Untitled Document

2007, t. XIV

Expansion of Iran transport system

Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

Transport system of Iran is fast expanding now: length of railway network has doubled (from 4600 km up to 8400 km) and expressways as well during last 15 years; new ports built and some old expanded to export oil and petrochemical products. The spatial aspects of this expansion are not yet investigated by the transport geographers, this is why we study this subject here.

Transport-geographical position. Iran has very advantageous geographical position in the Middle East with strong transit functions (see map on
Fig. 12). It is located between Caspian Sea on the north and Persian and Oman Gulfs on the south, and this is why it is land bridge between both seas. Iran has western borders with Turkey & Iraq and eastern ones with Afghanistan & Pakistan. Transcaucasian (Armenia and Azerbaijan) and Central Asian states (Turkmenistan) are bordering Iran from the north and the Persian Gulf emirates (Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Oman) from the south. So, much land good traffic between these countries passes the territory of Iran. Such good transit position is very convenient and efficient for international trading between many countries of Middle East, Central and South Asia. The shipment of cargos transited via Iran were started from 81 countries in 2005, while 37.1 percent of them shipped from Kazakhstan, 25.8 percent - from Turkmenistan, 11.8 - from UAE, 8.6 - from Russia and 5.4 - from Azerbaijan. This is why Iran plays not only economic, but important geopolitical and strategic role in this world’s macroregion as well.

Oil and gas deposits as main factor of recent transport development. Another big geographical advantageous resource of Iran is large oil deposits, which is extracting since 1909 in the south-west, mainly on the Persian Gulf shelf deposits (see green areas on the map of Fig. 1; a large new offshore field was discovered in 2001 near Abadan; there are the deposits in the west of Iran also). Main oil producer is the state-owned National Petrochemicals Company. Iran produces 3.98 million barrels of oil per day (before Islamic Revolution its production was near 6 million bpd; 4th Five-Year Economic Development Plan for 2005-2009 intends to increase the petroleum production up to 56 million tones per year), and is the world's fourth largest exporter, shipping around 2.5 million bpd to international markets. Petroleum and petrochemical products are 90% of export commodities of Iran (mostly to Japan, China, Italy, South Korea, Turkey). Tankers are shipping the most of exporting oil from port oil terminals Bandar-e-Emam Khomeini, Kharg, Kangan, Lavan, Sirri, Bandar Abbas.
The transportation of crude oil, refined petroleum and petrochemical products inside the country is realized by extensive network of pipelines (see Fig. 1). Iran’s central pipeline infrastructure is designed for the domestic transit of oil, including from offshore oil fields to processing centers. The main oil pipelines connect the Persian Gulf deposits with main oil refineries (see Fig. 1) in Shiraz, Esfahan, Arak, Kermanshah, Shahr-e-Ray (near Tehran), Tabriz. These refineries produce no so much petrol, as the country needs, so Iran is importing it from the neighbor emirates of Persian Gulf (mainly from UAE). The length of oil pipeline network (2006) is 8,521 km, refined products pipeline network - 7,808 km, pipeline for liquid petroleum gas - 570 km, and pipeline for gas condensate - 397 km.

Fig. 1. Oil and gas pipelines network.

Big deposits of natural gas (estimated as 17,010 milliard cub. m) are located in the south of the country (see map on Fig. 1), including offshore fields in the Persian Gulf. The biggest gas field is situated in South Pars, which was discovered in 1988 and is under intensive development since early 2000s. Most
of natural gas is consumed inside the country. Gas deposits are connected with main cities of western part of Iran by Transiranian gas pipeline built in 1970s. Natural gas also has been importing from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan since 1973 by pipeline Sarakhs - Mashhad. There are export gas pipelines to Azerbaijan (Kangan - Astara) and Turkey (opened in 2002), and also isolated pipeline Bandar Abbas - Kerman. Network of natural gas pipelines has length 17,099 km (2006). Since 2000 several new natural gas pipelines have been planned; some have failed because of geopolitical considerations (for example, U.S. opposition to a key Iranian role in delivering Central Asian oil and gas to the West), and some, such as the gas export line from Iran to Turkey, function at reduced capacity. In 2006 plans call for new pipelines to exploit markets in Armenia and Pakistan. The 160 km line to Armenia is scheduled for completion in 2007. The 2,600 km pipeline to Pakistan, which potentially also could supply India, remains in the planning stage in 2007.


Two important political events influenced on the development of transport system: the Islamic Revolution (1979), which has led to economic and cultural isolation from the West, and the Iran - Iraq War (1980-1988), destroyed main oil and infrastructure facilities in the south-west area along the Persian Gulf shore and redirected the main external connections of the system to the south-east, the north-east and the north-west instead the most vulnerable south-western one. The Iranian government has kept the line to continue constant construction and expansion of the road and rail networks. This transport strategy has resulted in an overland transportation system that is adequate for freight and passenger demands in the 2000s. Ports destroyed during the war have been rebuilt, and new ones on the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf have been developed. Air transportation is relatively inexpensive, and all large cities and many smaller ones have airports with regularly scheduled daily flights.

