes into the hills. In a short distance along the valley the line leaves Lorestan Province and enters Hamadan Province. Three crossings of the River Gamasiab are quickly followed by a short curved tunnel and then another bridge close to Khalenjah. Now, once again, on the North side of the river, two tunnels precede another crossing of the River Khorram Rud, a tributary of the Gamasiab.

The railway is now on the higher plateau and turns to the North, passing under Route 52 and entering another curving tunnel in which it turns to the East. The land here appears much more fertile.  The line travels a distance alongside Route 52, through the Railway Station at Firuzan.The two, road and rail, separate soon after Firuzan Station with Route 52 heading way to the South. Later the line crosses Route 37 (the Malayer to Borujerd Highway).


Malayer Railway Station (Google Streetview).Malayer Railway Station (c) Jabbar Sattari, (Google Maps).Malayer Railway Station (Google Maps).

After the Station, the Railway passes under the Arak-Malayer Highway. The Highway and the Railway then share a transport corridor past Zangeneh and Cheshme Zoragh before the railway turns South-southwest leaving the highway heading East-southeast. The line passes to the West of Jalayer and then curves sharply to the East and rejoins the Arak-Malayer Highway which when it is joined by the Arak-Borujerd Highway becomes Route 56.

Shazand Oil Refinery (c) homayoun varzeshdost (Google Maps).

Close to Hesar and Tureh the road turns North and the Railway passes to the South of Hesar. On the North side of Akbar Abad the line turns sharply to the North, running past the Shazand Oil Refinery.

It rejoins the Arak-Borujerd Highway (Route 56) just before entering The Railway Station at Samangan.

Samangan Railway Station, (Google Maps).

The Road and Railway contiue together through Feyjan Bala and Senejan where the separate once again as the Road follows the North side of the increasingly urbanised area and the Railway, the South and then runs into Arak Railway Station.

Arak Railway Station (Google Maps).




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Railways in Iran – Part 12 – Photographs from the Second World War

While searching for information about the railways of Iran on the internet I came across a set of photographs taken by one particular soldier in Iran during the Second World War. The photos are held at the Lancaster City Museum which provides a home for the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum. [1]

I contacted the Museum with a view to including some of these photographs in my article about the Railway of Iran between 1910 and 1945. The curator, Peter Donnelly, was very happy for me to do this and commented:

“I am happy that you can use the images with a link back to the King’s Own website. They are an interesting collection of photos from a former King’s Own soldier, and would always be good to know a little more about them!” [2]

On reflection, and with the museum’s approval, it seems to me that rather then hiding these photos within the text of another article, I should give them a more prominent place in this series of articles by allocating a post to those images and only then referencing them in the article which covers the period of the Second World War in Iran.

The photographer was Sergeant Frederick Winterburn and he has eleven pages of photographs on the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum’s website. The eleventh page of these relates to his service in Iran. [3] His photographs carry the overall reference KO2953 and the photographs from Iran are in the range 220 to 324. They are protected by copyright asserted by the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum and they are used with permission. [2]

Frederick Winterburn enlisted into the King’s Own Royal Regiment on 18th September 1931, as number 3710004, signing up for seven years regular service and five in the reserve. He left the regiment in 1938, but was recalled from the Reserve on the outbreak of the Second World War. In February 1940 he transferred to the Royal Engineers and served with Number 159 Railway Construction Company in Iran and Italy. His peace time job appeared to have been with the permanent way department of London Transport, thus his service with the Railway Construction Company would appear logical. [3][4]

The collection of documents and photographs covers his service with both the 1st Battalion, King’s Own and the Railway Construction Company. The material held by the museum is available on eleven web-pages and includes:

  1. Index of documents and photographs [3]
  2. Documents and booklets
  3. Funerals in Egypt
  4. Funeral of Lieutenant Colonel Irvine, Commanding 1st Battalion, King’s Own
  5. Soldier Portraits and Groups
  6. 1st Battalion King’s Own in Egypt 1930-32
  7. 1st Battalion King’s Own and Wellington, Southern India
  8. Miscellaneous Photos
  9. Ships and Boats
  10. Colombo, Ceylon
  11. Railways and 159 Railway Construction Company [4]

It is the last page of these which interests us in this series of articles.

All the photographs can be accessed on line and I have reproduced here a selection of the one’s most relevant to the series of articles I have been writing about the Railways of Iran. The page heading is: Railways and 159 Railway Construction Company, Royal Engineers, Second World War.

This first picture shows men hard at work digging foundations. It is not possible to ascertain whether the excavation is railway related, all that can be said is that the work is taking place in close proximity to the railway. At the rear of the picture it is possible to make out a railway embankment and the railway itself. Given the sequence of these photographs, this is most likely to have been taken in Iran. Reference No. KO2953/220.

This picture of a group of soldiers was taken in 1942 and probably shows members of the 159 Railway Construction Company, Royal Engineers, in Iran. Reference No. KO2953/238

This photograph shows the site of a railway accident, a run-away train, near Shahzand in Persia, now Iran, in 1942. The incident took place on 4th November 1942. The picture shows the recovery operation underway.  This is the first of a sequence of images which relate to the accident. Reference No. KO2953/242. The reference numbers for the other photographs that Winterburn took that day are: KO2953/243 to KO2953/247

Loading of goods wagons, probably somewhere along the length of the Trans-Persian (Trans-Iranian) Railway. Reference No. KO2953/248

This image shows a soldier posing alongside what was probably the Trans-Iranian Railway. The tunnel portal is typical of those built for the Trans-Iranian. Reference No. KO 2953/265

Tehran Railway Station, Iran during the Second World War. Reference No. KO2953/275.

Railway sidings and the station at Tehran, Persia, now Iran, in the Second World War. Reference No. KO2953/276

This Locomotive is a 2-8-2 tender locomotive in use during the War. This is an excellent picture of a USATC S-200 class locomotive designed by Capt. Howard Hill in late 1940. Despite their magnificence, these locomotives were unable to pull the loads required of them in the Elburz mountains and were used in conjunction with Beyar-Garratt articulated locomotive. These locos would cover the distances where the grades were not too steep and the Beyer-Garratts were reserved for the steep 2.8% grades in the mountains – particularly between Pol-e-Sefid and the summit at Gaduk. The loco bears the number 42405 The first two digits specify its Class using the continental notation which is based on axles rather than wheels – 4 powered axles coupled together and 2 axles which have the smaller wheels are are purely load-bearing gives the Class number of 42, 405 is the engine number in that Class. Reference No. KO2953/277.

The locomotive depot in Tehran during the Second World War. Reference No. KO2953/278.

Railway locomotive in collision with run-away tanker wagons, between Samangan and Shahzand, Persia, now Iran on 4th February 1943. Reference No. KO2953/279. This is one of two photographs of this accident the second one is reference KO2953/280.

Recovering of railway locomotive which had run into the traverser-pit at the locomotive depot in Tehran. Reference No. KO2953/281

A fantastic action photograph take in very close proximity to the running lines of the Trans-Iranian Railway and high in the mountains. Notice the snow on the hills adjacent to the tracks. This is a steam-powered goods train. Reference No. KO2953/283.

Another USATC S-200 class 2-8-2 designed by Capt. Howard Hill in late 1940. The 2-8-2 locomotive has failed to wait for the turntable to be aligned and as a result has lost its tender into the turntable pit. A second 2-8-2 is working to re-rail the stricken locomotive. Reference No. KO2953/323. Another picture was taken on the same occasion and referenced KO2953/324, but not reproduced here, allows the stricken locomotive to be identified  as a USATC S-200 class 2-8-2  No. 42452.

I find these photographs fascinating. There are an amazing range of photographs on the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum site. I encourage others to access their site. [1]


  1., accessed on 8th April 2020.
  2. Email 11.45am 9th April 2020, from
  3., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  4., accessed on 8th April 2020.

Railways in Iran – Part 5 – From 1980 to 1999

For Iranians, life changed dramatically in 1979.

It is easy, from a Western perspective, to assume that Iran became a country that has opted out of progress. Clearly, in late 1979 and the early 1980s there was a significant hiatus in the life of the country but this was temporary and as the 1980s progressed the economy began to improve and new railways became something of a touchstone by which to judge economic progress and growth.

Wikipedia [5] highlights the long-distance schemes which were undertaken by the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways between 1979 and 1999, these include:

Route Length in km Date of Construction
Bafq — Bandar-Abbas 626 1982—1995
Mashhad — Sarakhs 165 1993—1997
Aprin — Maleki 24 1993—1997
Badrud — Meibod (Meybod) 254 1996—1998
Aprin — Mohammediya 122 1994—1999
Chadormalu — Meibod (Meybod) 219 1992—1999
Mohammediya-2 — Mohammediya-1 6 1994—1999 (but see below – the build time for this length of railway seems overly long and interestingly matches that for the Aprin to Mohammediya line)
Bafq — Kashmar (and Mashhad) 800 1992—2001 (but see the note on this line below)
Kerman — Bam 225 1999—2002 (this line is essentially integral to the line to Zahedan. It has therefore been left to be covered alongside the longer extension in a future post

Construction work was on a significant scale. The revolution may have resulted in a temporary halt to major construction work but the emphasis must be on the word ‘temporary’ as by 1982 major work on the line between Bafq and Bandar-Abbas was underway. The 626 km length of this line took 13 years to complete.

The long-distance major rail schemes tabulated above are:

Bafq — Bandar-Abbas: Bafq in Yazd Province, at the 2006 census,had a population of 30,867 in 7,919 families. [11] Bandar Abbas is a port city and capital of Hormozgān Province  on the Persian Gulf in the South fo Iran. The city occupies a strategic position on the narrow Strait of Hormuz, and it is the location of the main base of the Iranian Navy.  At the 2016 census, its population was 526,648. Bandar Abbas was a small fishing port of about 17,000 people in 1955, prior to initial plans to develop it as a major harbour. By 2001, it had grown into a major city. [12]

As we have already noted, this railway line extends for 626km and was built in the period from 1982 to 1995. Bafq is located on the Yazd to Kerman line. The line to Bandar Abbas branches off the older line to Kerman to the East the Railway Station, which is on the south side of the town..Bafq Railway Station at a busy time (Google Earth).This satellite image has picked up a train travelling from Bafq to Bandar-Abbas a few kilometres to the Southeast of Bafq (Google Earth). This is one a a signifcant number of trains which can easily be picked out on satellite images. The line, while being single track, is well-used.Typical of the line as it passes through the Weestern part of Kerman Prvince and through Anar county close to the station at Bayaz. [14]

Ahmad Abad Railway Station

Sirjan Railway Station.

On leaving the Yazd Province, the line crosses Kerman Province, passing through stations such as Bayaz, Ahmad Abad, Khatunabad and Sirjan before entering Hormozgān Province,

On its way South the line served a number of different mineral and other concerns. Often providing a series of exchange sidings at the end of a branch-line. An example is shown on the landscape satellite image below the satellite image of Sirjan Railway Station.

The scenery in Hormozgān Province is much more mountainous and the railway passes through a myriad of relatively short tunnels on its way South.The line follows the River Rostam through the mountains, crossing it a number of times.

The exchange sidings shown below are just to the West of a large triangular junction which is shown on the following satellite image at a smaller scale.

At the triangular junction, one line heads almost due East for few kilometres to serve Bander- Abbas passenger station which appears on the satellite image below. The station sits on the North side of the city.

The other line heads South to the Hormozgan Steel Company and then on to the docks.

Bandar Abbas serves as a major shipping point, mostly for imports, and has a long history of trade with India, particularly the port of Surat. Thousands of tourists visit the city and nearby islands including Qeshm and Hormuz every year.

Bandar Abbas Railway Station (Google Earth).The Hormozgan Steel Company (Google Earth).The Hormozgan Steel Company in 2015 (c) Ali Nik (Google Maps) [15]

Wikipedia provides the table [5] above which shows construction of two further lines commencing in 1992 – a line from Bafq to Kashmar, and a line between Chadormalu and Meibod. Together, these two lines would have amounted to around 1020Km of railway.

Farrail, however, indicates that the line from Bafq to Kashmar and on to Mashhad was not started until 2001, and that the only line commenced in 1992 was that between Chadormalu and Meibod, this is verifiable from other sources as well. [22] [24]

Chadormalu to Meibod (Meybod)

Meybod Railway Station is on the line between Yazd and Qom. Meybod Railway Station is a few kilometres to the West of the city. In the 2006 census, Meybod had a population of  58,295, in 15,703 families. [6][23].Meibod (Meybod) Railway Station (Google Earth).The junction between the Qom-Yazd railway and that linking Meybod and Aghda is a few kilometres to the Northwest of Meybod (Google Earth) The point where the Maybod-Aghda line and the Qom-Aghda lines meet is just visible in the bottom right of the satellite image.

