Afghanistan has three railroad lines in the north of the country. The first is between Mazar-i-Sharif and the border town of Hairatan in Balkh province, which then connects with Uzbek Railways of Uzbekistan (opened 2012). The second links Torghundi in Herat province with Turkmen Railways of Turkmenistan (opened 1960). The third is between Aqina in Faryab province and neighboring Turkmenistan (opened 2016). The country currently lacks a passenger rail service, but a new rail link from Herat to Khaf in Iran for both cargo and passengers is under construction and estimated for completion in 2018..
Afghanistan's rail network is still in the developing stage. The current rail lines are to be extended in the near future, the plans include lines for cargo traffic as well as passenger transportation. Afghanistan's neighbors have been improving their own railway networks during the early 21st century. The main plan is to use Afghanistan to connect by rail the four subcontinents of Asia.
In the 1920s, King Amanullah bought three small steam locomotives from Henschel of Kassel in Germany, and these were put to work on a 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge roadside tramway linking Kabul and Darulaman. The December 1922 issue of The Locomotive magazine mentions "Travellers from Afghanistan state a railway is being laid down for a distance of some six miles from Kabul to the site of the new city of Darulaman, and also that some of the rolling stock for it is being manufactured in the Kabul workshops". The August 1928 issue of The Locomotive magazine mentions "the only railway at present in Afghanistan is five miles long, between Kabul and Darulaman". The tramway closed (date unknown), and was dismantled in the 1940s, but the locomotives still exist at Kabul museum in Darulaman.
Over the last century and a half, plenty of proposals have been made about building railways in Afghanistan. In 1885, the New York Times wrote about plans for connecting the Russian Transcaspian Railway, then under construction, with British India via Sarakhs, Herat, and Kandahar. When completed, the project would allow British officers to travel from London to India, mostly by rail, in 11 to 12 days (crossing the English Channel, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea by boat).
About 1928, proposals were put forward for a railway to link Jalalabad with Kabul, eventually connecting to the (then) Indian system at Peshawar. Lines to join Kabul with Kandahar and Herat would follow later. Owing to political upheavals these plans were not implemented.
In the 1950s a hydroelectric power station was built at Surobi, east of Kabul. Three Henschel four-wheel 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge diesel-hydraulic locomotives built in 1951 (works numbers 24892, 24993, 24994) were supplied to the power station.
In 1979 mining and construction locomotive builder Bedia Maschinenfabrik of Bonn supplied five D35/6 two axle diesel-hydraulic 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge locomotives, works numbers 150-154, to an unknown customer in Afghanistan.
Until the 21st century, there were fewer than 25 kilometres of railway inside the country, all of which is built to 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in) Russian gauge. For strategic reasons, past Afghan governments preferred to discourage the construction of railways which could aid foreign interference in Afghanistan by Britain or Russia.
Iran to the west uses standard gauge, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in), to the east and to the south, Pakistan uses 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge, while to the north, the central Asian republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan use 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in) gauge.
There are currently no passenger services or stations in Afghanistan. If any of the various cross-border links are completed and opened to passenger service, new stations will have to be built. Passenger platforms will be 200 mm (7.9 in) above rails. (GOST standard low platforms)
Details of the preliminary list of stations to be served, which circle the central mountains of Afghanistan are available.
The Afghan government is due to form a railway construction commission with technical cooperation provided by the European Commission, which was discussed at the G8 meeting in July 2011. The Commission will be responsible for supervising construction of a rail network within the country and its connection with the country's neighbors. In October 2011, the Asian Development Bank approved funding for Afghanistan's national rail authority. The Afghanistan Railway Authority has a website but, as of August 2017, there is very little on it. It does state that Afghanistan Railway Law (12 chapters and 105 clauses) was drafted in February 2013 and is awaiting approval from "relevant institutions". Training has been provided by the United States Army's Afghanistan Railroad Advisory Team (ARAT).
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union built an approximately 15 kilometers rail line from Termez in Uzbekistan to Kheyrabad in Afghanistan, crossing the Amu Darya river on the Afghanistan–Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge. In January 2010, construction began on a 75-kilometer (47 mi) extension line between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan; this line is also 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in) gauge as the first one built by the Soviets. By December 2010, it began carrying construction materials for other reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
The line, which starts from Hairatan to Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi International Airport in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was completed and is operated by Uzbekistan's national railway Uzbekiston Temir Yullari for a three-year-term until Afghanistan's own railways department takes over. The first freight services began running around August 2011.