Structure of freight and passenger traffic by transport modes. The main external mode of transportation is the sea transport, and inner one - motor transport. Sea-borne freight traffic was 168 million tones (1996), else 125 million tones (1999) were transported by roads and 23 million (1999) - by rails; so, the freight traffic share of sea transport was 53%, motor transport - 40% and railway transport near 7%. Main passenger operator is the buses (transported 68 million passengers in 1999, or 76% all passengers). Railways carried only 14 million passengers in 1999 (16%) and airplanes - 8.3 million.
Motor transport is the main mode of overland transportation in Iran. It is carried near 80% of inner goods (210 million tones in 2001) and the most of passengers (860 million in 2001, including private cars). Railways carried 22 million tones of goods and 10 million passengers; air transport - near 10 million passengers in 2001.
Overland transport network. The length of road network (2003; source: CIA, 2007) is 179,388 km, including 120,782 km (67%) paved and 58,606 unpaved roads. Paved road density is very low - 74 km per 1000 sq. km (in Poland, for example, 970 km per 1000 sq. km). Railway network (2006) has 8365 km (only 186 km electrified) and 2350 km under construction. Railway density is much lower (5.1 km per 1000 sq. km), than in any European nation (75.8 km in Poland). The length of waterways is only 850 km. The ratio between the length of paved roads and railways is 14.4 times (in the U.S.A., for example, this ratio is 25.4; in the UK - 22.0; in the world - 18.6; in Germany - 15.9; Brazil - 6.0; Russia - 5.4; China - 4.0), that means the road network is dominating in the overland transport network.


Very important feature of external activity of nation economy and its transport system is the openness degree of its borders to trade with neighborhoods, which is described not only by the size of export and import, but by spatial openness. The latter is measured by the indicator called as „transport permeability of territory” and calculated as a ratio between the total perimeter length of all border lines and the number of transborder crossings: than smaller this ratio, than less metric distance between neighbor border crossings is and this border is more opened for transborder contacts. Main land border crossings are indicated on the map (see Fig. 2).

External land transport permeability of territory. Total length of land boundaries of Iran is 5440 km, coastline of Persian and Oman Gulfs - 2440 km, coastline of Caspian Sea - 740 km; totally - 8620 km. 30 roads and railways (with 20 frontier terminals) are crossing the land boundaries, so transport permeability of Iranian land boundaries is 181 km between two neighbor border crossings. Thus, Iran is semi-closed country for land transportation (compare, for example, with Poland, where land transport permeability is 21 km). Each bilateral border is opened in different ways: the land borders are more opened between Iran and Armenia (35 km; 1 border crossing at Nordouz), Naxcivan Republic of Azerbaijan (36 km; main entrances at Jolfa and Poldasht), Turkey (125 km; Bazargan, Sero), main part of Azerbaijan (144 km; main entrances at Bilesavar and Astara) and Turkmenistan (165 km; Incheh Borun, Bajgiran, Loftabad, Sarakhs); the land borders are semi-opened between Iran and Pakistan (227 km; main entrance at Mirjaveh); it are semi-closed between Iran and Afghanistan (312 km; main border gate - Dogharon) and Iraq (364 km; main entrances at Mehran, Khosravi, Piranshahr). So, the northern neighbor countries are much more opened to Iran, but not western and eastern neighborhoods. The data about Poland could let understand, how is low level of transport permeability of land borders in Iran (between Poland and Czech Republic - 13 km, Germany - 17 km, Belarus - 25 km, Slovakia - 27 km, Kaliningrad Region of Russia - 30 km, Lithuania - 34 km, the Ukraine - 44 km).

Fig. 2. Main land border crossing points of Iran

International terminals. The number of frontier cargo terminals inside Iran and at its borders increased from 25 to 40 and the number of passenger terminals - from 132 to 219 in 1997-2005 (in 1376-1383 years by Iranian calendar, each year started on 21 March).
External transport permeability of sea coasts. There are 30 seaports along the coast of Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. Its transport permeability is 81 km between two neighbor ports. The Caspian Sea coast has 7 ports, and its transport permeability is 106 km between two neighbor ports. So, Iran is much more opened country for sea transport (37 ports and 86 km between two neighbor ports), than for land transportation (181 km).