From the West, trains from Aghda line turn sharply away from the route to Yazd , turning through nearly 180° to head first due North towards Qom. For trains from the South, the route to Qom turns away North from the line to Aghda just north of Meybod Railway Station. Those two lines then converge as they head North, as shown in the staellite image below.Just before passing under the modern Route 71, Naein to Ardakan Expressway and entering Ardakan Railway Station, the two lines finally join, as shown in the adjacent image.

Then to the North of Ardakan Railway Station the line to Qom and the line to Chadormalu diverge. The junction is literally at the top edge of the adjacent satellite image.

From Ardakan the line to Chadormalu turns Northeast and converges on the Qom-Chadormalu line. Once the two meet the railway continues heading Northeast for some distance.

The first set of hills encountered diverts the railway first to the East and then require it to loop its way through the topography and head off in a southeasterly direction as shown on the satellite image above. The line continues in this direction, passing under Route 68 and then turning East at a point which means that it avoids the next range of hills to the East. It passes to the South side of those hills and then continues and a predominantly Easterly direction to Chadormalu.

Wikipedia tells us that Chadormalu Iron Ore Mine and processing plant are situated in an otherwise uninhabited stretch of the Dasht-e Kavir desert about 180 km northeast of Yazd and 300 km south of Tabas, about 40 km off the Yazd – Tabas road. The ore deposits at Chadormalu were discovered in 1940 and construction of the mine complex began in 1994. Production was started in 1999. In the same year, the site was connected to the Iranian rail network near Meybod. [25]

An relatively short distance further to the East the line now joins the Bafq-Kashmar-Mashhad line which is described below.

Bafq to Mashhad via Kashmar – Despite its relatively small size, [11] Bafq has become a major junction on the Iranian rail network. Kashmar is in the Northeast of the country. It is in Razavi Khorasan Province and is located near the River Sish Taraz in the western part of the province, and 217 kilometres (135 miles) south of the province’s capital Mashhad. In  the 2006 census, its population was 81,527, in 21,947 families. [6][16] The city is the fourth most important pilgrimage city in Iran. [17] It is a major producer of raisins and has about 40 types of grapes. It is also internationally recognized for exporting saffron, and handmade Persian rugs. [16] Mashhad is the second-most-populous city in Iran and the capital of Khorasan-e Razavi Province. It had a population of 3,372,660 (in the 2016 census), which includes the areas of Mashhad Taman and Torqabeh.[3][4] It was a major oasis along the ancient Silk Road connecting with Merv to the East.

Wikipedia suggests that construction of this line started in the 1990s, [5] however, other, possibly more reliable, sources suggest otherwise. [1][2] This line has therefore been allocated to the subsequent article on Iran’s railways which deals with the period from the year 2000 onwards.

Mashhad to Sarakhs – this line runs from Mashhad [3] to Sarakhs was once a stopping point along the Silk Road, and in its 11th century heyday had many libraries. [7] Much of the original city site is now just across the border at Serakhs in Turkmenistan. According to the national census, in 2006, the city’s population was 33,571 in 8,066 families[6][8]

Southeast of Mashhad, a triangular junction sees the line South towards Kahmar and Bafq turning away to the Southwest and the line to Serakhs and Turkmenistan heading East. Almost immediately, trains travelling East enter Martyr Motahhari Railway Station shown on the satellite image below. The line then travels in a predominantly Easterly direction, passing to the North of Razavieh and under the Mashhad to Sarakhs Road (Route 22) and following that road, on its North side until reaching Razavieh Railway Station and then climbs through the mountains. It continues to follow Route 22 for some way before striking off to the South-east of the road looking for the most suitable route through the topography a little to the Southwest of Mazdavand. The line tunnels under the two highest ridges in the mountain range as shown below, before winding back down under the Paskamar Road and onto more level ground.By this time the railway is travelling in a North-northeasterly direction. It meets the Mashhad to Sarakhs Road (Route 22) once again just a kilometre or two before running into Sarakhs Railway Station. The line runs Southwest to Northeast across the satellite image below. The Railway Station is in the centre of the image.Sarakhs Railway Station sits between two large marshalling yards (Google Maps).

Just beyond Sarakhs the line corsses the border into Turkmenistan and continues to cross the Garagumskij (Karakum) Canal in that country. [9][10]

Aprin to Maleki – This line was built in the period from 1993 to 1997 and was the first part  of a longer line which linked Maleki to Mohammediya via Aprin. Aprin is in the Southwestern suburbs of Tehran. The satellite image below shows the town boundaries as a red line with a railway sitting just to the North. There is seemingly little to suggest why this became an important line until we begin to look at what has been happening since the relaxation of sanctions in 2015. Aprin is to be a significant transport hub and will be developed over a number of years. International contractors and rail companies have become involved in what is a major infrastructure development in the 21st century. Called Aprin Dry Port, the facility will connect Iran’s port cities to the centre of the country in Tehran and will act as Iran’s central cargo train intersection, The contract for the work was signed in September 2016. It is a 25 years contract which will receive an investment of $30 million for its first phase, which will take 2.5 years to become operational. Plans were made for this development in the late 1970s but are only coming to fruition in the early 21st century. [11][14]

Trains will be able to load containers directly from ships at Persian Gulf ports and carry them to Aprin in 60 hours. Clearance procedures will be undertaken at Aprin. The contractor has guaranteed a minimum load traffic of 400,000 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) through the port. The railways company is also planning to develop a double-stack rail transport system from Bandar Abbas (port city by the Persian Gulf) to Aprin in two years. [11][14]

The dry port is especially significant since it is being developed at the same time as the North-South Corridor is under construction. The international corridor will take cargos from India on board ships to Iran, and from there to Azerbaijan, Moscow, and eventually Europe. [11][14]

Looking at a wider area around Aprin on Google Earth shows a very significant concentration of rail lines in the immediate vicinity of Aprin, the satellite image immediately below shows these lines.The rail network in the immediate vicinity of Aprin (Google Maps).

The line leaving the satellite image above on the top right runs across Tehran to link with the main line. just to the west of Tehran Railway Station. There are a number of loactaios in Tehran which are marked as ‘Maleki’ on Google Maps, one is just to the East of Tehran Railway Station a little to the North of the locomotive depot. I cannot be sure of the location of the Maleki referred to in the Wikipedia article. [5] The name is, however, used consistently in other sources, [eg. 25]

The line leaving the Satellite image of Aprin above in the bottom left runs to Mohammediya and beyond. It crosses an open plain with no significant features.Mohammediya Railway Station (Google Maps)Mohammediya Railway Station in 2017(Google Maps)

It is of particular interest that the line form Maleki through to Mohammediya via Aprin was built between 1993 and 1999 as it indicates that the proposed dry port in Aprin was in the minds of the Iranian regime in the 1990s. It is now part of modern Iranian plans for six such dry ports country-wide. [28][29]

A dry port is a terminal situated in an inland area with rail connections to one or more container seaports. A container freight train service runs between the seaports and the dry port, on a service timetable that is integrated with the schedules of the container ships arriving at the seaport. [28][30]

Badrud to Meibod (Meybod) Badrud is in Isfahan Province. At the 2006 census, its population was 14,391, in 3,709 families. [27]. The line from Meybod was constructed between 1996 and 1998. Its railway station is to the South-southeast of the town as can be seen on the Satellite image below.Bad (Badrud) and its Railway Station (Google Maps).Badrud Railway Station (Google Maps).

The Railway Station is just to the West of a railway junction, as can be seen above. The route South heads up into the nearby hills, through Espidan Railway Station and on to join the railway to the East of Sejzi Railway Station, below.

Sejzi Railway Station (Google Maps)

The line heading Southeast from Badrud, travels through Zavareh and Naein Railway Stations before leaving Istafan Provence and entering Yazd Province and reaching Meybod. The line predominantly runs in a Southeast to South-southeast direction over its full length.

Mohammediya-2 — Mohammediya-1 – this is a very short stretch of line which was built between 1994 and 1999. The six kilometres involved took 5 years to complete.  Mohammediya appears to sit very close to QOm – just to its Southeast and the line from Aprin appears to make a 90 degree junction with the Main line just to the South of QOM. I have been unable to dientify the position of a second location within 6km of distance of Mohammediya Station, although it is less than 10km from the main line. Other sources [eg. 25] do not separate the construction of the railway in this location into separate parts, seemingly including this section in with teh whole line from Aprin to Mohammediya.


  1., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  2. M. Frybourg et B. Seiler; Globe Trotter : Des trains en Iran; Objectif Rail n°77 September/October 2016, p 68-85.
  3., accessed on 6th April 2020.
  4. “Razavi Khorasan (Iran): Counties & Cities – Population Statistics in Maps and Charts”., accessed on 6th April 2020, and quoted by Wikipedia in reference [3] above.
  5., accessed on 29th March 2020.
  6. Census of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1385 (2006); Islamic Republic of Iran. Archived from the original (Excel) on 11th November 2011 and quoted by Wikipedia in references 8,11, 12, 16……………………………………………. below.
  7. Sarakhs city in Khorasan Razavi province; Travel to Iran, Visit Iran; Iran Tourism & Touring. The website is which was created by, Sirang Rasaneh, accessed on 10th April 2020 and quoted in reference [8] below.
  8., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  9., accessed on 6th April 2020 and quoted in reference [5] above.
  10., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  11., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  12., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  13., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  14., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  15.خروج-چند-واگن-باری-در-بلاک-اضطراری-بیاض, accessed on 4th April 2020.
  16., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  17., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  18. “دومین شهر زیارتی خراسان رضوی”., quoted in reference 16 above and noted on 4th April 2020. This article is not written in English and will need translation software it it is to be read in English.
  19., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  20.,55.4698463,3a,75y/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipPYLmKr21Z-kKbP9-liOIvQOc7bUKvobIJgUXTI!2e10!3e12!!7i4128!8i3096!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3fa82f568572170b:0x5a1d010a9aa87c!2sBafgh,+Yazd+Province,+Iran!3b1!8m2!3d31.6216425!4d55.4139392!3m4!1s0x3fa8273801690549:0x2c64d562f8ad363!8m2!3d31.700303!4d55.4698473#, accessed on 4th April 2020.
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  23., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  24., accessed on 4th April 2020.
  25. M. Frybourg et B. Seiler; Globe Trotter : Des trains en Iran; Objectif Rail n°77 September/October 2016, p 68-85.
  26., accessed on 10th April 2020.
  27., accessed on 13th April 2020.
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  29., accessed on 13th April 2020.
  30., accessed on 13th April 2020.

Railways in Iran – Part 8 – Foreign Articles – Collection B

More from the SJK Postvagen Forum. As noted in my previous article, I have used Google Translate to perform a basic translation of each piece and then I have sought to clarify and paraphrase what has resulted from the automatic translation. I trust that this continues to be of interest. …

in this post we have lengthy ‘excerpts’ from a book by Ingolf Boison, the director of a documentary made about the Railways of Iran just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is very clear, when watching the full film, that construction of the lines shown had only very recently been completed. The book: Banen Skal Bygges Paa Seks Aar (The Railway Built in 6 years). The film:  “Iran – Det Nye Persien.”  Details of the film are provided in the references below. The film is worth watching, however, the commentary is in Danish. [1][2]  The book tells a great story and with translation software it is all worth reading. I have limited myself to just translating the text where there are links (however tenuous) with the railway itself. Most of the references within the text are to the Northern section of the Trans-Iranian Railway.

1. The material in italics below is translated from the original Danish. It is a lengthy, but interesting account! it is made up of chapters from a book about the filming of a hour long documentary. The original Danish text can be found on the SJKPostvagen platform. In some places the text has been slightly abridged. [1] Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are immediately below. [1: p38-78]

Chapter 6: A Deal made with a Handshake – We did not come to Iran as tourists, we had a big job ahead of us and we’re keen to start. We were staying with Engineer Saxild in his splendid home on the outskirts of Tehran, ‘Villa Kampsaxa’, and as soon as we had unpacked, the discussions about  preparing for filming began.  We did not have a ready-made screenplay from home, not even a fixed plan for the film’s story.  The request to undertake this project came at very short notice, we did not have time to sit in Copenhagen and write a screenplay for a documentary film about “Iran and the Trans-Iranian Railway” – which was the assignment that we had been giving assignment solved.  Engineer Saxild had travelled to Tehran a week before us, and prior to his departure he had only had the opportunity to briefly tell us about the country and the work.  We had looked at maps and studied photographs and had realized that it was a great story that we were going to try to squeeze into a movie of an hour’s length. It was not just a cinematic task showing the work of Danish Engineers in a strange land. It was much more than that. 

We are so insular at home in Denmark, that we neglect our skilled people’s efforts abroad.  Very infrequently do we have their work documented.This film was very important and had to succeed if Danes were to understand the work completed by their countrymen alongside comrades from Sweden and Norway. The collaboration between Nordic engineers  made a deep impression on one, it was essential for the success of the work. This well-oiled organization, involved 55,000 Workers working  600 million hours, 0.5 million tons of Cement, 2 million cubic metres of masonry, 1.5 million sleepers and 10,000 tons of rail, to build 1000 km of railway in Iran, and the contract was agreed with a handshake.

