Iran: the rarely visited East

Spectacular Railways in the East of Iran: 16.11. – 26.11.2019

The Northern Ramp of the Transiranian Railway: 26.11. – 30.11.2019

Eisenbahn im Iran

After three very successful tours for railway photographers and video film makers to Iran, it’s time to focus on the east of the country. If you read the travel advisories  of several European countries, you may be concerned  about the safety situation around Zahedan. But on the ground things look quite different. Ask someone who has been there recently, not people who are against the politics of Iran. For Zahedan we asked for a police escort. Very surprised (“What’s that for?”) but they agreed to give us fainthearted Westerners an escort in this region.

The holy city of Mashhad is the terminus of the most important railway in Iran. The double tracked mainline is still not electrified, although it would make economic sense. Plans for electrification are finished and only the embargos against Iran are delaying the project. Mashhad also has a modern metro.

The line to the port at Bandar Abbas sees dense traffic and is partly very scenic. The most spectacular sections of the line are not accessible by road, hence we’ve ordered little speeders from the railway that will take us to the breathtaking spots with gorges, tunnels and bridges.

The fantastic northern ramp of the Trans-Iranian Railway we’ll visit as an extension to the program because we do not want to bore those who came on all the previous tours to Iran though it’s unlikely that you can ever become bored by a line which winds up from sea level to over 2,000 metres (6,000 ft). The gradient here is stiff (1:36) as the line winds its way up into the mountains, enough to make you feel giddy. It is said that the Austrian engineer responsible was asked by Reza Shah to stay together with his family under his bridge when the first official train ran over it to prove that he trusted his long bridge, some 100 metres high and 65 metres long. He did as he was asked, and he, his family and the bridge survived. The latter, until today!

Railways in Iran

For all lines and some depots the state railway has granted access and  photo permits. Someone from the state railway will accompany us on the tour.

After visiting this country, I can only say that I am also very enthusiastic about what I found culturally. And regarding the railways, thrilled would be the word to describe what is there between the deserts and the mountains. This country is, for me, a new discovery and personally a number one destination.

Iran is a very safe country to travel through despite the negative picture in many western reports. It has friendly, interesting people and totally unexplored sights, many well off the beaten track. Many of these fascinating attractions have never made it into the ‘Lonely Planet’ guide. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Eisenbahn im Iran

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Itinerary

Date

Itinerary

16.11.

Individual Flight to Tehran, please arrive latest with Austrian OS 781 at 20:00 hrs. Transfer to the railway station for boarding the overnight train 336, departing at 23:59 hrs. We’ve booked a first class compartment with four berths for two participants, which mean we bought two tickets per person.

17.11.

Just after our arrival at 11.40 hrs we’ll visit the small museum at the railway station, comprising a 2-10-2 from Vulcan Foundry and other railway material. After lunch we’ll check in to our hotel before going to visit the impressive holy shrine. In the late afternoon you may explore their modern metro individually. Hotel in Mashhad.

18.11.

Linesiding along the line to Sarakhs to the east of Mashhad, visiting the gauge changing station in Sarakhs. Hotel in Mashhad

19.11.

Charter bus to visit to the new constructed line Mashhad – Bafq in the scenic section Dizbad – Torbat-e Heydariyeh. Here, in the afternoon, we’ll go aboard the overnight train 881, departure 15.37 hrs. We’ve booked first class sleeper compartments..

20.11.

Arrival in Cahtar at 06.03 hrs. Small speeders will take us to the inaccessible by road photo locations between Cahtar and Tazarg. In the late afternoon a charter bus will pick us up in Tazarg. About 3 ½ hours bus ride to our hotel in Bandar Abbas

21.11.

In the morning we’ll go about 90 km by charter bus to Fin. There we’ll find our chartered speeders to carry us to the most spectacular sections of the line between Fin and Zadmohamoud Around 17 hrs (sunset) we’ll go back to Fin, and our charter bus will take us back to Bandar Abbas. Hotel in Bandar Abbas

22.11.