Total sea-borne traffic in 1974 consisted of 287.332.000 metric tones of goods loaded and 4.525.000 tones of goods unloaded; in 1996 respectively 140.581.000 (including 134.615.000 tones of crude petroleum and petroleum products) and 27.816.000 tones (the newest information is not available). The comparison of these numbers indicates that the sea traffic reduced after Islamic Revolution twice. 1.147.700 TEU containers were handled in Iranian ports in 2003.
The number of registered vessels is slowly decreasing in 2000-2002 from 395 to 380 and its displacement (1000 GRT) also - from 4.234,4 to 4.128,4. The main national operator is the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which had 84 vessels with a total tonnage of 2.5 million in 1999 and serves routes in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea and carries cargo to Europe, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, the Far East and South America. Others operators are Irano-Hind Shipping Co. (joint venture between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Shipping Corpn. of India), National Iranian Tanker Co., Iran Marine Service. Company „Valfajre-8” operates car ferries and catamarans from Bushehr, Bandar-e Abbas and Langeh to Dubai, Sharjah, Kuwait City, Manama weekly. Now (2006) Iran has 141 ships (1000 GRT or more), including 39 balk carriers, 45 cargo, 30 petroleum tankers, 4 chemical tankers, 12 container ships.
All 37 Iranian ports handled 168 million tones in 1999, including 135 million of crude oil and petroleum products. 1922 vessels touched at Iranian ports in 1993/94 and 4331 in 1999; 33.9% of it - at port Bandar Abbas, 30.4% - Bandar Emam Homeini, 19.7% - Bandar Anzali, 8.4% - Bushehr, 6.5% - Now Shahr, 2.2% - Chahbahar. Oldest Iranian port Khorramshahr has lost his main role after its destroying in 1980-81.
6 major ports of Bandar-e Abbas, Bandar-e Shahpur, Chabahar (known as Bandar-e Beheshti after the 1979 Revolution), Bushehr, Abadan, and Khorramshahr had a capacity of 12 million tons by 1976. Destruction in the Iran-Iraq War and Iraqi occupation of ports Khorramshahr and Abadan in 1980 located on the Iraq border have caused to lose its status as Iran’s busiest ports, giving greater importance to Bushehr and Bandar-e Lengeh on the Persian Gulf, as well as to Bandar-e Abbas and Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman (see Fig. 5).
The main oil terminals are Kharg Island (Fig. 7), located 25 kilometers offshore, and Bandar Gonaveh in the northeastern Persian Gulf (South Pars province). Caspian ports have handled more trade since 1992, as commerce with the Central Asian countries has increased. Modernization projects are underway in Bandar-e Anzali on the Caspian Sea and Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman. Near 30 million tones of freight traffic (by our estimation) handles Port Bandar-e Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, 28 million - Port Emam Homeyni, 4 million - Port Anzali. Main container port of Iran is Bandar Abbas.
Main ports of Caspian Sea (see Fig. 3). Main ports here are Bandar Anzali (former Bandar Pahlavi; Fig. 4), Bandar Now Shahr, Bandar Amirabad. Port Anzali has 10 jetties with capacity 4 million tones of general goods and handles such commodities as steel, timber, automobiles. 5 new jetties will be constructed here, and its capacity achieve to 8 million tones. Port Now Shahr serves the Tehran and will be modernized. New port Bandar Amirabad has 8 jetties and 5 oil jetties will be built else; 1.2 million barrels of oil are exported from Aktau via this port; its future capacity will be 15 million tones. New oil port is under construction at Neka; it will serve oil tankers from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia.

Fig. 3. Caspian ports of Iran

Main ports on south coast (see map on Fig. 5) are Khorramshahr, Abadan, Bandar Emam Homeini (former Bandar Shahpur), Bandar Mashahr, Kharg, Bandar Bushehr, Lavan, Kish, Bandar Lengeh, Sirri Island, Qeshm, Bandar Abbas and Chabahar. The first 4 ports were strongly damaged in Iran - Iraq War (1980-88) and have lost its former significance besides Bandar Emam Homeini and Bandar Mashahr, which have been rehabilitated soon in 1990s.

Fig. 4. Port Bandar Anzali

Fig. 5. Persian Gulf's ports in Iran

Port Bandar Emam Khomeini (Fig. 6) has capacity 28 million tons; its main commodities are steel, clinker, steel slab. It has Razi petrochemical jetty also. Port on the Island Kharg (Fig. 7) handles oil and petrochemical products (Pars petrochemical port) and is the biggest tanker terminal of Iran. New oil export port Bandar Gonaveh (near island Kharg) was built and opened in 1988, handling 2 million bpd. The port Bandar Bushehr (Fig. 8) handles the dry cargos. The biggest port of Iran is Bandar Abbas (capacity 30 million tones; Fig. 10; see details further). The most remote port is located at the south-eastern corner of Iran, near Pakistan border. It is Chabahar (Fig. 11), working with general cargos (including grain import) and was built in 1984-88 with two terminals (Bandar-e Beheshti). It will be connected by ferry with Pakistani port Gwadar.

Fig. 6. Port Bandar Emam Khomeini

Fig. 7. Port Kharg

Fig. 8. Port Bushehr

Fig. 9. Port Island Kish

Fig. 10. Port Bandar Abbas

Bandar Abbas Port. When the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) started the port Bandar Abbas (see Fig. 10) has been developed as the major national commercial port to replace the destroyed port of Khorramshahr, which lies at the northern end of the Persian Gulf and had been captured and occupied by Iraqi forces. Bandar Abbas consists of two ports: old port Shahid Bahonar with the biggest national naval base and Shahid Rajaee. The latter has been officially inaugurated in 1983, and became the main non-oil Iranian port on Persian Gulf. It has been extending since 1985 in two phases. About 75% of Iranian imports through the Persian Gulf were off-loaded at Bandar Abbas by the 1990s. 9 million tones of cargo (of 12 million handled at southern ports) had passed it annually at the end of 1990s. It handles steel products, bitumen, grain, iron; has also container terminal, which handled 1 million TEU in 2003. Big oil-refinery was built there as well. Its transit role increased after construction two railways: Bafq - Bandar Abbas, which connects it to main national railway network, and Mashhad - Bafq opened the direct land link between Central Asian countries and this big port of Indian Ocean. New container terminal for export commodities of Azerbaijan and Turkey was built here. New jetty for mineral exports will be constructed here. Bandar Abbas takes 62% turnover of goods of all Iranian ports.

Fig. 11. Port Chabahar


This mode of transportation is no so important, as sea transport. The length of navigable inland waterways is 850 km, including the river Karun in the south-west and the salt lake Urmiya in the north-west. The most important is the 193-kilometer-long Shatt al Arab (Arvanrud in Persian), which is formed in Iraq by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and then forms the Iran-Iraq border until it flows into the Persian Gulf, including the mouth of Karun river. The ports of Abadan and Khorramshahr are located along Karun and the Shatt al Arab. This section has regular traffic operated by "Mesopotamia - Iran Corporation, Ltd."; smaller companies operate with motorboats here. Another inland waterway is crossing the lake Urmiya and connects Sharaf Khaneh (port to the west of Tabriz, north-east shore of lake) and Golmankhaneh (port near Orumieyh, west shore) with a twice-weekly service of tugboats and barges for transport of passengers and goods.