Could we manage to explain to people at home how the Nordic Community works out here in the Orient? How Swedes and Norwegians are not just nice people from a couple of neighboring countries, partners together with us. It was not only at enjoyable gatherings in the Scandinavian Club or in the spartan engineering houses on the line that one felt it, but across the whole working community, which for eight months we were permitted to be a little part of. Real Nordic co-operation is occurring down here, and it the rhythm of this work and its results that we have been tasked with portraying. The task required all our energy. Great confidence was shown in us, and at times the responsibility was almost crushing.

Initially, there was no talk of a Danish version of the film at all. For the time being, a Persian version was to be made which was intended to honor the Shah, and a French version, which could shown to the many employees of the Kampsax Consortium and their relatives.

After our first night in Villa Kampsax, we sat in the evening in a corner of the large living room, talking movies. An acute attack of gastroenteritis had forced me into a rather unplanned retreat when the dessert was served.  I was now sitting, trying to cure my stomach with with strong Coffee, Cognac and a good Danish Cigar. I was trying, together with Axel (Lerche), to find out how a Danish engineering company was sat here in Tehran as Counselor to the Shah and responsible for the construction of 1000km of railway, part of which runs through some of the world’s most inaccessible mountain regions. Engineer Saxlld had invited five of his employees to this share lunch with us and to participate in the planning of our work. We had already received a wealth of factual and technical information on the construction of the Trans-Iran Railway, but we asked to hear the about whole adventure from the beginning. Who better to tell us than those we were with that evening.

Engineer Erik Kayser (the Technical Director for the Southern end of the line from Tehran to the Persian Gulf) sat next to our host. Chief Engineer Mogens Blach was also with us. He was the overseer the construction of the Southern Line and also undertook the survey of the line. Also with us were, the jovial Norwegian, Karl Olsen, Chief Engineer for the completed Northern Line between Tehran and the Caspian Sea, Engineer Aage Jensen, who was looking to help us organize filming on the Southern Line, and the Kampsax Consortium’s Secretary General, John Petersen. All were tried and tested veterans in the employ of the Consortium.

“Everything started at Trollhåttan as far back as 1913,” said Engineer Saxild. “The Danish engineering firm Saabye & Lerche, which had carried out several contracts in Sweden, had been assigned to build a small section of the railway from Trollhåttan to Nossebro. The contract was completed, but, partly because of some unforeseen technical difficulties, and partly because the company had to pay costs as a result of a forest fire caused by a Tipper Truck, the work was completed at a loss. Saabye & Lerche took the this on the chin and did not seek compensation.”

“Someone in Trollhattan noticed this and promised that he would seek to repay Saabye & Lerche for their positive attitude. His name was Major John Nystrom, one of the leaders of the large Swedish locomotive company, Nydquist & Holm, and he kept his word.”

“In 1917, Kampmann, Kierulff and I,” said Saxild, “had started our Company, and in the course of a few years we had very full order books, both at home in Denmark and in England, where we had formed a subsidiary called Saxild & Partners. I had no desire to stay in England for a time it was neceessary.”

“Nystrom,” Engineer Kayser added, “did not forget his 12-year-old promise to Saabye & Lerche, even though it was twelve years old,”

Engineer Saxild continued, lighting a cigarette. “Our work in England was in full swing, and I was visiting Copenhagen, where Kampmann and Kierulff had a lot to do, including some port facilities in Jutland. It was a Saturday afternoon in October 1926. We were sitting in the office in Vestergade and about to go home when the telephone rang. It was Engineer Saabye. He asked us to come to a meeting that afternoon. Major Nystrom and CEO Anderson from Nydquist & Holm and Attorney Holmgren from Gothenburg Handelsbank wanted to talk about two contracts for railway construction in Turkey. They had been offered the work but wanted us to undertake it.”

“It turns out that CEO Andersson had negotiated to sell 100 locomotives and 1500 freight wagons to the Turkish Government, but the Turks had made the sale conditional on the Swedish company building two railway lines, totaling about 1000 km, in the northern and southeastern part of the country.”

“Nydquist & Holm was not prepared to build the railways, but wanted to fulfil the delivery of rolling stock. Enquiries were made with major Swedish engineering companies without success.  Major Nystrom remembered Saabye & Lerche. He called Engineer Saabye and offered him the work, adding that it was a very contract which could easily run into hundreds of millions. Saabye delayed his response for a meeting with the Swedes. They travelled on the ferry on the same day.”

“During the negotiations, it was quickly realized that a decision had to be taken quickly. The Turks had set a deadline eleven days hence. After a week, the engineer, Baron Otto Lerche, Engineer Per Kampman and Supreme Court Attorney Albert V. Jørgensen travelled to Ankara with the Swedes, and after some demanding negotiations, the contract was signed. A Consortiumcalled the “Swedish-Danish Group” (“Nohab”) was formed and a commitment was made to start work in the field on 1st June 1927 and to complete the work within 5 years. The cost was estimated at 200 million Danish Kroner. We had around 85 committed to the work and another 50 from other nations, predominantly Swiss. When the work was in full swing, 19000 men were employed. 119 major bridges were built, 3000 smaller ones, 104 tunnels and 65 stations.”

“Without going into detail about Turkey,” engineer Saxild said, “It formed the background to the company working in Iran. Work was completed on schedule and the Turks began to look for other work for the Company to undertake.  It didn’t take long for a chance to emerge in neighbouring Iran.”

“You forgot to tell the story of Muchtar Bey …, ” the Legation Council said.

“Yes,” smiled Engineer Saxild, “Muchtar Bey was former Minister of Public Works in Turkey and, while working there, acted as a kind liaison officer between the Turkish Government and the Danish-Swedish Group. We had had an excellent collaboration, and Muchtar Bey had made many savings for us through his excellent negotiating skills. As a thank you we invited him for a trip to Denmark, and Engineer Kampmann was guide for him on the tours around Copenhagen and North Zealand’s attractions. They looked at museums, drank beer at Tuborg, visited Frederiksborg Castle, visited farming and cooperative dairies, were at Kronborg, and God knows where.”

“What made the biggest impression on the Turkish minister during his visit in Denmark, was not our industry or agriculture, not the Tivoli-garden, the cycling girls or other tourist shows,  but that the Danish peasants dared to leave their milk churns by the road unguarded … This filled him with the greatest astonishment and admiration. He believed that there must be people who could be trusted who lived in Denmark!”

“How much Muchtar Bey talked about Danish milk churns when he returned to Turkey, I don’t know – but it may well be that the story was not without some significance,” said Saxild.

By this time it had grown late and many things were still to be discussed. A work plan needed draft into some sort of shape, aides needed to be selected. Introductory visits had to be prepared to the Ministry of Traffic as well as to see top Police officers, who had to issue Travel and Photography licenses, and many other things had to be discussed. The story of how the Iranian Adventure began had to wait for another day.

Chapter 7: The Railway Must be Built in Six Years The headquarters of the Kampsax Consortium were on Avenue Hechmat-ed-Dowleh in Tehran – a former Prime Minister’s Residence, set in the middle of a beautiful garden. Behind the large goldfish pond you can glimpse a high wall which protects the neighbor’s park from curious glances. The neighbor was none other than Reza Shah, the ruler of Iran.

It has been necessary, on three occasions, to extend the building after Nordic engineers took it over in 1933. The large two-storey building now houses over 160 Engineers, Technicians and Office People, 45 of whom are Scandinavians and the rest Swiss, Armenians and Iranians.

We were guided around the building to meet the leaders of the many departments. The basement floor contained a Printing Department, a Photographic Studio and a very large Material Testing Laboratory, where physical and chemical analysis of Building Materials were performed from all the major construction work around the country. We were told that the head office had its own mail connections to each employee at work on the line. Even the most remote workplace received mail and supplies twice a week.

“But it’s not always everyday and routine requests that come from comrades in the field,” said the head of the purchasing, V. Simonsen. “We have arranged for the different categories of requisitions to be printed on vouchers of different colours. Everything that is for private consumption, for example, must be written on red vouchers. On one occasion,a red voucher came from an Engineer on the line asking for engagement rings to be purchased. The engineer in question lived in a very lonely place, so it was quite natural that the requisition aroused some curiosity in the office. We cautiously undertook investigations and discovered that it was an Armenian Beauty in a small village  who had captivated the young Dane’s heart. We did not doubt that he had proper intentions, and that he had decided that the Covenant should be sealed with engagement rings. The Chief Engineer for section in question decided to talk seriously to the young Engineer on his next inspection tour – but fortunately, the engagement had already gone awry by the time he got there.”

“Another time we had a magnificent tiger skin sent in from one of our Engineers up on the Northern Line,” Simonsen continued, “with a request to send it for tanning. We did that, and a few weeks later we sent a wagon down to the tanner to pick up the fur. When the wagon came back to the office, I nearly had a stroke – the tiger was stuffed! And not only that, but the good tanner had done it in a way that revealed that he had never seen a picture of a tiger, let alone a living specimen of the breed. His head was down between his forelegs, his back swaying like an old donkey, and – best of all – his tail was rigid in the air like a pet cat. We had to open the beast up, take out the hay, remove the stick in the tail – and send the fur back to the tanner!”

“Finally, let me tell you what happened when we got an order from an Engineer in Qum for a 10 barrels of  Igas kits – these are something you use to put in tiles. It was difficult to obtain, but in the end the Iranians I had put on the job succeeded in procuring the 10 barrels which were then sent to Qum. When our Engineer in Qum opened the barrels, they contained resin in place of the kits. However, the engineer was not slow on the uptake, he immediately sent us a slightly ironic letter, accompanied by a red voucher for 100 Violins …”

A total of around 300 men were employed within the Consortium’s own technical and administrative departments at the head office and on the line, but the workers employed by the Contractors in the Construction work and thus, indirectly, under Kampsax’s control, amounted to between 45 and 55,000 men.

Of course, with such a large workforce, accidents could not be avoided completely and significant health problems arose. Therefore, 2% of the Railway Construction costs was  reserved for the administration of a “Sanitation Service” run by an Iranian Consultant. 500 men were employed within this Organization as doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers, and each of the 50 lots – i.e., sections of 12 to 17 km in length – into which the project was divided had its own small hospital, In addition, the Consortium built three large hospitals.

We went with Chief Engineer Blach on a visit to the Ministry of Transport, where great interest had been shown in Kampsax’ plan for a documentary film about the buildign of the railway. The Minister had submitted the idea to the Shah and obtained his Majesty’s sanction.

“The head of the department agreed by phone to see us at 11.00am,” Chief Engineer as we entered his office, but he sat down and let us chat for a little while.

We asked him to tell us more than we heard the previous evening. We asked, “How did this Iranian Adventure really begin?”

“I can probably tell you a little more,” Engineer Blach smiled and pressed a button. “Saeta Khaveh,” he said to the Iranian worker who came in. A little later, he returned with three Cups of fragrant, black “Turkish” Coffee with lots of grounds in the bottom.

“I was in Cairo when things started here in Iran. My work in Turkey was finished and I was in the process of setting up a contract in Egypt.

It was during March 1933. I was called by Engineer Kampmann from the Copenhagen office. I’ll never forget that conversation – it’s almost as if it was yesterday that I had it. Remember, I had just finished my work on the Turkish Northern Line from the Black Sea to the south in Anatolia, and although Icould barely breathe because of the temperature, I still missed the comrades and the joy that struggling together towards a common goal can provide.

“We are submitting a bid for work on the Trans-Iranian Railway,” Kampmann said on the telephone. “It is an even more demanding job than in Turkey, do you want to join us again? You have 24 hours to think about it and I will call again. If you want the job, you need to be in Tehran by Sunday!”

It was a Tuesday and time was short. I realized that if I had to complete my obligations in Cairo, there was no time to waste. And besides, there was no shadow of doubt in my mind that I wanted to be there again. So, when we talked, I said yes and immediately proceeded to dispose of my house and pack my suitcases. The day after I flew to Baghdad and from there went by car to Tehran. It was a distance of 1000 km, but I kept my appointment and was in Tehran on the Sunday evening.

At that time, Director Kayser was already in Tehran. He had worked as a Chief Engineer on the Northern Line in Turkey, and on an Inspection trip in Anatolia he had received a telegram, in which the Copenhagen headquarters asked him to return immediately to Denmark, where he, after being given instructions, would travel through Russia to Tehran. He did not take long to think either.

“How did we get the job here in Iran?” continued Engineer Blach, “I just need to sketch out a few details for you.”

“Reza Kahn took power in Iran in 1921 and was declared Shah in 1926, but already in 1922 he had established a monopoly on tea and sugar, the tax on which was allocated to a fund the construction of railways. He believed that the construction of such an important railway as the Trans-Iranian, which, with at 1400 km, would connect the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf and would undoubtedly have great strategic and economic significance, should not be financed by external loans; but should be entirely under the control of the country.”