Brief visit to the railway of Bandar Abbas and then transfer to the airport for the Friday-only flight of IranAir 3413 12:05 – 13:35 .

Visit to the Bazar in Zahedan and to the railway station, hotel in Zahedan

23.11.

Visit to the station of Zahedan and linesiding along the broad gauge line to Kuh-i-Taftan border via Mirjaveh, hotel in Zahedan

24.11.

We’ll take pictures of the passenger trains 724, arriving at 09.05 and 535, departing at 11.30  and, maybe, some freight trains, before we’ll go aboard train 725, departing at 13.20 hrs. At 18.05 we’ll arrive in Bam. Hotel in Bam.

25.11.

Visit to the world heritage citadel of Bam which is still under reconstruction after the destructive earthquakes in 2003 and 2004. Afterwards we’ll continue by charter bus to Kerman. On the way we’ll stop at the smaller citadel in Rayen, which wasn’t affected by the earthquakes and is hence in a much better shape than Bam. This side trip will allow us to do some railway pictures as well. So you have the alternative between a visit to Rayen or to do some more linesiding. At 21.05 hrs we’ll go aboard the overnight train 725 to Tehran.

26.11.

10.40 hrs arrival in Tehran. Visit to the large railway depot and workshop. Around 11.30  a charter bus will take you to the airport. Arrival at home in the same evening or the next morning.

Alternatively: In the afternoon we’ll go by charter bus to the northern ramp of the Transiranian Railway. Hotel in Qaemshahr.

27.11.

By charter bus we’ll go towards Firuzkouh and linesiding along the northern ramp of the Trans-Iranian Railway, Hotel in Qaemshahr

28.11.

Linesiding between Pol-e Sefid and Firuzkouh. Alternatively a tourist program around Sari, hotel in Qaemshahr

29.11.

Linesiding around Firuzkouh, in the evening we’ll return to Tehran and transfer to an airport hotel just opposite the terminal.

Alternatively you can stay in a four star hotel in downtown Tehran to visit the city the following day for an additional £240.

30.11.

Individual flight home or:

Visit to the world heritage site of Golestan palace and the bazaar, individual trip to the still growing metro system. In the evening transfer to the airport hotel just opposite the terminal.

01.12.

Return flight home

The itinerary can be subject to changes due to train and flight schedule changes.

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Line description

Railways in Iran

Breath-taking! There is nothing more to say. You’ll really need a wide angle lens to get the complete mountain scene, together with the railway, into the viewfinder.

A brief history of the Iranian State Railway – “RAI”

Long time silent – then a masterpiece of engineering

It took a long time before Iran built the first noteworthy railway line. Iran, at that time still called Persia, had fallen victim to the whims and intrigues of foreign interests. The UK and Russia feuded over their influence and interest in the region and this impeded the construction of the railways in Persia. There were several attempts, but they all failed except for the 9 km long metre gauge railway from Tehran to Ray and the mosque Abd-al-Azim. But this railway never gained economical relevance.

The first lines were finally opened during WWI, as Russian, Turkish and British troops occupied the country. Besides a number of military and industrial narrow gauge lines, especially in the oil fields and the northern forests, the first, 148km long, line from Tabriz to Jolfa was opened in Russian broad gauge (1524mm). Otherwise, Persia remained a blank area on the railway map, until a 1676mm broad gauge extension from British ruled Quetta in India (today Pakistan) from Mirjaveh to Zahedan was opened in 1921. This line remained isolated and on the economic margins until 2009.