In 1995 Iran’s airports served 6.291 million passengers, in 1999 - 9.574 million (including 8.237 million domestic and 1.338 international), in 2003 - 9.554 million, including about 1.8 million international passengers, about two-thirds of whom flew on domestic airlines.

Fig. 12. Main airports (indicated by blue signs)

Main operators. The national air-carrier company is „Iran Air”, which serves 36 international and 21 domestic routes; it had 43 planes in 2006:
17 Fokker-100, 4 Boeing-727, 8 Airbus-300, 8 Airbus-310, 6 Boeing-747. "Iran Air" served 15 Iranian cities with connections to the Persian Gulf, European and Asian cities in 2004. 5,914,130 domestic and 1,040,142 international passengers were carried by "Iran Air" in 2001; 7,614,000 passengers in 2004. The second-largest carrier, the private "Iran Asseman Airlines", connects the largest domestic cities with destinations on the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Asia. Others companies are "Iran Air Tours" (serves Middle East destinations), "Kish Air" (serves flights to Persian Gulf’s cities, Frankfurt, Paris, London), "Mahan Air" (the main base is Kerman, serves domestic destinations and Damascus), „Saha Airline” (charters), "Caspian Airlines".
Airports. Iran has 321 commercial airports in 2006, 129 of which with paved runways; 41 had runways longer than 3,000 meters. In 2005 some 15 heliports were in operation. 49 airports (see Fig. 12) are operated by regular services, mainly by domestic flights. Most airports are located in western part of Iran (23) and less - in eastern one (10). International airports are located at Tehran (old and the main Mehrabad and new Emam Khomeini in 40 km south of Tehran, opened in 2003 after 30 years of construction), Esfahan (opened in 1984), Mashhad, Bandar Abbas, Ahvaz, Abadan (reopened since 1994), Shiraz Tabriz, Bushehr, on the islands of Kish in the Persian Gulf and Qeshm in the Strait of Hormuz. Because of security reasons the military closed the newly opened Emam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran from May 2004 up to May 2005, even though it was expected to be a major regional air hub. When it reopened in May 2005, its annual capacity was 6.5 million passengers, but its final design capacity is 40 million passengers and 700,000 tons of cargo. This airport serves the flights to UAE and Moscow, and will substitute the Mehrabad airport in the future. Plans called for gradual expansion of services. Main international flights connect Tehran to airports of Middle East (Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait City, Manama), Baku, Central Asia (Ashgabat, Tashkent, Dushanbe, Kabul), South Asia (Karachi, Delhi, Mumbai), Far East (Beijing, Tokyo), Europe (Frankfurt-am-Main, London, Paris, Istanbul).

Fig. 13. Main domestic airlines

Middle-size domestic airports (see Fig. 13) are located mainly in the western part of country; they are Hamadan, Sanandaj, Now Shahr, Gorgan, Orumiyeh, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Khorramabad, Dezful, Ilam, Shakhr-e-Kord, Ahwaz, Bandar Mashahr, Yazd, Bushehr, Bandar-Lengeh, Kish, Lavan. In the East of Iran are no so many middle-size airports: Bojnurd, Birjand, Zabol, Kerman, Sirjan, Bam, Qeshm, Iran Shahr, Chabahar, Sarakhs.
The busiest domestic airlines (see Fig. 13) are Tehran - Mashhad, Tehran - Ahwaz, Tehran - Esfahan, Tehran - Shiraz, Esfahan - Mashhad, Shiraz - Mashhad.


There are about 196,000 lorries (140,000 vans, 37,000 trailers, 7,000 container tankers, 1285 of other kinds) in 2003, which have moved 210 million tones of goods in 2001/2. There are 823 active international cargo and passenger transport companies in Iran, 583 of which are located in Tehran. More than 20 intercity bus companies operate some hundreds services by 52,000 buses and coaches, and TBT, Cooperative Bus Company Nr.1, Sayro Safar are the main operators. Tehran is the busiest bus hub and has three bus terminals (Gharb, Jonoob, Shargh). Intercity coaches and buses have carried 217 million passengers in 1999. 4500 coaches operated international services in 2005. There were 1.8 million passenger cars and 2.6 million motorcycles and mopeds in 1998. Beginning in the mid-1990s subsidized gasoline supplies and increased domestic automobile manufactures have spurred overcrowding of the road system.
Road network. Under ruling Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-41) a construction program provided Iran with a national system of roads, and the road length was near 20,000 km in 1941. The road system was expanded in the 1960s and 1970s: its length was 21,162 km in 1956/57 (2,045 km asphalted), 35,000 km in 1969 (9,160 km asphalted), ca. 50,000 km in 1974 (14,000 km asphalted), 51,389 km in 1984. The first 4-lanes express highways were built in 1970s. After the Islamic Revolution (1978-79) road construction programs focused on connecting rural areas to provincial cities. Since 1989 road construction has stressed ring roads around large cities and multi-lane highways between major metropolitan areas. New highways Zanjan - Tabriz, Tehran - Chalus, Ahwaz - Bandar Emam Homeini, Kashan - Esfahan were built by 2001. Road Harat -Dogharoon connected in 2004 the Iranian and Afghan national road systems; other transborder road from Zaranj (Afghanistan) to Milk (Iran) is under construction now. New road 65 km between Iran and Turkmenistan along Caspian coast has built in 2006.
Road network has expanded very fast in 1990s and 2000s: from 72,656 km in 1993 (including 38,000 km of rural roads) to 111,000 in 1998 (88,228 km of rural), 151,488 km in 2001 and 179,388 km in 2003 (including 120,782 km (67%) paved and 58,606 unpaved roads). Paved road density is 74 km per 1000 sq. km. The road network is distributed very uneven (irregularly): its density is higher along Caspian shore, around Tehran, at north-west and north-east corners of Iran, in the center (between Qum - Esfahan - Shiraz) and at south-west corner (along Persian Gulf’s coast), where oil deposits are mining and population concentrates. Other areas (center with salt deserts, waste mountain and desert undeveloped areas in the east, south-east) have very sparse road network with very low density. Southern part of Iran has denser road network, than central or eastern. From graph theory viewpoint the Iranian road system (the road map in scale 1: 2,250,000 was used, published by Iranian Cartographic company „Gitashenasi” in 2006) is relatively well developed: it has 6 topological tiers in its main circuital framework and 460 circuits (128 - at 1st tier, 129 - 2nd tier, 94
- 3rd tier, 62 - 4th tier, 42 - 5th and 5 - 6th tiers). It means the system is very good connected and achieved to relatively high level of topological connectivity. The topological center of road network (5th and 6th topological tiers) is the strip in the western and central-western parts extending from west to the south-east with main cities Hamadan, Arak, Qom, Kashan, Esfahan, Shahreza at its backbone axis. Tehran has no central position in the network and is located at the limits of 2nd and 3rd topological tiers. The biggest circuits which are empty in population and any its activity are covered Kavir and Lut deserts (the center and the east of Iran), Elburz and Zagros mountains (north and south of the country).