“One quickly discovers here that tea and sugar are important to every self-respecting Persian. He drinks tea several times a day and will usually have 5 or 6 lumps of sugar in each glass. It is no wonder, that funding arrived quickly. By 1927, the funds were sufficiently large to allow the Shah to begin work, and he allied himself with an international syndicate of railway contractors who embarked on the design and construction of the railway. For the time being work started on the flat stretches near the Caspian Sea in the North and the Persian Gulf in the South and headed towards the interior of the Country.”

“That was, as I said, in 1927 – at the same time as we started work in Turkey. After two years work on the Trans-Iranian Railway, it had reached around two hundred kilometres into the country from each end, but then suddenly progress ceased. Partly because of the terrain, partly because of the climate – especially in the southern part of it – foreign engineers began to struggle with the work and the Shah lost confidence in them … and that was crucial. Their contract was cancelled and the Iranian government began trying to carry on the work itself.”

“To the north, it was one of our former employees from Turkey, the Swedish Engineer Lindahl, who led the work, and to the South, an American called Caroll. At the centre, in Tehran, sat an old Swiss professor who was a railway specialist but did not possess the leadership skills needed to direct such a large enterprise. The Northern Line was built according to Swedish Principles, in the South, work was in line with American ideas, while the management in Tehran tried in vain to get both parties to use the Swiss construction standards. The backbone needed to push this through was totally lacking, and so it did not happen.

“From Turkey, the Swedish-Danish Group had, of course, kept abreast of developments in neighbouring countries, and in the autumn of 1932 the management sent an observer to Tehran. He brought an extremely flattering letter of recommendation about the work of the Consortium in Turkey from the Foreign Minister, Kemal Attaturk to his colleague in Tehran, and it did not take long before the Iranian Government wanted to commence negotiation with a representative of the Consortium.”

So it was that Kayser came down here with directives from Kampsax’s head office in Copenhagen, and on March 22, 1933, Director Saxild arrived to lead the final negotiations. On April 22, the contract was signed and work was immediately underway. Many of the Employees from Turkey were scattered across the globe, but managed to get most of them back together, while many new ones were hired, both from the Nordic countries and other places.

“Don’t you think it was the biggest contract any Danish engineer has put his name to?” I interjected.

“Yes,” replied Engineer Blach, “you can safely assume that. initially the contract was worth around 550 Million Danish Kroner – later when the decisions was taken to separate the work into different ‘lots’, the revised price was agreed as 600 Million. What was dangerous about the Contract were the deadlines set by the Shah. He wanted the railway completed – and quickly completed – and so he had put a condition –  his sine-qua-non –  into the contract: the railway must be completed in six years. As a further stipulation, the construction time for the Northern Line from the Caspian Sea to Tehran – or rather, from the city of Shahi, where Lindahl’s line had reached – was set for four years. As you may know, the North Line was completed in May 1937, two months before the date agreed.”

“How in the world can one calculate such a thing, it must then be an equation with several unknowns?” I asked.

“We had the experience of Turkey, but still a good portion of optimism was required to deal with the conditions … but we had that,” Blach smiled.  “The greatest difficulty was that in Iran there were insufficient capable and strong entrepreneurial firms able to undertake the work. Through the good-will created in Turkey, the Consortium had good connections in various countries. Kampsax itself would not be building the line – the Consortium is the Government’s advisory and authorized engineers and acts as a kind of government department. It would offer the individual parts of the work to others and organise international tendering. Kampsax’ main task was to determine the route of the railway, carry out all technical studies and projections and then, on behalf of the Government, supervise the performance of the work. So, we manage the sums allocated to the railway, make all payments and report to the Ministry.”

“The advantage of this scheme is that we both have the same authority as the Ministry but have maintained our full independence as a private enterprise. We have no intricate and bureaucratic business processes and so can make decisions and act quickly wherever possible, I am 100% sure that otherwise we would not be able to accomplish such a comprehensive task within the deadlines that we have committed ourselves to.”

I can tell you that in 1933, before the work started, Engineer Saxild and I devised a detailed program for the work. We are building the tracks from both ends, and according to the plan, the rails from the north are to met the rails from the South in August 1938 at a site located 290 km north of Salehabad (a town about 250km from the Persian Gulf) We will see if we can achieve this!”

“When I came here from Cairo, the contract was not yet signed, but the government had so much confidence in us. The signing went well and I was immediately sent down to Salehabad for a talk with American Chief Engineer Caroll and the other Americans down there.

It all started quite oddly, I had met with the Minister of Transport, Ali Mansour, and was now discussing some details with his Head of Department, who was Armenian. We agreed that I should travel to Salehabad as soon as possible.

“We must get you a vehicle,” said the head of the department, and sent a servant with an order. A little while later, the servant returned with a rather frail taxi driver, whom he had picked up on the street, and now a costly scene began to unfold. For a long time, the Head of Department and the driver bartered over the price of the, around 700km, trip from Tehran to Salehabad. One moaned over the price, the other over the offer, but eventually the gentlemen agreed and I left. Before I walked out the door, the head of the department told me that if I needed money down there, I could just telegraph to him.

“When I had been in Salehabad for a few days, I became aware that those winding-up the US Office needed to remove equipment, so I telegraphed for some money to keep the work going. The following day an amount came, around 500,000 Danish Kroner, or 1.5 million Persian Rials! That is what you can call confidence! …”

“People might see that as exciting, but for me it was the challenge of seeing a railway built in 6 years that was exciting,” continued Engineer Blach. “But it wasn’t until later that I got to know the South Line terrain properly, that was once we did the first Reconnaissance and had to walk or ride the entire route. The Canyon District areas in Luristan could not be traversed at all at that time. There was neither road nor path, and the service roads that now exist, we were only finished a few years late. Anyway, ” he said, “you will soon get the opportunity to to see what it looks like!”

“The first thing we did when the Contract was confirmed was to take over the work underway in the north and south, and it wasn’t long before around six thousand men were at work. The next step was to determine the alignment of the remainder of the line – around 1000km. On the Iranian plateau, this task was not very complicated, but in two places the line would pass through such difficult terrain hardly ever encountered by railways elsewhere in the world. One place is on the Northern Line – the Elbruz mountain range. It extends in a west-easterly direction, parallel to the Caspian Sea coast. You can’t get around it, you have to go through it. The ascent from the flat coastal country up to the high mountain pass (over 2000m above sea-level) is so steep that the route has to chosen very carefully – but you must go to the Northern Line with Karl Olsen one of these days, then he will show you what I mean. I cannot describe it adequately.

But the other place – down on the South Line – I can describe. But here too, one must see it in order to form the right notion of how unlikely it was that we would plot a route through the terrain. Come here and see.”

We went to the big map on the wall. Engineer Blach’s eyes glowed as he followed the meandering route of the line with his finger. You could feel that every point on this stretch brought amazing experiences, but at the same time fierce battles against nature, a battle where man and machine eventually won through. 

The route from the Iranian plateau into the wild mountains of Luristan Province, follows a river, Ab-in-Diz, a rippling stream that for some distance  winds through a series of canyons, deep mountain gorges with almost vertical cliff walls on both sides. Do-Rud and Shabazan, located here, are 150 km apart. There are no less than 200 tunnels with a total length of over 60 km on this 150km stretch. The terrain is harsh.

“I was the leader,” Blach continued, “of the first Reconnaissance Expedition on the South Line, and it took us 24 days to cover the 150km. There was neither road nor path, often we had to crawl, even on mountain sides, where otherwise only goats could move. Often we had to make great detours, in one place the terrain was so difficult that it took us 2 days to make 6km.”

“It was no ordinary walk – it was july and the thermometer reach 52°C in the shade and we were sweating so much that the water ran off us. Of course, there were limitations over how much water we could carry, but there were absolutely no limits to what we could drink when we found a source of fresh water. Each person needed 12-13 litres of water a day to counteract the body’s tremendous loss of moisture.

“We often had to swim across the Ab-i-Diz River, or if the current was too strong, we’d haul ourselves across on a rope which a native bearer would have fixed to the far bank. The natives had their own method when it came to crossing the river. They brought a sewn goatskin into which they breathed air, and then they sat down on the dead goat and paddled across the river with the luggage on their heads. As a rule, the current took them they would end up several hundred yards down the river – but they always managed to get across. There was one of these bearers that we always followed with a special interest when paddling across the river. It was he who carried our meager stock of whiskey … you must not think life was hard for us, on the contrary, while the sun was in the sky, there was no talk of having to stir spirits – if you started it, you would quickly be dismissed – but at night, when we got to our tents dead tired and had something to eat, then we always had to have a drink before we went through the day’s observations and measurements.”

“Did you not face unpleasantness from wild animals or hostile natives?” I asked.

“Well,only once was it close to going wrong. But it was not the natives who were the problem. We were crossing a fairly narrow mountain canyon. I arrived a little ahead of the others. Suddenly, I see something rising from shrub a close of me. It was an unusually large male wild boar with some mighty fangs. For a couple of seconds it stared at me, then it charged. I only had a small 6mm Winchester rifle with me – and trying to stop a tormented Wild boar with it would be the same as trying to stop a locomotive with a bow and arrow. I stood, nailed to the spot- there were high cliffs on both sides – the situation looked pretty hopeless. Of course I cried out to our rifle men, but they were 50 yards away, and I stood between them and the boar.”

“Suddenly a gun went off, the boar stumbled, got up again, and then, 3 or 4 metres it collapsed, kicked a bit and then lay still. It was one of the security men, … he, no doubt had saved my life.”

“I also remember one particular evening when the reconnaissance party stopped by the Ab-i-Diz River to camp. A little distance from the camp-site, the river broke a narrow gap, an almost vertical cliff that went down to the water’s edge. While the bearers were raising the tents, the Swedish engineer Hacklin and I went to the cliff to see what was beyond. As we approached, we heard a noise a little ahead. It sounded like it came from the other side of the river, but it was only about a metre wide at this point.

“I readied my rifle,  which, after the story with the wild boar, rarely left me, and carefully listened. As we came around the protruding cliff, we saw a strange sight on the other bank. With his back against the cliff wall, a large bear stood and struck out violently with its forepaws at two leopards attacking it from both sides. What their problems was, we could not see, and I did not feel the need to get involved with my rifle  – and besides, it wasn’t long before the animals disappeared.”

“Are there many snakes here in Iran?” I asked.

“No,” Engineer Blach replied, ” At least, I have not seen very many and most of them were quite small. Scorpions on the other hand, there are many of them. I once had an unpleasant experience with one. I had put my sun helmet off for a moment in order to rest, and when we  went on, I put it on as usual. I must have been half an hour later when I noticed something creeping in my hair. When I took off my helmet, a big scorpion fell out … I was very lucky. There are many who have become seriously ill after being stabbed by one of these beasts. Always remember to shake your boots in the morning when you are now out in the field, and for a safety’s sake also look inside your helmet!”

“What happened after this first survey?” I asked.

“We sent out a new survey team to make maps which made a survey to create rough  tachymeter maps, which form the basis for more detailed mapping of the terrain. From the maps/plans the final route of the line is laid out in the field. Then we had to build a service … as close to the route of the line as possible. For instance, between Shabazan and Do-Rud, this work took over two years. Only after this, could compressors and drilling equipment be brought to the locations where the tunnels were to be drilled. In many places … the service road had to be blasted into vertical cliff walls and interim bridges had to be built before the construction of the railway itself could begin.

But even though at times progress seemed slow, actually work is raging ahead!. What you will probably discover as you follow the South Line, is that there are large stretches which are unfinished. The Contract period still has 18 months to run, we will be finished in the six years promised. All of us in Kampsax are dedicated to that goal. Most of the Contractors also take pride in meeting their obligations and deadlines – and if someone does not, well, they are removed and Kampsax undertkaes the work at the Contractor’s expense.”

“Has everything gone according to plan, or have any unforeseen events occurred that have delayed the work?” I asked.

“On the whole it has gone according to plan, but in some places we have been surprised, it can’t be denied. You will better understand these locations when you are on site. Remember to ask Karl Olsen to tell you about the Spring River at Abbasabad and the large landslides at the Miånkola – I should probably give Aage Jensen some tips from the South Line. For example, several times, a mountain slope has started to move when work begins.”

Engineer Blach looked at his watch and pressed a button.

“Now we must meet with the ministry,” he said, and told a servant who stepped in arrange the car to take us there.

Fifteen minutes later, we sat with Department Manager Methat in his large, bright office in the Ministry of Transport, and for a few minutes we exchanged news before we began to discuss ‘Le  film du chemin de fer transiranien’ – The conversation took place in French, so I had to draw on my schoolbook French and tough it out. A servant came in with the obligatory glass of tea.

“Chai, Messieurs …”

Chapter 8: Three Gradient and Other Things – The brown, deserted landscape outside Tehran warmed as the sun penetrated the morning cold Behind us, the city disappeared in the gray-white dust cloud that followed our car. Looking towards Rey, you could still see the smoke column from the cement factory’s chimney, but soon it too was obliterated by the dust.