The railway age only really started after Reza Shah Pahlavi recognised a modern transport system as important for the future development of the country. Other countries had almost completed their entire networks by the end of the 1920s, while in Iran, construction only started in 1927. Although foreign powers preferred an east-west line (and preferred even more an Iran without a railway), Reza Shah aimed for the more important north-south connection between the Caspian Sea, Tehran and the Persian Gulf. He avoided external influences by introducing a task-related tax on sugar and tea, both upon which the state had a trading monopoly. One of the most spectacular railways was financed from these taxes. An American-German consortium started construction in the low lands of the north and of the south from 1927 onwards. In 1933 the Danish-Swedish consortium, Kampsax, took over, planned and co-ordinated the construction of the mountainous sections, - some 1,000km of railway line. They split the contract into 50km long sections and subcontracted many Austrian, German and Italian companies to complete the line. For the construction, ten two cylinder 0-10-0 compound locomotives were purchased from Austria and these remained in Iran after the completion. The Trans-Iranian Railway went from Bandar Shah at the Caspian Sea via Ahwaz, Andimeshk, Doroud, Arak, Ghom (Qum or Qom) and Teheran to Bandar Shahpur at the Persian Gulf. The 1,392km long line climbed twice over passes of more than 2,000 metres above sea level and falls in between to 1,200 metres and below towards Tehran. The complete line was handed over by Kampsax in 1938, several months ahead of schedule and below the calculated costs. Our esteem for our great grandfathers’ work rises further if we compare their performance with today’s infrastructure projects.

Railways in Iran: Garratt on Veresk bridge

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Under British/American/Soviet Administration during WW II

The Trans-Iranian was the foundation of today’s network of railways in Iran. It had less than three years of peaceful operation. When British and Soviet troops invaded Iran, they demanded the eviction of all Germans and “persuaded” Reza Shah to abdicate and leave the country. The railway was taken over by British and Soviet troops and became the famous “Persian Corridor” to supply lend-lease military material and fuel to the Soviet Red Army “through the back door”. But the line wasn’t built either for military use or for the daily shipping of thousands of tons. Nor did they have any appropriate rolling stock available. The backbone of the railway was the 49 2-8-0 locomotives from the German builders Krupp, Henschel and Maschinenfabrik Esslingen (known as “Ferrostaal locomotives” after the Kampsax subcontractor) and the 16  2-10-0 locomotives from Henschel. Besides these, the Iranian State Railway owned 12 Nohab built 2-8-2s which were unsuitable for the mountain lines and four very powerful 4-8-2+2-8-4 Garratts from Beyer Peacock for the steep and long gradients of the northern ramp between Pol-e Sefid up to the summit near the station of Gadouk.

The occupying forces found only the 2-10-0 Henschels to be in suitable technical condition. To deal with the expected loads of freights, the UK sent almost 150 2-8-0 LMS 8Fs to the country which were assembled and erected by the “190 Railway Operating Company”, the “153 Railway Operating Company” and the “155 Railway Workshops Company”. When the British troops handed over the majority of their southern section to American troops, they first brought in 91 2-8-2 War Department engines of class USATC 200 and later 75 1,000hp Alco diesels of class RSD-1 in three batches.

Railways in Iran

Before the invasion of Iran, the Trans-Iranian Railway handled about 200 tons of freight each day. The British troops reached 1,530 tons on average per day in late 1949 while the US troops topped that with 6,489 tons per day on average in 1944. In the Soviet zone they used mainly German locomotives and, after repair in the Tehran workshops by British men, the four Beyer-Peacock Garratts. The Russians had to master the steeper gradient, but they didn’t need to cope with as many tunnels as the railwaymen on the southern section between Andimeshk (146 metres above the sea) and Doroud (1,454 metres above the sea). In addition, water supply in the Soviet zone was much easier. In the British zone it was in permanent short supply before collapsing totally. Several stations had to be supplied with tank wagons. Boiler wash-outs were difficult due to the shortage of water supply, and in the days before internal water treatment was introduced boiler wash-outs were a frequent task for the railwaymen. Water, boiler conditions, injectors and exhaust emissions in the tunnels remained a permanent challenge until the US troops introduced the Alco RSD-1 diesels which had to be run double headed on the steeper sections.