Fig. 14. Road network

The three main national highways (see Fig. 15) are the AH-1 (2089 km) across northern Iran from the Turkish border in the west to the Afghan border in the east, and connecting Tabriz, Tehran, and Mashhad; the AH-2 (2473 km) across southern Iran from the Iraqi border in the west to the Pakistani border in the east via Khosrevi, Hamadan, Qom, Yazd, Kerman, Zahedan; and the Tehran - Qom - Esfahan - Shiraz highway (AH 72; 930 km), which traverses central Iran from north to south.

Fig. 15. Main trunk roads

Motorway network. The length of motorways increased from 457 km in 1983 to 477 km in 1993, 712 km in 1997, 890 km in 1998 and 1500 km in 2003 (see green lines on Fig. 14). Its network consists of 16 isolated subsystems, which are disconnected and located mainly in the western part of Iran. They have no connections with motorway systems of neighbor countries. The biggest subsystem is around Tehran with rays to Qazvin - Zanjan (north-west = NW), to Semnan (E), to Qom - Esfahan - Shiraz (S), Qom - Arak (SW). There are
15 smaller isolated subsystems around Tabriz (NW), Ardabil (NW), Orumiyeh (NW), Hamadan (W), Bakhtaran (W), Khorramabad (W), Ahwaz (SW); Rasht (N), Sari (N), Gorgan (N), Mashhad (NE); Bushehr (S), Yazd (Center), Kerman (E) and Bandar Abbas (SE). The main problem of motorway network is disconnection between 15 small subsystems and one big system.
There are projects to build new motorways to consolidate it into national system: Tehran - Shomal (Caspian coast; with 40 tunnels) - Baku, Shiraz - Firouzabad - Jam, Bazargan - Tabriz (NW; 250 km), Khorramabad - Pol-e-zal, Khorramabad - Andimeshk (part of highway AH8; SW; 159 km), Qazvin - Saveh (AH8; N-NW; 153 km), Sirjan - Bandar Abbas (part of highway AH70; S; 303 km). The Qeshm Bridge (2.5 km) in Persian Gulf will connect this island with mainland of Iran.


Tehran has a combined underground metro and surface rail commuter system. 2 new metro rail systems are under construction in Esfahan and Shiraz in 2007; Mashhad is planning.

Fig. 16. Tehran, metro network 2006

Tehran has extensive route system of buses and minibuses which is run by Tehran Unit Bus Co. There is one trolleybus line (opened on September 14, 1992) with 35 articulated vehicles. Besides the city's 24,000 licensed taxis, some 85,000 private vehicles are used as pirate taxis and add to the congestion. City officials have tried to ease congestion and speed up public transport by imposing restrictions on a 22 square km zone in downtown Tehran where drivers must buy a permit to enter. This is why the metro system was developed very fast in 1990s and 2000s.
The metro system was built in 1986-2006 (see table 1 and Fig. 16). It carries near 10-12% of 13.5 million passenger trips in Tehran everyday. Total network length is 90 km with 36 km underground sections. Network consists of one surface suburban electric railway line 5 to city Karaj (to the west from Tehran; built by Chinese) and two underground city lines 1 and 2. Line 5 (Tehran - Karaj with 11 stations; 41.5 km) was opened in 1999 as surface suburban line and operated with 6 electric locomotives and 24 carriages. It extended in 2005 up to suburb Karaj-Golshahr. Line 2 (East - West: from Sadeghieh to Dardasht with 19 stations; 20.4 km) was opened step-by-step in 2000-2005 (see table 1). Line 1 (North - South: from Mirdamad to Haram-e-Motahar with 22 stations; 28,1km) opened in 2001-2004. There were 265 metro cars in 2003: 140 on Line 1 (22 trains), 77 - on Line 2 (11 trains), 48 - on Line 5 (6 double-deck 8-car trains). The metro trains have the special compartments for women separated from men’s ones.