The transition from city to country is very sudden when you leave the capital in an easterly direction along the old caravan road towards Meshed (Mashhad). After the last low houses, surrounded by yellow, clay-clad walls, you are immediately out in completely undeveloped terrain.

Unlike other major cities, no migrant houses, no villas or colony gardens, no emerging industrial areas mark the transition. The bare, steep mountain slopes to the east of the city have not experienced Tehran’s expansion in the way that the fertile areas northwest of the city, where the summer towns of Shimran and Golhak are located in the slopes of the Elbruz Mountains.

The terrain became more hilly as we approached the mountain range itself. Without slowing our the pace, but with constant use of the car’s two-toned horn, Michel, Karl Olsen’s Armenian driver, drove around a slowly moving caravan of heavily loaded camels. We got a hard stare from the first Camel … With deep contempt, it looked at the alarming, … metal box pushing past – Why such haste, you foolish people? I have much further to go than you, all the way to Meshed (Mashhad), nine hundred miles to the East, I have to walk, before reaching My Goal – and see if I hurry? I might get there, insh ‘Allah …

The Chief Engineer turned to us with a cheerful look behind his horned glasses. “These camels are ridiculous animals. …  Apparently, they look with great contempt on us humans, especially on those of us who are busy. An old Persian once told me that if you take the lead camel and place it further back in the caravan, it will refuse to move on, and soon after it will die of shame.” And we can believe in that story, as we watch them now walking in such a ‘grandiose’ manner as they are now …

The road gradients steepen and the road wanders and in sweeping curves and hairpin bends through the Elbruz Mountains. As we reached a tight curve with a deep abyss on one side and an almost vertical cliff wall on the other, Michel gave a grin and hit the brakes. The roadside along the abyss was marked with white stone, but two of them had been overturned, and tyre tracks continuing beyond the edge showed that an accident had occurred here. We jumped out of the car – and there, 50 metres down in the canyon, lay the remains of a large truck.

Michel went to a couple of road workers, who were repairing the road a little further ahead. When he came back, he explained that the accident only happened 4 hours previously. Probably, the driver fell asleep at the wheel (from fatigue or opium). His crushed body was taken to Tehran by a passing vehicle.

A few kilometres further on, where the road ran down a cliff-edge we passed a large memorial stone at the roadside.

“This was the scene of  a terrible accident some years ago,” Karl Olsen said. “It was a dramatic event and the Shah was at the scene. … The Shah was on his way to his properties in the province of Mazanderån by the Caspian Sea. In front of the Shah’s car was a large vehicle with a Division of Soldiers from his bodyguard. As it drove down the steep hill, the brakes suddenly failed, and instead of reducing the speed by shifting to low gear or driving toward the mountainside, the driver jumped off to save his life. The result was  that the vehicle fell into the ravine. All his passengers were killed. The Shah got out of his car, walked over to the driver and shot him on the spot with his revolver!”

The road began to turn in a northerly direction. The bright sunlight, which fell on the brown, deserted valley sides, disappeared for a few moments as we drove through a road tunnel. Another couple of serpentine twists in the road and suddenly, after rounding a protruding rock, the landscape opened up and a great panorama lay ahead of us. The road descended towards a beautiful valley with green fields and lush vegetation, through which a stream wandered. The Western Horizon was dominated by the mighty, snow-white cone of Demavend, which rose several thousand metres above the nearest peaks in the Elbruz chain. To the north, the brown landscape sloped up towards the Gaduk Pass, the highest point on the northern line of the Transiran Railway.

We looked at the clock and noted the time and position of the sun in a pocketbook. Several pages were already filled with notes on camera settings on the route and ideas for filming. For the time being, there was only talk of reconnaissance, as we had not yet obtained photography permit from the police.

We had not seen anything of the Railway yet. It ran in a large arc from Tehran to the southeast before turning north, and we were to encounter it first at the town of Firuzkuh on the other side of the valley we were now in. At the town, the railway crosses the highway from Tehran and the road divided in two – one route heading east to holy city of Meshed (Mashhad) near the Afghan border, the other following the railway across the pass at Gaduk and through the valley of the River Talar to Shahi and on to the Caspian Sea.

At Gaduk, we sat talking on the platform outside a small, cement-grey station building. A sign with Persian letters told those who could read it that this was Gaduk, 218 km from Tehran and about the same distance from Bandar Shah on the Caspian Sea. But not a word that we were at the highest point of the North Line – 2100 metres above sea level.

“Why are engineers always so damn businesslike,” Axel said. “It would have been quite good for the travelers to know that they now found themselves at the highest point of the Northern Line.”

“I must correct you now,” replied Karl Olsen. “Kampsax did not have the responsibility for the station signs. These have been set up by the Iranian Railways themselves. However, it would be incorrect to designate the Station here as the Northern Line’s highest point. It is inside the mountain ahead. The tunnel, which starts just north of the Station, is 2880 m long, From the far end, the profile of the tunnel is not a straight line – at some point the ascent is interrupted, and the line begins to descend towards the station here and then further down onto the high plateau. The highest point is 1300 m from the tunnel opening. You can see the opening ahead.”

We followed his gaze. A few hundred metres from the platform where we sat, the shiny rails disappeared into a black hole in the mountain – the Gaduk tunnel. …

The north line was not yet open for regular traffic, but when we passed Firuzkuh, the stationmaster had told us that a postal train was on the way from the north and that we would be able to meet it in Gaduk if we rushed.

A giant Beyer-Garratt Locomotive which weighed-in at 210 tons. [1: p61]

Michel floored the accelerator, and we had probably sat for a quarter-of-an-hour on the platform before the sound of a train could be heard from the Tunnel. A large, yellow spotlight appeared inside the dark hole before immediately fading into the shining sunlight as the hissing monster of a locomotive pushed out of the tunnel opening. Slowly, the train pulled forward and stopped in front of the small station building. It consisted of a long row of goods wagons, a mail van and one passenger coach carrying with Iranian Technicians and railway workers. The locomotive itself was amazing. Its format and construction far removed from the usual perception of a locomotive. Beyer & Peacock, of Manchester could be seen written on the boiler. A giant Beyer-Garratt Locomotive which weighed-in at 210 tons.

“Yes, it’s a British locomotive,” said Karl Olsen, a so-called ‘Garratt’, specifically designed for railways in difficult mountain terrain with tight curves and steep gradients.  As you can see, it consists of three parts, the boiler in the middle and two steam engines – the one in front carries a large water tank, the other includes the tender, which contains fuel for the oil-fired boiler. The three parts of the locomotive are interconnected in such a way that they can rotate in relation to each other. An ordinary, large locomotive with a similar traction would be far too rigid to handle the tight curves on the line on the far side of the Gaduk pass. As we drive north in a little while, I’ll show you one of the most remarkable railway routes in the entire world.”

The Garratt locomotive was disconnected from the train, the two the whistle was blown, and slowly the beast moved off on its twenty-eight wheels into a siding, where it stood quietly and chattered to itself – a giant of two hundred and ten tons relaxing after the effort it had made. A large locomotive of a more normal appearance was now attached to the train. The brass letters on the cylinders indicated that it was built by Nydquist aand Holm from Trollhåttan, Sweden. A little later, the train set off south towards Tehran, and we went out and woke Michel, who was sleeping at the wheel of our car.

We had probably driven a kilometre north of the station when Karl Olsen turned towards us and pointed down towards the floor of the car.

“We are now crossing the track,” he said, “The tunnel is just down below.”

The climb in the Elbruz Mountains was over. After a few minutes’ drive, the road cut through a narrow mountain pass and then began to descend towards the Talår valley. A little further ahead, the road and the railway again intersected, just off the northern end of the long Gaduk Tunnel. But now it was the road that was lower. We drove under the track through one arch of a viaduct. As we drove on down the valley we could see that the level difference between the railway and the road became bigger and bigger. Both road and rail were descending from the 2000 metre high Gaduk Pass as quickly as possible – the road was winning the race

The chief engineer suddenly ordered Michel to stop the car and decreed that now we had to “go to the fields for a quick look”. It was a long and rather strenuous climb, after which we sat and caught our breath on the western slopes of the Talar valley. On the horizon in the East, the peaks and ridges of the Elbruz Mountains spread out. Across from us, but a little further south, a wide valley intersected with the Talar Valley. We could see the railway across the valley on a long viaduct and then it disappeared into the mountain opposite. Another line emerged from the valley floor below the viaduct and continued perpendicular to this into the same mountain a few hundred meters from the first tunnel opening. It looked pretty mysterious. Further north, three railway lines ran above and below each other along the same hillside. If this was the same railway then it looked like a roller-coaster of gigantic dimensions.

Presumably we looked rather disoriented and Karl Olsen smiled when he saw our inquiring eyes. He then pulled out a large card from his pocket.

“Here is a Plan of the Line from Shahi to Firuzkuh,” he said. “Now try to forget that we have come via Gaduk today – it is all easier to understand if we start from the north, up from the Caspian Sea. The ascent from the lowland forest districts and rice fields in Mazanderån up to Gaduk is far too steep for a regular railway to manage it in a straight line. because of the distance involved it would both be expensive and very impractical to construct a rack railway here, so there was nothing else to do but to let the line make a series of fantastic turns and at the same time climb into the hills at gradients as steep as 2.8% (28m per km), which is close to the limit of the maximum that a railway can achieve. Now see how it looks on the map. From Shahi to Gaduk is 82km  but the height difference between the two places is over 2000 m, and this means that the length of the railway needs to be as much as 115 km. Over the first fifty kilometres road and railway follow each other and are almost equal in length, but then the track can no longer cope with the climb and starts to ‘spoon out’.”

The three-tier railway climbing into the mountains. [1: p62]

Karl Olsen pointed to the map. “Here at Lot 5, the difficulties begin. As you know, we divide the work on the line into ‘lots’ or sections – there are ten from Shahi to Gaduk – and on the map you can see what curves the railway must describe to gain enough height. Several places on this stretch include a three-story railway. We let the line follow tight curves in tunnel maintaining a steep gradient. Then the line runs in the opposite direction before it turns again and runs towards it goal. You can see on the mountain over there what this looks like. The train comes from the north on the lower ramp, turns inside the mountain and returns … along the middle ramp. 4-5 kilometres further north, the train runs through a turning tunnel and then comes out onto the upper level, where it continues south again. That way, you win a couple of hundred feet in height. What you see in the Churab Valley over there is another system. The railway on the Viaduct and the line running perpendicularly to it are parts of the upper circuit of a figure eight. The lower part of the figure eight lies inside the mountain to the south of the viaduct. To understand it best you have to ride the line probably in a work vehicle and with a map in hand.”

Axel and I exchanged a look. “Cartoons,” we mouthed to each other.

Describing labyrinth in a film would be very difficult. Normal images alone would not be enough, but combined with Cartoons it might be possible.

“Going on, the Churab Valley caused us quite a lot of trouble,” Karl Olsen continued. “It was difficult to find the simplest and most economical solution. Several ideas were formed and followed up but none of them were satisfactory. It was the Swede Hacklin, the Iranian State Engineer for the track, who found the solution. At a meeting where the choice was to be made between the proposals, Hacklin came in quite quietly, swept aside all the many plans and drawings and scratched the figure eight onto a piece of paper. When he was done, he quietly listened again and went home to sleep. The other people in attendance reluctantly accepted that his solution was right.”

“If you want a few figures about the route through the Talar Valley, I can tell you that the distance along the road from Lot 5’s northern boundary to Gaduk Station is 29 km, the height difference between the two points is about 1400 m and the length of the railway is not less than 61 km. On that stretch alone we had to build 50 Tunnels and 36 larger bridges.”

There was nothing left but to let the line take a series of fantastic turns. … [1: p65]

We travelled on North passed the three-tier tracks at Dogal. The lower track runs roughly at the same level as the road and the upper track a few hundred metres up the mountainside. Up close, we could see how difficult it must have been to build these three levels along the mountain. Viaducts, galleries, tunnels and retaining walls all mutually overcoming the  mountain which is furrowed furrowed from the upper tier to the bottom of the valley and scarred by huge slides of excavated material. …

A few kilometers further on, the Valley  narrowed and formed a gorge. On a rock ledge over 100m above the road one could glimpse the ruins of an old fort whose strategic location over the caravan road through the pass was well-chosen. The builder of the castle, however, could not have dreamed that his castle would have a railway as its immediate neighbour!

Further on beyond the pass, the landscape changed character. The valley became wider, and the high mountains on the west turned into soft, rolling, hills. On the eastern side, the mountains were almost steeper than before, and just off the small village of Abbasabad, whose clay-clad huts spread between the road and the almost dried-up river valley, the mountainside was intersected by a deep gorge.

“The Vresk Valley,” Karl Olsen said, “and we are honestly a bit proud of the bridge over it.”

We looked up. The narrow, V-shaped mountain gorge was held together at the top by a slender bridge structure whose elegant arch stood shining bright in the low afternoon sun – a beautiful revelation of modern engineering. We asked Karl Olsen to tell us a little about the Bridge’s Data.