Between December 1941 and May 1945 over 3 million tons of goods travelled over the Trans-Iranian. During the occupation only military railway extensions were constructed, for instance, to another port on the Persian Gulf because the jetty in Bandar Shahpur was too small to handle the incoming freights.

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Developments after 1945

The expansion of the railway network, already started under Reza Shah’s reign, could only be continued after the US troops left the country in late 1945. The Soviets left far later, after they had tried to annex the Azerbaijan province. In the following years, Iran was able to connect its railway system to Turkey. In the 1970’s some major projects would be completed. From the 1980’s road traffic was preferred by the politicians. Motorways were constructed, cheap and sometimes subsidised fuel made car driving affordable for many. Trucks became the backbone of freight traffic. At the turn of the last century, Iran had some 12 million inhabitants, nowadays there are roughly 80 million Iranians. This led to an enormously increased demand for transport, but also to hefty pollution in the megacities and a large number of traffic deaths. Today only 9% of transport is handled by rail. That’s why Iran announced an ambitious railway construction programme, spoiled somewhat by the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the even newer sanctions introduced because of their nuclear programme. However, since the 1990s, many lines have been handed over to traffic and the investments are ongoing.

Other large projects are in the pipeline and are going to be co-financed by the private sector. There are feasibility studies, for instance, for a line along the Persian Gulf shore from Ahwaz to Bandar Abbas, another very large project. In 2010 the state railway planned to enlarge its network by 2025 from around 11,000km to 25,000km. Such expansion rates are, elsewhere, only known in China.

Railways in Iran

The first high speed line between the megacities of Tehran and Isfahan is under construction. For a long time on the “to do” list is the electrification of the double tracked line, TehranMashhad. There are also ideas for turning this into a high speed line. Probably only after the sanctions are lifted and the oil price has recovered, will Iran have the money to finance their ambitious plans for another 850km long 250km/h high speed line. At the moment there is still a shortage of many things they can’t import easily. Many construction plans are behind schedule or stopped completely. The sanctions are painful for Iran’s economy, but especially for the population. After decades of long experiences with American sanctions against Cuba and the current EU-sanctions against Russia, it remains very doubtful if sanctions will have any influence on the politics. Just recently they signed contracts about improving their signalling system and electrifying the northern section of the Trans-Iranian. The latter contract was signed with the Russians, hence it’s very likely that it won’t be affected by the political ideas of the west.

The railway is surprisingly on time and fast. This is an enormous advantage against the road traffic – and the travellers appreciate this fact. Many long distance trains seem to be sold out days if not weeks in advance.

Railways in Iran

In different publications you find different spellings of the city names. There is no unified transliteration for Farsi, as there is Pinyin for Chinese.

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Remarks

Eisenbahn im Iran: Mashhad

The tour is designed especially for railway photographers and video film makers with a broader interest in the ancient culture of Iran. The focus is not on five star accommodations with gourmet cooks, but on taking advantage of the newly available opportunity to capture some scenes of an almost unknown and very interesting railway. This tour is not compiled for political campaigners, religious, environmental or human rights activists, investigative journalists, missionaries or notorious do-gooders. At the slightest suspicion of your motives, your participation on this tour will be denied or terminated, when on the tour. There are ongoing plans to open other lines to photographers and hence there is no interest in anyone who aims to profile themselves in certain communities for selfish reasons and spoil the relationship with the state railways.

Iran is a safe country to travel to, although your media may paint another picture. The greatest danger you’ll face when travelling to Iran is not militant Muslims (actually we only met very open, helpful and lovely people on trips through Iran) or unknown diseases but the dense and fast road traffic – as in many other countries of the world. However, it’s not as chaotic as put about by many publications. The road traffic in the neighbouring country, Pakistan, is much worse. It’s rather simple: keep eyes and ears open and use common sense (if you haven’t lost it through years and years in your “fully comprehensive insurance” country). Be far seeing and forbearing: he who does not see a green traffic light as his right of way, is the one who returns healthy and happy from the tour!

