The Iranian State Railway PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:29

The railway itself is a notable engineering accomplishment.  Its single-track, standard-gauge main  line extends 865 miles from the southern terminus of Bandar Shahpur, a tidewater port at the northern  end of the Persian Gulf, to Bandar Shahr on the southeastern short of the Caspian Sea.  Within its span  many phases of engineering and railroad construction are combined in somewhat unusual  concentrations.

Soon after completion of the main line by the Iranians, construction began on two branches.  In  1939 the railway extended a branch northwest from Tehran toward Tabriz; in 1941 this line had  passed Zenjan and was carried on to Mianch in 1942, a total distance of 272 miles.  Some work was  done west of Mianch, but the plans based on the former Shah’s insistence upon driving the line from  there straight through, rather than around large hill masses, proved too costly and the project withered.   The other branch, running eastward from Garmsar through Saman to Shahrud for a distance of 196  miles, was placed in service in 1940.  In 1942 the British, purely as a military measure, constructed  two more branches.  One 77 miles in length, extended from Ahwaz to Khorramshahr; the other was a  27-mile extension from this line to Cheybassi, lighterage post up-river from Tanuma and opposite  Margil, in the port area of Basra.

From Bandar Shahpur the line runs northward for 69 miles, across marshland and the Khuzistan  Desert, to Ahwaz, crossing a 3,512-foot bridge over the Karun River at that point.  Following the  course of the Ab-i-Diz River, the railroad continues northwest for 87 miles across the desert to  Andimeshk in the Zagros foothills, where it embarks on the first of the two most dramatic railroad  sections in the world.

The Zagros Mountains are forbiddingly devoid of vegetation, their lonely, rock facades utterly  bleak, the ravines between the profusion of their peaks sheer and desolate.  North of Andimeshk as far  as Dorud, 130 miles distant, the railroad hugs the course of the Ab-i-Diz, crossing it many times in that  section, high in the mountains.  The railroad plunges through tunnel after tunnel - 135 of them in one  stretch of 165 miles - and permits glimpses of breathtaking sweep as it emerges time after time to skirt  the brinks of deep and precipitous canyons.  The first American soldiers traveling north to their station  in Tehran, in January 1943, found no comfort in the fact that the locomotives hauling them over the  single-track railroad were without headlights in this succession of tunnels.  There are many bridges  and there are miles of retaining walls of massive design and galleried sheds to protect the tracks from  snow and landslides.  North of Dorud the line ascends to an altitude of 7,272 feet and, emerging upon  a high plateau, reaches Sultanabad, 91 miles away, and Qum, 87 miles beyond Sultanabad.  From  there it is 111 miles to the capital city, Tehran.

From Tehran, the main line turns abruptly southeast for 1 miles to Garmsar, skirting the high wall  of the Elburz Mountains.  At Garmsar, the line veers northeast again, entering a lofty pass in the Elburz  and climbing to a height of 6,927 feet.  In this 65-mile section, the railroad performs veritable  gymnastics, with spiraled switchbacks, tunnels which burrow through rock in sweeping curves, and,  at one point, a corkscrew climb in which four elevations of track lift the railway with a grade of one in  36.  One-hundred and fifty-three miles from the summit in the Elburz lies Bandar Shah, which is 85  feet below seal level.

Beginning at Tehran, the Soviet sector of the ISR comprised 757 miles of line running east from  the capital to Bandar Shah and Shahrud, and west to Mianch.  The British sector extended for 680  miles of main and branch line southward from Tehran, through the mountains and across the desert to  the Gulf.  Over this route the first American railroad troops rode to Tehran on a train drawn by a little  prewar Forestall locomotive with copper firebox and brightly trimmed wheels.  There journey was  enlivened when, in the wilds of the Zagros Mountains, they had to get out and push the train up the  more difficult grades.  That ludicrous first experience was to fade into the incredible past as the great  diesels from beyond the Atlantic took over the rails in Iran an the trains lengthened and the tonnages  grew.