Table 1. The chronology of network expansion of Tehran metro.

New Lines 3 (between Madjideh in the east and Javadieh in the west (later to Sharyar); 37 km (24 km with 22 stations underground, 13 km with 10 stations on the surface)) and 4 (Tehran Nau in the east to Azadi Square in the west, from where it will later be extended to the domestic airport; 20 km (19 km with 21 stations underground, 1 km and 1 station on the surface)) are under construction. There are also the plans to build lines 6 (from Bokharaei in the southeast to Sadeghieh in the northwest), 7 (from Yousefabad in the north to Takhti Stadium in the southeast), 8 and 9 which would form a circle around the outer suburbs. Total length of future network will be consist of 370 km by 2020.
New metro system is under construction in the city Esfahan (Fig. 17). The only line (12.5 km) with termini Kaveh and Soffeh will connect northern and southern parts of the city. The construction works started in 2002.

Fig.17. The first metro line in Esfahan.

City Shiraz (see Fig. 18) has an intention to build a new system of light rail train (LRT) with 3 lines: 1) 22.4 km from south-east (Gol-e Sorkh) to north-east (Ehsan Sq. & Mirza Koochak Khan) with 21 stations; 2) 8.5 km from Imam Hossein Sq. to Aadel Abaad & Mian Rood with 10 stations; 3) 16 km from Mirza Koochak Khan Sq. to Sadra new town with 6 stations.

Fig. 18. The future metro network of Shiraz.


Iranian State railways have carried 17,390,784 passengers (its regional allocation for 2002 is indicated in table 2) and 29,453,436 tones of goods in 2004. It is operated by Iran's State Railway Company (RAJA), which had 7,201 kilometers of main lines in 2002; length of industrial and commercial secondary railway lines was else 2097 km. The railway fleet of RAJA consists of 16,330 wagons of all types (covered, low sided, high sided, flat, tank, ballast, gas, crane, tail check, etc.), 1192 coaches of all types, 576 locomotives (Diesel-electric, electric and shunting). RAJA network has 363 main stations.

Table 2. Number of passengers carried by RAJA in different operation regions in 2002

Only two lines were electrified: 1) Jolfa - Tabriz (NW; 148 km) and 2) Tehran - Karaj (part of Tehran metro system; 42 km). Line Tehran - Mashhad is under electrification in 2006-07, and the section Miyaneh - Tabriz to be electrified.
The most of network has single tracks besides line Mashhad - Tehran and Tehran - Qom. Double tracking works of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas are running in 2005-07. Total length of double-track lines is 1082 km. Line Qom - Esfahan which is under construction now also will have two tracks.
Most of railway network has standard gauge 1435 mm (see table 3) besides the section Zahedan - Mirhaveh (Pakistani border) with 1676 mm. At the borders of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan there are Russian standard gauge termini (1520mm), where bogie-changing installation located at stations Jolfa and Sarakhs which is used for transit loaded or empty wagons. About 200 bogies can be changed every 24 hours based on two working shifts. Container carrying terminals with lifting and displacing equipments are located at Bandar Emam Khomeini and Bandar Abbas terminals and railway stations at Mehrabad, Jolfa, Sahlan. Free international stations (in accordance with TEA (Asia-Europe Tariff)) are Sahlan, Tabriz, Jolfa, Nikpasandi, Mehrabad, Tehran, Esfahan, Bandar Abbas, Sarakhs, Mashhad (from Razi border). There are no specific limitations from the eastern station Sarakhs. In order to minimize transit time, scheduled freight trains are running on Bandar Abbas - Sarakhs route and pass the 2440 km route within 3 days; 3 trains are operating the same corridor now and will increase to 7 trains in future.
Only 13 of Iran’s 30 provinces had railroad service in the early 2000s. The five main lines of the national system radiate from Tehran (see map on Fig. 20): one runs south to Khorramshahr and Abadan at the head of the Persian Gulf; other runs south to the Strait of Hormuz at Bandar-e Abbas; another runs southeast to Kerman and Bam, with a route under construction farther east to Zahedan, which already is connected to the Pakistan State Railways; one directs east to Mashhad and connects with the Central Asian system on the Turkmenistan border (Sarakhs), and includes a spur to the eastern side of the Caspian Sea; and the fifth line runs northwest to Tabriz and the border with Turkey, where it connects to the Turkish State Railroad and includes a spur north of Tabriz to Azerbaijan’s Naxicevan exclave. In 2005 connections between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf were improved by a new line connecting Mashhad with Baqf in central Iran.

Evolution of network. Iranian railway network has been formed in 5 historical stages (see table 3):
1) the external penetration from abroad: lines from Russia to Tabriz (1524mm gauge), from British India to Zahedan (1676mm) in 1916-1918;
2) the construction of Trans-Iranian railway (1435 mm) in 1927-38 between the Caspian Sea port Bandar Torkaman via Tehran and Persian Gulf’s port Bandar Emam Khomeini;
3) the construction of North-West - North-East railway from Tabriz via Tehran to Mashhad in 1939-57 with re-gauging of Tabriz - Jolfa line from 1524mm into 1435 mm;
4) the construction of lines in the center of Iran to Esfahan, Yazd, Kerman and connection with Turkish rail system in 1966-77;
5) the huge expansion of network to external exits to neighbors (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq) and to export-import ports of Hormuz Straight and Caspian Sea in 1990-2007.