Eisenbahn im Iran

You’ll take away many good impressions from a not so well known country. Many you talk to, will advise you not to travel to Iran. Don’t trust everything you read in a newspapers. Again, just use your common sense. If you are willing to learn a bit about the history of the country you’ll find some often repeated facts, such as the Soviets killing many civilians by bombing a city. Iran was never a threat to Russia but when looking into their history you’ll also understand why Iranians might have a problem with American or British politics. They have however no problems with American or British tourists; they’re warmly welcomed.

To reach the best photo positions you might be tempted to hike into the mountains. You’ll need solid footwear and,again,common sense. Always think about your own safety. Better skip climbing in tricky places if you’re not sure how it feels to fall several hundred metres!

In November it’s warm and often dry – except on the northern section of the Trans-Iranian where temperatures may drop below 10 degrees Celsius at the summit. Otherwise temperatures are expected in a range of 15 to 35 degrees Celsius. Sunrise in Mashhad and Bandar Abbas around 6 am, in Zahedan 20 minutes earlier, sunset is already around 5 pm, in Mashhad already around 4.30 pm. Especially on the northern ramp of the Trans-Iranian we may experience some rain.

Off the major tourist sites the quality of hotels is basic. Even hotels in medium-sized cities offer often only a very basic standard. In larger towns like Tehran or Mashhad we’ll book suitably good hotels. Single rooms are available at a premium except on overnight train journeys. We book the four berth compartments in the first class for two persons only. This means we buy two tickets per person.

Eisenbahn im Iran

Electricity: 230v, 50Hz; blackouts are uncommon. In some cases you’ll need an adapter for the sockets which are mostly the central European type. If you’re from the UK you will need an adapter. Mobile phones can be used, but there isn’t roaming available everywhere and where there is, it’s expensive. Internet is available in most of our hotels. It’s not the fastest, but it’s stable. Some websites are not reachable from Iran.

Please do not wear high visibility clothing. We are on a photo tour! When travelling in an Islamic country you should be considerate of their rules. Short trousers are a no-no and will terminate the tour for you. Carrying drugs beyond a certain amount brings the treat of the death penalty. Drinking alcohol is prohibited, but there is alcohol-free beer and wine on offer. Ladies need to cover their hair and neck.

Eisenbahn im Iran

Our meal times are very flexible when we are photographically active. You’ll not starve, but times and choice might be challenging for you. It is recommended that you carry some muesli bars with you. However, our Iranian tour guides will offer some snacks if there is no proper meal available occasionally.

Environmental standards in Iran do not conform to European, Australian or North American expectations. Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation may fall short of EU/US etc. safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. Neither FarRail Tours nor the local providers can be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage or issues, additional costs etc. caused by delays or changes in the timetables. A comprehensive overseas health insurance policy is compulsory for the visa application. We also recommend you to have accident insurance and a travel cancellation insurance which will cover tours to Iran.

Eisenbahn im Iran

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Price

Iran
The Far East of Iran: Mashhad, Bandar Abbas and broad gauge in Zahedan 26 to 32 participants £2,720
16.11.2019 – 27.11.2019 15 to 24 participants £2,975
  Single room surcharge £460
Registration Deadline: 01.08.2019
The Caspian side of the Transiranian 22 to 32 participants £640
26.11.2019 – 30.11.2019 10 to 21 participants £710
  Single room surcharge £130
Registration Deadline: 01.08.2019
 

Tehran 30.11. – 01.12.2019 from 2 participants: £240, single room supplement: £58

The price includes

Not included are:

* Different arrival times require a separate airport transfer. Our local agency asks for 90 Euros, hence we recommend a local taxi (negotiable, 25 Euros should be fine).

Eisenbahn im Iran

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