A 10-kilometer long line extends from Serhetabat in Turkmenistan to the town of Torghundi in Afghanistan. An upgrade of this Soviet-built line, using Russian gauge, began in 2007. In April 2016, an agreement was reached for a technical feasibility study for a proposal to extend this line approx. 100 km to Herat, where it could connect to the standard-gauge line to Iran that is being built. In accordance with earlier decisions, the line is likely to be standard gauge, with break of gauge at Torghundi.
Another rail line was opened in November 2016, connecting Aqina in Faryab province via Imamnazar with Atamyrat in Turkmenistan. A planned 58 kilometres (36 mi) extension to Andkhoy is in the early phases of construction. It is eventually expected to become part of a rail corridor through northern Afghanistan, connecting it via Sheberghan to Mazar-i Sharif and on to the border with Tajikistan, even though it is unclear when that will happen.
Two broad gauge 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Pakistan Railways lines with steep gradients terminate on the border at Chaman and Torkham. In July 2010, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of understanding for going ahead with the laying of rail tracks between the two countries. Work on the proposed project is set to start in the next four months. The rail tracks would link Quetta in Pakistan with Kandahar in Afghanistan and Peshawar in Pakistan with Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
There is also a rail link planned between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
In September 2010, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) signed an agreement with the Afghan Minister of Mines to investigate construction of a north-south railway across Afghanistan, running from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and then to the eastern border town of Torkham. MCC was recently awarded a copper mining concession at Mes Aynak which would be linked to this railway. MCC is constructing a 921 km long 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) gauge railway line that will link Kabul with Uzbekistan in the north and Pakistan in the east.
The nearest railhead in Iran is a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge freight line which terminates at Mashhad. This line is currently being extended 202 kilometers east to Herat. On April 17, 2007 Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that the executive operations of the Khaf-Herat railway (freight only) project had begun in 2006. There is also a plan for a railway from Chabahar port in Southern Iran to the Hajigak region of Afghanistan - see Hajigak-Chabahar railway, below. In September 2012, Herat in Afghanistan to Khawaf in Iran railway, 70 km of which is inside Afghanistan and 60 km is inside Iran, was 90% complete. In May 2015, it was announced to operationalize it by April 2016.
In February 2017 this was postponed until March 2018. This rail route has four sections, two each in Iran and Afghanistan. Within Iran, saction-1 from Khaf to Sangan 14 km route was completed in September 2016 and saction-2 from Sangan to Iran-Afghanistan border at Shamtiq (Shematigh, Shmtygh, شمتیغ) 62 km was completed in October 2017. Within Afghanistan, saction-3 from Iran-Afghanistan border at Shamtiq–Jono (Jonaw, Junaw) to Ghurian 61.2 km route was completed in October 2017 and section-4 is Jono to Herat Italy-supported 63 km route. Herat is already linked with Turkmenistan via rail and road routes. India and Afghanistan plan to extend rail route from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif. Mazar-i-Sharif is already linked with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan via rail routes.
India is finalizing a plan to construct a 900-km railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar in Iran, being built with Indian help, to the mineral-rich Hajigak region of Afghanistan. In 2011, seven Indian companies acquired rights to mine central Afghanistan’s Hajigak region, which contain Asia’s largest deposit of iron ore. The Government of India has pledged to spend $2bn in developing supporting infrastructure.
In May 2016, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to Iran, agreement was signed to develop two berths at Chabahar port and to build new Chabahar-Zahedan railway, as part of North–South Transport Corridor, by Indian Railway's public sector unit Ircon International.
The establishment of the port of Chabahar's connection to the country’s railway plan, is under study and consideration. With completion of the Kerman–Bam-Zahedan railway and its future connection to the port of Chabahar, this port will connect to the Trans-Iranian Railway.
There are no rail links to China or Tajikistan, though a connection to the latter was proposed in 2008. However, freight trains from China to Hairatan, via Uzbekistan, were inaugurated on 7 September 2016.
In late 2016 updates, there are multiple breaks-of-gauge. These include: 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in)/1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) in the northern area, and 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)/1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in)/1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) at Herat.
The technical feature of the Afghan network will be:
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