The Vresk Bridge sits 120 m above the valley floor. [1: p67]

“… The bridge is 120 metres above the valley floor, and its length is 86 m. Like most of the bridges up here, it is made up of cast cement blocks – it gives greater elasticity than reinforced concrete, something that has significance in a terrain like this, where earthquakes occur quite frequently.  On 29th July 1934, we had a terrible experience while working here in the Vresk Gorge. The line curves away from Abbasabad Station and enters a turning tunnel that ends just before the ravine, in the bottom of which runs a small innocent looking stream. when planning the project, we had expected a lower bridge that would take the railway across the creek to a tunnel on the other side, through which the line would continue along a long detour to the north and through a new turning tunnel to climb the 120 m up to the Vresk bridge.”

“While we were working on the little bridge down at the bottom of the gorge, there was a prolonged period of rain which caused some flooding, but our calculations still held sway, and no one in the village was worried. In the afternoon of 29th July, a violent cloudburst occurred and in the evening, disaster happened. A flood of water came tumbling through the gorge with tremendous force, a debilitating mass of water, soil, and stone that took everything with it, a swelling so massive that stones of up to half a cubic meter were bobbing along on the surface of the water. Everything that was in the way of this wave was swept away, both the bridgework and part of the village. Unfortunately many lives were lost during the disaster. This little creek … which, in living memory had caused no problems but just trickled down into the Talar Valley in a culvert under the road and with many village houses on its banks, even a large teahouse … caused catastrophic disaster. The river of mud came roaring down the bed of the small creek. Two of our Engineers, the Norwegian Haugen and the Dane Weitemeyer, lived in Kampsax’s House on the western slope of the vealley. They heard a noise like roiling thunder from the Vresk gorge, followed by a crackling, roaring sound and screams from many people down in the village. They rushed there, and it was a terrible sight that met them. The road was torn down, and the village split into two parts. A broad strip, where everything was ravaged, was drawn across the small community. The large teahouse, which was always full of guests at this time, had disappeared, and many other houses were also gone. The flood had unimaginable power – large boulders were torn down through the village and thrown into the Talår River, which was also swollen and several places over-topped its banks. The next day, many mutilated corpses were fished out of the river up to more than 20 km further north.”

“The disaster meant, of course, that the line had to be crossed over the Vresk gorge in another way, and we now changed the project so that the railway went through the tunnel and under the canyon. Over that tunnel section, we built a very broad and very solid channel which took the creek over the railway instead of under it. This prevent damage should the incident be repeated. And it did. Despite the fact that even the oldest residents of Abbasabad had never experienced anything like it, the event was repeated just three years later. ….. Sadly just 6 months after the first flood Abbasabad experienced another natural disaster, a violent earthquake, which occurred at night. Engineer Weitemeyer later said that there had been a strange, eerie mood all day in the village. The dogs were moaning, and the old Mullahs whispered that there was “something in the air.” Engineer Haugen and he had obviously not believed in the old men’s accident alerts – but on the other hand it really did not surprise them when the earthquake came. Some damage occurred, Kampsax’s large hospital building which sat above the village was badly damaged, but in comparison with the flood, the city escaped relatively unscathed.”

“Indirectly, this earthquake, nearly cost Engineer Weitemeyer his life. Every year, the Persians celebrate a religious celebration in memory of a Muhammadan martyr, Hussein. According to tradition, it takes the form of a kind of passionate game with a procession in which the participants – and often the spectators – experience religious ecstasy. In the past, it was common for them to whip or cut themselves. …. The mullahs in Abbasabad had done what they could to excite the people before the celebration, including telling them that the earthquake was an outpouring of Allah’s wrath against these strangers – Faranghi – who went around drilling holes in the mountains to no benefit to the world. As the procession, followed by a mighty crowd of spectators, passed through the town, Weitemeyer was so careless as to try to photograph it. Although he was some distance form the festivities, it was noticed, and a moment later, he was surrounded by hundreds of excited people. The camara was torn from him, and the crowd began to throw stones at him. Bleeding from major wounds to his head, Weitemeyer became unconscious. He was bravely dragged into the police station by Iranian police officers and kept there for a while. Taking him to hospital was not possible because of the risk of further attack from the crowd. He had to stay at the Police Station for several hours, and only when the native workers, who had at first threatened to storm the Station, withdrew, could he be carried to the Hospital. Fortunately, he recovered from the wounds, and the workers soon forgot their anger.”

“Well, now we’d better greet Zimbelius,” Karl Olsen ended, and gave Michel the order to drive up to the Kampsax House.

We drove through the village and up a side road on the western slope. The only houses in Abbasabad itself that did not seem ready to collapse simply at the thought of a flood, were the railway station and the police station. Many of the cottages stood empty and dilapidated – it was evident that while Abbasabad had had a hectic flowering while the railway was under construction, it now seemed ready to slumber again or possibly develop into a decent little station town.

Zimbelius turned out to be a young Austrian engineer in Kampsax’s service who, together with a Danish engineer, Kildehøj, oversaw some additional track installations. They lived in a small stone house a short way up the mountainside with a magnificent view of the Abbasabad Valley and over to the Vresk Bridge which hovered over the deep gorge in the mountainside opposite. The site had previously been the headquarters for the work on the Northern Line, and some distance down the slope lay Kampsax’s Hospital and some Buildings belonging to the Contractors. The office building itself was now transformed into a rest-house, and this is where we would spend the night.

An unusually skeletal Persian Waiter with speckled henna-colored hair came out to the car to take our suitcases.

“Salå-åm Aleikum,” he said and bowed deeply.

“Salå-åm, Ali,” replied Karl Olsen and turned to Zimbelius, who came out of the house, followed by his young wife with a little daughter on his arm. When I greeted Mrs. Zimbelius, who was Austrian just like her husband, she suddenly asked – in perfect Danish – how Mrs. Bolette Lund in Hellerup felt.

I think I looked pretty confused. I think I looked pretty confused.  Admittedly, my lovely old hostess was known as an excellent French teacher, but that her reputation should have reached all the way to Abbasabad sounded a bit strange.

“I can understand that you are astonished,” Mrs. Zimbelius smiled, “but the explanation is straightforward. I lived as a Viennese child with Professor Ejnar Nielsen in Ahlmann’s Alle, where Mrs. Lund was often a guest. She often told me about the students who lived with her and about the crazy things they did, and I think your name appeared quite often in her stories.”

It was a cheerful evening in the young engineer’s home, and it was quite a time before Karl Olsen told Ali to turn on his lamp and escort us over to the little rest-house.

That the first day out on the line left us buzzing. …. The next day our trip continued north. From Abbasabad, which is at about 1500m above sea level, the road descended steeply towards the Lowlands. … Eventually, the terrain becomes so smooth that railway road are easy. The tall, sparsely wooded mountains, now behind us, the countryside was friendly and smiling, with forested hills on either side of the wide river valley. We approached Iran’s dining room, the fruit-barren northern part of Mazanderån Province. One rice field after another appeared. In most of the fields, the rice was harvested and stacked is small golden ‘nests’, Open huts storing rice were surrounded by posts and barbed-wire fences to guard against wild pigs. In several places , the guards were children, whose only weapon was a kind of rubbish or a metal plate on which they hammered to frighten the large animals.

“This is one of Iran’s worst Malaria districts we are going through right now,” Karl Olsen said, “And the mortality among the workers when we built the track here was, to begin with, incredibly high. Engineer Wright, who was the top manager of all the construction work on the North Line, and Dr. Torfeh, the Iranian Chief of the the ‘Service Sanitaire’, organized a huge battle against the Malaria. The entire workforce was handed quinine but they would not take it. Large quantities of quinine suddenly entered the market in Tehran – the workforce preferred to sell it. Then they tried something new. Every day, all the workers were lined up, and health workers went along the rows and put quinine pills in their mouths.”

“When it was discovered that several of the workers pretended to swallow the pills and then spat them out in the alley, they were served the quinine in dissolved form with the order to swallow it immediately and then open his mouth again- to be sure that this had happened. ……”

“The quinine mitigated the worst effects of the malaria, but the disease still ravaged terribly. … The Hundreds of swampy rice fields in the area were excellent hatching grounds for the malaria mosquitoes. Engineer Wright prepared a detailed Report to the Ministry with radical proposals to change things. The case was presented in the highest level, and the Shah was not long in making his decision – all rice cultivation was immediately banned in the districts through which the railway ran. The farmers who cultivated the fields there had to move temporarily to other places or take up work on the railway, and shortly after the fields had dried up, the cases of malaria were reduced considerably. It was a tough but effective decision,” concluded Karl Olsen.

Miånkola – for the stranger, a poetic-sounding name for a small village about 25 km south of Shahi, the city where Kampsax’s work on the Northern Line had begun. For the more dedicated and especially for the engineers who worked on this section during the first difficult year, the name Miånkola will always mean a series of dramatic events that were developing into a serious crisis situation during the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway.

We stopped at a small cluster of houses on the right bank of the Talar River. It was almost impossible to understand that it was the same river that we had followed all the way up from the Gaduk Pass. It wasn’t just because the river was broader down here in the lowlands, but the landscape it flowed through here looked as if it was in a completely different part of the world. ……

A dense, subtropical forest growth, rich in vines, mistletoe and other spiny plants, spread in most places right down to the river. …

Through the dense scrub we could glimpse the railway on the other side of the river, a little up the slope. The line ran through a cutting and in a couple of places passed through a tunnel that cut into the slope over a longer stretch.

“The difficulties here at Miånkola were something we inherited from the people who had started the work up here,” Karl Olsen said. “I was Head of the Engineering  (or the Technical Bureau, as we call it) in Tehran and had more to do with the theoretical side of the work. The one who could best tell you what happened here is Engineer Wright. What he doesn’t know about Miånkola is not worth knowing …”

What more Karl Olsen told us about the battles the engineers had with the terrain conditions at Miånkola, I have forgotten. I can remember that we drove on to Shahi and that same evening back to Abbasabad.

Not until several years later, when writing this report, did I visit Engineer Wright in Copenhagen and ask him to tell me about the events in Miånkola.

“I came to Tehran in July 1933, as Director of the Kampsax Consortium,” Engineer Wright began, “and was assigned the Leadership of the Work on the Northern Line with Chief Engineer Park as my closest Employee. The Foreign Consortium, which began construction of the track in 1927, built the line from Bandar Shah on the Caspian Sea to Shahi. … The government then tried to build on its own, and up here it was the Swede Lindahl who was given the leadership. The work on the excavations for the track was then sub-contracted to Tricheron’s, smaller Contractors who each had a stretch of the line, and it soon became clear that the task at Miånkola was much more difficult than expected and caused difficulties which the sub-contractor could not overcome. It was a very demanding job. The slope where the railway was to go was highly water-bearing, and as digging commenced, the ground lost stability There was imminent danger of a landslip.”

“The route of line was not chosen by us and could not now be changed. …  As you know, we had committed to finishing the North Line in four years, and the Shah followed the work with the greatest interest. He still kept a close eye on progress, and regularly drove along the line, at least twice a year, so that he could see progress with his own eyes.”

“In November 1933,” Engineer Wright continues, “the Shah came to Miånkola, where I had the opportunity – with the Minister of War as an interpreter – to explain to him the particular difficulties we had and the precautions we had taken to overcome them. The Shah seemed to be pleased with the situation and invited me to be his guest at the races on the Turkmen steppe at Bandar Shah a week later.

I myself was not so confident. I knew we had a way to go before the difficulties were overcome. In particular, there was a place near Miånkola where the risk of a major landslide was very high. Several minor landslides had already occurred at this site before we arrived. It was initially intended to take the line across the protruding slope in a cutting, this was revised to using a cut-and-cover tunnel. However, nature itself had its own ideas. Before the Tunnel was completely finished, the ground on either side of the line pushed in on the half-finished tunnel walls. The walls were strengthen by timber frames but they moved like cardboard.”

“We dismissed the sub-contractor and took on the work ourselves. We had to undertake new excavations and started to build a new tunnel. As we were doing so, we discovered that the ground was still moving. It was about 500,000 cubic metres of material and it was still moving at about 2cm a day!

taking the railway through this “floating” soil mass was, of course, impossible. We worked out where the so-called “sliding layer” was located, and introduced drainage tunnels that followed this layer, this eventually dried and anchored the soil mass. The tunnel walls were made extra strong and the foundations were taken down to solid ground beneath the Sliding layer – 7 metres down. A couple of thousand men worked day and night for many months at Miánkola, and in addition to our lead engineer at the site, Moses, we sent one of our best people up there, “Shanghai”-Pedersen, a man who had many years engineering experience in China (hence his nickname) and good experience of working in difficult ground.”

“But problems rarely come alone. Immediately after we solved one problem, another arose. This time it was a little further south. Here, too, we worked our way through unstable soils, and between Christmas and New Year some violent landslides occurred, which completely closed a large excavation and buried tunnel workings.”