Lines and sections

Length, km

opening date



Tehran - Rey (Shah Abdol Azim)




suburban service to Shiites shrine; closed in 1952

Jolfa - Tabriz




Re-gauged from Russian broad to standard gauge 1435mm in 1957; electrified in 1977 - April 1982

Sufian - Sharafkhaneh (to Urmiya lake)




Re-gauged from Russian broad to standard gauge 1435mm in 1957

Mirjaveh (Pakistan) - Zanjan




broad gauge of Indian subcontinent; dismantled in 1932, rehabilitated in 1941/42

Bushehr - Borazjan




Built by British, dismantled in 1921

Ismailiye (river Karun) - Mesdjede Suleymana




Industrial line of Anglo-Iranian

Oil Company

Trans-Iranian Railway Bandar Torkaman (Bandar Shah) - Tehran - Bandar Khomeini (Bandar Shahpur)




1435 mm

Construction started in September 1927; double track: between Tehran and Garmsar; double track between Tehran and Qom under construction

Garmsar - Semnan




First section of line Tehran - Mashhad

Semnan - Damghan




Second section of line Tehran - Mashhad

Damghan - Shahrud




Third section of line Tehran - Mashhad

Tehran - Zanjan




Ahwaz - Khorramshahr




with former link to Basrah (Iraq); closed in 1988, reopened in August 1989, closed again in 1990, reopened 22.11.1993

Zanjan - Miyaneh 




Line Tehran - Tabriz

Qom - Kashan





Shahrud - Mashhad





All line Garmsar - Mashad - 812 km

Miyaneh - Tabriz




track to be doubled; part of line Tehran - Tabriz 742km; to be electrified

Bandar Torkaman - Gorgan





Kashan - Bad





Bad - Sistan 





Sistan - Esfahan




to be extended to Shiraz and Bushehr

Sharafkhaneh (Sufian) - Qotur (Razi)





link to Turkish/European network; construction finished in 1969, the Qotur bridge opened in February 1970

Bad - Ardakan - Meybod - Yazd

254 +60




Esfahan (Sistan) - Meybod






Yazd - Bafq - Zarand







Zarand - Kerman




 All the line Esfahan - Bafq - Kerman opened on 31 October 1977

Esfahan - Mobarakeh (Zarrinshahr)




freight service only, to be extended to Shahr-e-Kord

Bafq - Sirjan




Section of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas; prepared for double tracking

Khatun Abad - Ma’dan-e-Mes-e- Sarcheshmeh




Branch from line Bafq - Bandar Abbas to copper mines

Sirjan - Gol-e-Gohar




Section of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Gol-e-Gohar - Ma’dan-e-

Gol Gohar




Branch of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Gol-e-Gohar - Tezerj




Section of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Tezerj - Fin




Section of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Fin - Bandar Abbas




 Section of line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Mashhad - Sarakhs




link to Central Asian rail network (via Turkmenistan)

Ardakan - Zarrin - Ma’dan-e-Chadormalu




to be extended to Tabas and Mashhad

Tehran - Karaj




Suburban section of Tehran metro system; electrified

Tehran - Qom




Single track high speed operation, second track opened in 2000; speed 250 km/h

Second tracks Mashhad - Tehran




Works started in 1994, most made by 2001

Sari - Amir Abad port (city Behshahr)




Freight rail link to new port Amir Abad on Caspian Sea

Kerman - Bam




Section of line Kerman - Zahedan (540km)

Mashhad - Bafq: Kashmar - Torbat-e-Heydariyeh - Tabas - Jandaq - Bafq




With branch Jandaq - Ma’dan-e- Chadormalu and tunnels 5.600 meters

Second tracks between Bafq and Meymand




Line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Second tracks between Bafq and Bandar Abbas




Line Bafq - Bandar Abbas

Torbat-e-Heydariyeh - Khaf - Ma’dan-e-Sangan

131 + 23



Line to Afghanistan is under construction

Bam - Zahedan





Rail link to Indian sub-continental network; under construction

Khorramshahr - Shalamcheh (border) - Basrah (Iraq)




Under construction with bridge over river Arand -Roud (Shatt al Arab) since January 2007; 16km on Iranian territory

Esfahan - Shahreza - Izadkhast - Abadeh - Sa’adat Shahr - Takht-e-Jamshid - Marvdasht - Shiraz




Under construction since 2001; with 20 tunnels (13.400m), including 6-kilometer-long tunnel from Sivand to Shoul; speed 200-250 km/h.

Khaf - Islam Qala (border) - Harat (Afghanistan)




Under construction since November 2006; 77km are in Iranian territory

Qazvin - Kuhin - Lowshan - Rasht - Bandar-e-Anzali




Under construction since 2003 with 11km of tunnels; with future extension to Astara

Qom - Esfahan




It will be high-speed railway Tehran - Esfahan with 250 km/h, journey time - 2h 30 min. Construction started on 3 February 2007

Arak - Kermanshah - Khosravi (Iraq border)




Under consideration. Construction would start in 2007

Fifth stage of network development was the most extensive and included the construction of new trunk lines in the central, eastern and south-eastern regions, and the main transit line connected Central Asian railway network with ports of Gulf of Oman. Next lines were built and opened for traffic in this period (compare maps in Fig. 19 and Fig. 20): in 1990-95 from the center (Bafq) to port Bandar Abbas (613 km) to accelerate to foreign trade and development of this port as well (the second tracks laid in 2005-07); in 1996 from Mashhad to Sarakhs at Turkmenistan border (165 km) to connect railway system of Central Asia to Middle East network; in 1999 from Ardakan (in the center) to Chadormalu (204 km) to develop the iron and copper ore mines; in 1999 the high speed railway Tehran - Qom (137 km), shortening the way to Esfahan and to Shiite shrine at Qom; in 2004 from Kerman (center) to Bam (south-west; 225 km), a section of rail connection Iran - Pakistan, which will be opened in 2007; in 2005 from Mashhad (north-east) to Bafq (center) to arrange direct rail connection between Central Asian railway system and port Bandar Abbas (783 km).

Fig. 19. Iran, railway network in 1997

Change of topological structure of Iran railway network. Network had tree structure up to 1972. The first circuit around Esfahan appeared in 1972, but the network had big dendrites (branches) with inefficient topological structure till 2005. Construction of line Bafq - Mashhad (finished in 2005) transformed the network structure from simple circuital one into consolidated topological structure with circuital framework consisted of 6 circuits (see map in Fig. 20), and share of dendrites (branches) decreased drastically. Network became more efficient from topological reliability viewpoint. When construction of new lines and sections listed above finish (see map in Fig. 21), the circuit number will be 12, circuital framework have 2 topological tiers (now one), but the network get more new dendrites (branches) and cover almost all provinces of Iran.

Fig. 20. Iran, railway network in September 2006

Future network expansion. Iranian government has ambitious plans to extend the rail network. Many new lines are under construction now (see last points of table 3 and map 21): Bam - Zahedan (220 km) will connect rail systems of Iran and Pakistan, and Asia and Europe as well (it will be opened in 2007; Pakistan started the track modernization at its line Quetta - Taftan in May 2007 to arrange the modern rail connection to Europe); Khorramshahr - Basreh (51 km), which will connect rail systems of Iran and Iraq (in 2008); double-track trunk line Esfahan - Shiraz (506 km), which connects Shiraz with national rail system (2009); Torbat-e-Heydariyeh - Khaf - Harat (320 km) to connect Afghan city Harat to Iranian rail network (2009); Qazvin - Rasht - Bandar Anzali (2009-2010) to connect the national network and the Caspian coast with port Bandar Anzali; Qom - Esfahan high-speed railway 250 km. Other new railways would be build in the future, connecting Iran to neighborhoods: Bandar Anzali - Astara (Azerbaijan) 150 km to the north of Rasht, Arak - Kermanshah - Khosravi (Iraq border) 500 km to the west of Tehran, Bam - Chabahar 595 km between the central part of Iran and the port on Gulf of Oman coast, Aktau - Turkmenbashi - Gorgan to connect Kazakhstan and Turkemnistan rail systems with Iranian one (90 km; construction will start late 2007). Electrification
of line Mashhad - Tehran (926 km) will be finished soon. But the government is intending to build on this direction (Tehran - Mashhad) a new Maglev system (line with magnetic levitation and speed up to 500 km/h; journey time will be 2h.30min.; this project considered in April 2007 with contribution of German firms) to accelerate the service between both biggest cities. If all mentioned lines are finished, the Iran rail network could reach the total length 23.000 km. All new lines could connect almost all neighbor countries each other (Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan) through Iran’s territory. Iran will have 9 rail transborder connections instead 3 recent ones (with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan).

Fig. 21. Future network extension for 2007-2020 up to 23.000 km


Iran is land semi-closed country; it's opened mostly for sea transport. So, main mode of transportation is sea shipping (main commodity is oil). Principal sea ports are Bandar Abbas, Bandar Emam Khomeini and Bandar Anzali.
Railway network has expanded twice during last 15 years; has 6 closed circuits now and expanding very fast. The main rail trunk lines connected or will connect Iranian network with almost all neighbor countries: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan.
Motorway network expanded in 3 times during last 20 years, but there is no consolidated system, because it has 16 isolated sections and parts.
Main task of Iranian spatial transport policy is the use of its transit geographical position and the establishing more transit land transport corridors through Iran territory for all Asian neighborhoods. There are only two official international transport corridors for this transit: 1)North - South (from Bandar Anzali to Bandar Abbas); 2)West - East (TRACECA: Transcaucasia - Iran - Turkmenistan - Central Asia). The main land transport corridors which take main transit through Iranian territory are next: from Chabahar to Jolfa, Razi, Astara and Khosravi to connect Pakistan and Gulf of Oman to Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea; from Sarakhs to Bandar Abbas to connect Central Asia and Gulf of Oman; from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Bandar Abbas; from Afghanistan via Iran to Iraq and Turkey; from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan via Gorgan to Persian Gulf and Bandar Abbas ports; from Russia to ports of Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.


Burke A., Elliot M., Mohammadi K. Iran. - Footscray (Victoria): Lonely Planet, 2004.
Iran. Map 1:1,500,000. - Reise Know How, 2003.
Iran. Map 1: 2,250,000. - Tehran: Gitashenasi, 2006. (in Farsi)
Irab. Transport// The Europa World Yearbook. 2004. - Vol.1. 0 London, 2004, p.2170
Iran. Transport and Communications// The Middle East and North Africa. 2004. - London: Europa World Handbook, 2003, p.415
Map of Islamic Republic of Iran. Railways network. 1: 4,000,000. - Tehran, 2005.
Road Atlas of Iran. - Tehran: Gitashenasi, 2006. (in Farsi)




W artykule omówiono główne kierunki rozwoju systemu transportowego w Iranie. Scharakteryzowano stopień otwarto¶ci tego systemu oraz szczegółowo oceniono kryteria rozwoju transportu morskiego, ¶ródl±dowego, lotniczego, samochodowego, kolejowego oraz miejskiego.


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