“Engineer Saxild elsewhere at this time, and the situation was critical. Pressure was placed on Kampsax, and the Shah became impatient. In reality, the whole contract hung in a thread. However, Engineer Kayser, who was the Chief Engineer in Saxild’s absence, retained his composure, and together he and I went up to Miånkola accompanied by Chief Engineers Blach and Park, and the Engineers from the nearest Sections, Austrian Rabcewics and Dane Lehmann. In short shrift, we worked out remedial action, the implementation of which we knew we could guarantee to the Government.”

“But it was not just about purely technical matter,” Engineer Wright continued, “it was very urgent, because the Shah wanted progress ,but was also participating in intrigue, along with others, seeking to paralyze Kampsax at the start of our work on the line. It became a matter of pride for us, that we manage the Miånkola section as well as possible. In order that theses difficulties did not slow the work, … we  built a temporary bridge along the river bank, on which the track could by-pass the problem section.”

“These were exciting months, and I admit there were times when it was quite nerve-wracking. The awareness that 500,000 cubic metres of earth was relentlessly slipping downhill, while over a thousand men worked around the clock to prevent a violent landslide from destroying the new Tunnel, and handling the Shah’s increasing impatience with progress, was not always good for one’s rest at night. But out on the line, there was no nervousness on display. Moses and “Shanghai” took care of our affairs, and although the ground moved significantly before we had it stabilized, the work was completed without major mishap. The Shah was gradually reassured by watching progress, despite all the difficulties.”

“Incidentally,” he said, “our return trip to Tehran was pretty dramatic. South of Miånkola we could see that heavy grey clouds were hiding the Elbruz mountains to the south, and we had not driven long before it started to snow. In the aftermath, there was a hugh snowstorm, and by Sorkhabad, only around 40 km south of Miånkola, the road was completely blocked by snow. It was of the utmost importance for us to get to Tehran quickly to present our plans to the Government. We had to leave the cars, and with great difficulty, we pushed through the snowdrifts on foot to reach Abbasabad, where Rabcewics was living at that time. It was a 10km walk in a strong snowstorm, and frankly we were more dead than alive when we arrived.”

“We had to wait at Abbasabad until the blizzard had subsided and the roads through the Talat Valley had been made fairly passable. With great difficulty, the driver dug out the cars at Sorkhabad, and all available crews were assigned to removing snow, so that we could continue the journey.”

“But it went slowly. After a few days of waiting in Abbasabad, we started driving up towards Gaduk. But again, at Churab, we had to give up, as the Gaduk Pass was completely blocked by the snow. We stayed with Kirchmair, an Austrian Kampsax Engineer who lived in the Churab Valley, while 200 workers were sent to move the snow in the Pass.”

“Up at the Pass itself there was a sad accident during the snowstorm. A caravan had been surprised by the snow at night and had tried to reach the village of Gaduk, which was nearby. Only 200 metres from the village, people, camels and donkeys could not continue and froze to death.”

“I do not know how cold things were on this occasion,” engineer Wright continued, “but several times I have experienced the thermometer showing more than 30 degrees of frost up in the highlands. Moreover, one of the officials of the Iranian Government almost shared the fate of the people in the caravan. It was Chief Engineer Chagakhi, who was on his way to Miånkola to look at the problem of the big landslides. Between Firuzkuh and Gaduk, he got stuck in the snow, and he was fully engaged in digging out when we finally reached Churab. Once he had got rid of the snow and heard what we had to say about the prevailing conditions, he turned round and drove back to Tehran with us.”

“The difficulties at Miånkola were eventually overcome, and when the Shah saw how the work proceeded according to the plan we had set, he relaxed a little. But,” concluded Engineer Wright, “Miånkola is a chapter in the history of the construction that we will never forget,.”

2. The additional material below is also translated from the original Danish. It continues the account by Ingolf Boison about the filming of a hour long documentary. The original Danish text can be found on the SJKPostvagen platform. In some places the text has been slightly abridged. [1] Chapter 10 is immediately below. [1: p93-107]

Chapter 10: Shahernes Shah

“Government officials must show fidelity, impunity, energy and activity. They must endeavour to make the people wise, strong and powerful and to care for their welfare in accordance with my wishes.”

It was not an empty phrase when Reza Shah uttered these words at his coronation in April 1926 at Golestan Palace in Tehran. He needed the complete commitment of his officials to implement the huge reform program he had planned so as to improve the country.

Before he began his speech, the Prime Minister had placed the golden jewel-studded “Pahlevi Crown” on his head … and now sitting on Nadir Shah’s famous peacock throne, he told the important people gathered around him, how he expected then to develop the country. The time of ancient Persia was now over. From a ‘quantite negligable’ the country would now again become a state to be reckoned with, and occupy a place worthy of its historical past.

Reza Kahn, as he was previously known, was born in 1878 in the province of Mazanderan as the son of a reputed officer. Through a long life as a soldier, he had served his country and seen how it had gradually lost its independence and sunk into a sphere of interest divided between Russia and Great Britain. By the end of the previous World War he had become the Colonel of the North Persian Cossack Brigade, where he had been serving since he was 22 years old. It is said that when the English General Ironside served for a time as an instructor of the Cossack Brigade, he persuaded Reza Khan – to whose talents he was not blind – to promise that he would not revolt against the ruling Shah. However, as conditions in Persia became increasingly miserable, Reza Shah decided to organize a coup against the incumbent government, and in 1921, when the foreign political situation created the opportunity, he gathered his forces in Kazvin and went to Tehran. The capital immediately surrendered and a new Government was deployed. Reza Khan became Commander-in-Chief of the Army, later Minister of War and in 1923, Prime Minister. The country’s nominal ruler, Ahmåd Shah, who belonged to the Kadjar dynasty, stayed in Paris, where he … seemed not to care about what happened in Persia.

Reza Shah had not forgotten his promise to General Ironside, but when Ahmåd Shah, despite numerous requests, refused to leave Paris, Reza Khan wrote to General  Ironside, explaining to him the disastrous position for the country and asking to be released from his promise. The English General agreed, and after another vain request to the Shah to return home, Reza Khan let him resign, after which he himself was made ruler and ascended the throne as Shahernes Shah.

And then Reza Shah went on to reorganize his country. He had initiated some cultural and material reforms immediately after the coup in 1921, but now came the serious step towards realizing the great plans he had laid for the country’s future. The first thing he did was to modernize the Army and create peace in the country. The judiciary was changed to accord with more European, democratic patterns and finances were brought under the direction of an American expert, Dr. Millspaugh. Iran is now one of the few countries that is virtually free of foreign debt, and even major reforms have been implemented without the need for borrowing.

It has already been mentioned how the funds for the railway construction were provided through a tax on Tea and Sugar monopoly. … Another important factor in Iran’s financial status, the Oil Concessions, must be mentioned.

In the business world, new modes of operation and methods have been introduced, modern factories are popping up around the country, and the animal in front of the plough is gradually being replaced by the tractor. But this entire reformed program would not be possible without a radical improvement in the means of transport and a thorough enlightenment among the people. Iran’s 15-16 million Inhabitants in a country of more than 1.6 million square kilometres (an area 36 times the size of Denmark) should now be closer to, and get easier access to, the country’s products. Reza Shah’s plan was that modern roads and a railway across the country had to replace the old Caravan Roads. And it happened. In 1937, over 20,000 km of roads were built, and work on the Trans-Iranian Railway was so advanced that it was expected its inauguration would be celebrated in advance of the six years allocated for its construction.

Within the cultural realm, development under Reza Shah’s rule has been of an almost explosive nature. In 1923, there were 612 schools throughout Iran. Ten years later, that number had risen to 5339 — plus 22 kindergartens! School attendance is now required for all children between the ages of 7 and 13, and in the village schools, agricultural subjects are also taught during the final school years. In the next generation, illiteracy will become a rarity in Iran. In Tehran, in addition to several modern schools, a large university has now been built with six faculties and a number of other higher education institutions.

For Iranian Women, the 1930s have transformed their existence. From the former secluded life of the Harem, where only the Lord of the House may come, and where any form of knowledge acquisition was considered inappropriate, they have now stepped into life as free and equal members of the community.

Formerly, when an Iranian woman was about to go outside the walls of the home, she was tightly veiled in the so-called Tchådor, a large – as a rule black – piece of clothing that concealed her from head to toe, and which was either provided with a narrow wire or horsehair net in front. Only her eyes were visible.

When the “veil” was removed, it was a breach of centuries of tradition, an event one would expect to shake the Iranian community in its foundations. But the Shah had wisely prepared the ground for several years. He knew that the Priesthood would fanatically oppose the plan, and allowed the development to happen gradually.

The Madjless (the Iranian Parliament ) had, in 1935, passed a new marriage law that significantly improved the woman’s position. In the same year, a women’s company was established in Tehran with the daughter of Shah himself, the beautiful Princess Shams-e-Pahlevi as the Honorary President. The rising enlightenment and the women’s own desire for liberation led to less strict adherence to the veil – the days of the Tchådor were over.

Arthur Christensen talks in his “Cultural Sketches” about the historic day in Tehran – 8th January 8 1936 – when the veil was officially abolished and the European clothing was introduced. At the inauguration of a new school, the Shah drove through the main streets of the city, led by his two daughters, Princess Shams and Princess Ashraf – both in European clothes – and at the party, the Ministers came with their wives, …  The Shah gave a speech to female students, reminding them that while the women did not count on the censuses of the past, all Iranian women had now been enabled to exercise their maternal duties in the right way and at the same time enjoy rights, which are theirs as Members of the Society.

“The Tchådoren has fallen!” –  The news spread quickly across the country, and in the cities most women gradually followed the example of Tehran. Even the clergy got carried away. At the holy tombs of Meshed and Qum, receptions are held, where the highest officials of the mosques were present with their unveiled wives – just yesterday a fantastic and blasphemous thing, which no one would dare to do, now, today a proof of the release of the Iranian woman and of the Shah’s power.

The veil was not only dropped, it was also forbidden. On one of Tehran’s main streets, in the winter of 1938, I saw a police officer walking toward a European lady, who has got out of a car outside a restaurant, and politely, but definitely encouraging her to take off the light veil, which she had over her head to keep her hairstyle …

But out in the remote villages, the new fashion did not arrive so quickly. On our travels around the country we saw many women who had not yet removed the Tchador. In Djamshid, the police were not as rigourous as their colleagues in the capital. … The official fall of the veil was  perhaps one of the most characteristic features of the rapid development of the country. Another thing which emphasized to the world that this was anew era, was the Shah’s decision to change the country’s name from Persia to Iran. The memory of the period of weakness during the Kadars had to be eradicated, so a name was chosen that dated back to the most ancient history of the land, as a symbol of its rebirth. Iran or Argan, is believed to be a name attributed to the common ancestors of the Persians and Indians. As early as the 17th century before the birth of Christ, Iranian tribes from their settlements on the steps of Russia and Turkestan began to descend towards the land between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and gradually they established themselves in an area roughly similar to the present Iran.

It was not just through the change of the country’s name, that Reza Shah sought to keep a glorious past in the mind of his people. The new architecture that grew up, not least in the redevelopment of Tehran, styled to reflect ancient Persian buildings such as the palaces of the Achaemenid kings of Persepolis and Susa.

But most clearly, the efforts of the Shah are evident in an endeavour to enlighten the youth of the country – the future of the nation. In schools, history has become one of the most important subjects, and on the sports fields the new generation’s health is being built up. Thousands of Iranian young people are now members of the National Scout Corps, not a copy of the Italian Boy Scouts or the German Hitler Youth, but a Scout movement just like ours in Denmark. We attended a big show for Crown Prince Muhammad Reza at the stadium on the outskirts of the capital. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and athletes from all over the country showed up to demonstrate their skills. Their performances were neat, but did not really impress a Dane. The whole thing was so new and sport was still in its infancy in Iran. What made an impression on us was something else entirely.

We had been told that the Crown Prince, now 18 years old, had stayed for a couple of years in Switzerland for the sake of his education and had returned as a happy young man who wanted to be kind to everyone. A couple of times we had seen a glimpse of him as he whistled through the streets of Tehran in his big Mercedes Benz. Now we had him as close as a film photographer can get to someone who is Crown Prince of Iran. Djamshid first thought that 20m as an ordinal mortal should get to the son of his Imperial Majesty. He reluctantly followed us as we stepped a little closer, and then stood  in a very tense state. While filming, we had the opportunity to watch the young, future Shah. He was very elegant in his scout uniform and handed out silver prizes to the winners of the various competitions.

But not a smile, not a handshake, not one word, did he expend on the young people who came to receive their prizes. Stiff as a board, he stood there. … it was inevitable that we compared him to the relaxed attitude of the Danish King at a national match. The Crown Prince of Iran could not even be himself with his scouting companions.

This episode at the stadium had confirmed our presumption that an Oriental ruler – at least a Shah of Iran – is regarded in his country as an almost extraterrestrial being, owed a far greater submissiveness than we in Europe are accustomed to showing our own rulers. But at the same time the Shah had decided that every citizen of his kingdom could telegraph him if they had anything to complain about, and the Telegrams should be dispatched free of charge!

We had now spent a month in Iran and had heard a lot about Reza Shah Pahlevi and also seen many of the great reforms and works he had undertaken. We knew that His Imperial Majesty was not only highly respected by his minions, but also – and rightly – feared. He did not consult about in the execution of his major reforms, and several people spoke to us about just how  uncomfortable it was to feel his wrath. … We had often discussed the possibility of filming the Shah, and one day we were told that our wish would be fulfilled, and in a way we had not dreamed.

“We will be at the railway station tomorrow morning at 6.45,” said Engineer Saxild at lunch. “I have been allowed to follow the Shah’s train up to Bandar Shah. He has to go up and attend the annual race on the Turkmen Steps.”

We certainly weren’t late the next morning, on the contrary. At 6.25 am two cars rolled out of the gate of the Kampsax Villa.

First an open Buick Convertible, led by Engineer Saxild in a jacket and top-hat, then our Dodge with Hrairr at the wheel and filled with film gear and bedding. Once Hrairr had driven us and our gear to the Station, he would immediately drive north and meet us at Bandar Shah in the evening. Djamshid was supposed to stay home. The Shah would probably take care of us today – but we had a young Iranian from Kampsax with us as an interpreter.

It was the first voyage His Majesty would make on the completed part of the Trans-Iranian railway from the capital to the Caspian Sea. Maybe he was just as excited about the trip as we were …

As we approached Tehran railway station, … we could see that there was nothing standard about the journey . Police officers stood in every street, and the nearer we came to the station, the closer the ranks became. That morning the general population had to confine themselves to admiring the beautiful building from about 500 metres away – only those with special permits could gain access. In front of the Station gates were some tall, Iranian officers in full regalia, the entire ministry, some officials and engineers from the Kampsax Consortium — all in top-hats, jacket and freshly pressed trousers. Engineer Saxild joined those waiting and we sorted out our cameras. At 7 o’clock the small group in top-hats and clattering sabers fell silent. Precisely at that moment, the Shah’s black Rolls Royce rolled into the railway station. But Reza Shah’s unusual personality meant that he ignored the waiting dignitaries, all of whom had now taken their positions required by the court etiquette when the Shah was in close proximity. He stopped near the civilians and the station gates instead of in front of the red carpet and the imperial private entrance. Out he and the Crown Prince stepped and wandered into the main hall of the Station while the dignitaries scampered to take new places. Having convinced himself that everything was as it should be in the main hall, something he had obviously he had doubted – the Shah, followed by the Crown Prince and the Dignitaries, came out of the main entrance and went to his private entrance. Our cameras spun, and thanks to Shah’s little maneuver, we got a far better picture than expected.

Reza Shah’s power and personality radiated impressively from him. A tall, slightly hunched figure – he was now about 60 years old – in a simple khaki uniform without signs of rank and distinction. His eagle nose and strong eyes reflected an indomitable will. A man, accustomed to command and accustomed to the obedience of others.

The Crown Prince followed his Father at a reverent distance as he entered the private salon. The walls were of light green alabaster, on the black and white marble floor stood heavy bronze furniture, upholstered in gold brocade. After a short rest, the Shah headed down the wide ‘escalier d’honneur’ to the waiting train. The locomotive was Swedish – manufactured in Trollhåttan – as were the elegant First Class coaches and the Shah’s two shiny white carriages at the rear of the train. One last fanfare from the band on the platform and the train slid off along the Northern Line.

The first part of the journey ran through a comfortless Salt Desert where all life seemed to have been extinguished. A single camel caravan and a pair of large vultures gliding under the cloudless sky only emphasized this reality. But on this day the desert had come alive – soldiers with planted bayonets stood guard along the track and straightened up as Shahernes Shah passed by in his white carriage.

“Chai, Messieurs.” … a white-clad Lakaj servant stood in the door and reached out with a tray of steaming tea glasses. Sabi, our Iranian interpreter, explained that the tea was from the Shah’s private Plantation in Lahidjan, the finest country could provide. Exactly every half hour, the servant came back with new steaming glass … “Chai, Messieurs, s’il vous plait. …”

We now entered the Hablerud Valley, surrounded by rugged mountain formations, often of the most unusual shapes, and whose colour scheme is simply stunning . In the radiant sun, they glowed in different shades from crimson and purple to green, and one roll of colour film after another ran through our cameras.

The Iranian Minister of Commerce, Ala, a well-travelled and cultured man who spoke perfect English, settled in our compartment and asked us about conditions in Denmark. We were just talking about the Co-operative Movement, when suddenly a long-drawn whistle came from the locomotive and the train, with hissing brakes, began to slow and then stopped. The minister turned as pale as a corpse, and everyone stood up. A police officer in the corridor pulled out his revolver and dashed out. The Shah’s heavily armed bodyguard unit, which was located in the front carriage, jumped off the train with the guns at the ready – the halt had happened in quite a desolate mountain range, perhaps it was an assault on the Shah …

In the train there was great confusion. Ministers and officials were gathered around – it was a scandal that such a thing could happen. But what had happened? … Was the locomotive broken? Or was the track blocked? Everyone feared the wrath of the Shah and the heavy consequences this could have. Finally, there was a technician who went to ask the driver what happened. It seems as though a brake chord had been pulled somewhere in the train. This message only helped to heighten the confusion – was there still be the danger of an assault, despite the guard posts and the patrols along the line? Perhaps the one who had stopped the train was in cahoots with the bandits …? When the tension was at its peak, a young, jacket-clad Iranian entered carriage. He was Secretary to Prime Minister Djam and had been in the Shah’s Salon wagon when the train stopped. The young man looked really excited, and when he had told us what he knew, everyone burst into laughter. By the Prophet’s beard, was it not the Shah himself who had pulled the emergency brake! He had asked what the handle on the wall was for, and Traffic Minister Ahy had explained how to use it. Immediately the Shah pulled the emergency brake handle to ascertain, on the spot, whether his subordinates had everything in order. I can almost hear the sigh of relief that came from the Minister of Transport, when the brake worked as it should …

Lunch, now served in our compartments, tasted twice as good on after the recent events. First was a Casserole full of light, large-grained caviar, then a portion of scented pilaf with mountains of rice, and finally oranges, figs, dates and nuts.

We had now passed Gaduk and passed through the long tunnel and on through the figure of eight and the three grades in quick succession and on into the land of the rice fields and primeval forests. The Shah himself owned large properties in northern Mazanderan, and the interest he showed in local conditions was evident when the train, at his request, stopped at one of the small stations. The village authorities and the stationmaster stood with their hands on their stomachs, and the local scouts paid tribute when the Shah stood on the platform and gave his orders. Axel and I had for once realized the hopelessness of complying etiquette. You can’t both film and keep your hands on your stomach …

In the afternoon, we reached the railway station at Bandar Shah, which is located on the Turkmen steppe at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, not far from the Soviet-Russian border. Both the exterior and interior of the building were adorned with magnificent carpets. Shortly after arriving, the Shah’s chefs began serving dinner. You sat and balanced your plate, as best you could, on the platform, in the waiting room and in the train. Despite the imperial extras on the whole journey from Tehran, there was no alcohol or spirits served until now. Both golden Dubrowka vodka and heavy spiced Shiraz wine suddenly appeared – a pleasant change from the eternal Chai. Perhaps the appearance of this nectar was in connection with the fact that His Majesty and his companions had left the train at the station before Bandar Shah and had been taken out to the Shah’s palace in the vicinity.

The darkness had rested long over the Turkmen steppe before calm fell over the small station, and soon a peaceful snoring was heard behind the mosquito nets in the compartments and waiting rooms, where Imperial Iranian Ministers and Officer as well as two Danish Film Photographers slept safely after the day’s efforts.

After the races at Bandar Shah, the jockeys really needed a rest – and probably also their horses. Most of the races included 30-40 horses, ridden by small Turkmen boys aged 10-13 years. The same boys rode all day but on new horses each time. The shortest race was 3.6km long, the longest 12.8km. The winner of the longest race took only 16 Minutes and 54 seconds!

In total, the boys rode about 35 km each on the racetrack in a rising heat, which admittedly only reached 37 ° C, but which felt suffocating due to the humid air. For the sake of completeness, we should add that all the young Jockeys had come riding from their villages far away from Bandar Shah and started out for home immediately after the races.

From his pavilion, as an old equestrian officer, the Shah followed events with expert interest, not least the races in which his own horses participated. There were no presentations to make. Quietly and earnestly, he stood looking out over the course, and between the races he walked back and forth inside the Pavilion in conversation with the Crown Prince. During one of these strolls, the Shah came very close to our cameras.

Of course, we sought for a natural approach in our filiming, and for a moment he stared at us – one had the feeling that he could see right through one – then he suddenly turned around, seeming to be anything but pleased with our presence. He called a General and gave him an order, and the General then came straight to us, and shouted a whole lot of obnoxious Persian words. We disappeared at a quite pace! We understood nothing!

When we arrived at Security, Sabi told us that the Shah had said that we could photograph him once, perhaps two times – but three times was too much. …

Axel and I started of south early the next morning with Hrairr and Sabi. We had also met a charming female passenger, a young Swedish Engineer, who had was staying in Bandar Gaz, the station before Bandar Shah. We had met her on the platform the evening before … and had promised to drive her home. When we set off southwards from the port city, Hrairr wanted to follow a shortcut to Bandar Gaz across the steppe, which was as flat as a living room floor to drive on. At first we followed a caravan track which seemed to lead in the right direction. After a while we ended up in a Turkmen village, which provided some excellent film material. … We ran through metre after metre of film. We felt like a couple of school boys playing in forbidden areas without the teacher’s attention.

In Bandar Gaz, after we delivered the young lady to her slightly disoriented husband, we encountered a typical oriental street scene with stalls, donkeys and camels, and in Polesefid, a couple of old men making food on a fireplace. But then things went wrong. In the middle of the recording, a policeman ruched to us and demanded that we account for what we were doing. Sabi managed to soothe things down and he gave us permission to drive on with a promise that we would film nothing more on the way. We didn’t either, but it turned out that the repoprt of our crimes went ahead of us and when we reached Abbasabad we were arrested. The police denied us permission to continue to Tehran before conferring on the phone with the Chief of Police in the Capital. However, we were allowed to go up to Engineer Zimbelius’ home, while Hrairr had to stay at the police station.

When, after two hours, we were allowed to continue, we were aware tthat things were quite heated when we arrived in Tehran. A couple of days went by and we were told that Colonel Seif wanted to talk to us. A secretary from Kampsax, the Armenian Gharakhan, came with us, among other things – as he himself said with a smile – to be able to refer the case to Engineer Saxild if we were to be held …

From his knowledge of things, he thought that the Iranian Police’s attitude was very poor. As we entered the Bureau of Police, a large, blue-painted building on Maidan-e-Sepiih, facing the Imperial Bank, Gharakhan pointed to a hole in the sidewalk, explaining that the gallows used to be erected there until a few years back. Now they undertook executions in the prison outside the city.

We decided to take the fight to the enemy, and, as a lawyer, Axel arranged the case as an attack rather than a defence. … The Colonel appeared to be a small friendly man with dark, wise eyes.

” Look here, Colonel,” began Axel, “we came here to Iran to make a movie that could be of great propaganda value for your country, and then we are bothered by your servants because we are filming a couple of old men toasting their dinner …”

“And a Turkmen village and camels in Bandar Gaz,” Colonel Seif interrupted with a friendly smile, and then he gave us an accurate description of what we had done from morning till evening in the last two days, while simultaneously running his batton over a stack of reports lying in front of him on the desk.

We were mute for a moment. Who could know that the Iranian secret police was so effective? But Axel quickly got on and continued his prosecution, which stated that it was us and not the police who had reason to feel offended, and that not a man in Europe could watch our film if it was exposed of all oriental Colour. When he was done, Colonel Seif rang a bell. An officer came in and stood just inside the door. Whether it was on purpose or if it was just a coincidence, I do not know, but the seconds before the Colonel gave his order were pretty nerve-wracking.

“Chai,” he said finally, and we let out a sigh of relief. He offered us a cigarette, and the case was “settled.” Djamshid was to follow us on all future recordings, and if, with his permission, we recorded cultural scenes, we had to promise to use them only as a flattering backdrop to the portrayal of the progress the country had made under the rule of His Imperial Majesty.

After another glass of Chai, we parted as good friends, and Colonel Seif promised that the police in Abbasabad would get a repremand …


  1. The reference information for this material was provided in Danish: Ingolf Boisen; Banen Skal Bygges Paa Seks Aar (The Railway Built in 6 years);ärnvägar, accessed on 2nd April 2020. The book referred to is about the making of a film about Iranian Railways – “Iran – Det Nye Persien.” An extract is provided on YouTube: Interestingly there are shots of railcars in use as well as steam. The full film can be watched on this link:
  2., accessed on 5th April 2020.

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.