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IRIR passenger train at Teheran
A passenger train of IRIR at Tehran, headed by locomotives 1579 and 1585.
The locomotives are type ER24PC, 3200hp Bo-Bo diesel electrics, designed by Siemens and built by Mapna in Iran.

The first railway in what was then Persia opened in 1888 between Tehran and the shrine of Shah-Abdol-Azim at Rey. The 9km line, built to 800mm gauge, was intended mainly for the use of pilgrims, although later a couple of quarry branches were added. Intially horse drawn, it was later converted to steam haulage. It continued in operation until 1952. The original route is now largely paralleled by line 1 of the Tehran metro.

There was a long hiatus in railway development until the construction in 1914 of a 146 km railway from Tabriz to Jolfa, on the border with present day Azerbaijan, then part of Russia. It was built to standard (1435 mm) gauge, as were subesquent railways in the country. However, by the outbreak of World War II, the total railway network amounted to little more than 700km.

Wartime construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway almost tripled this quantity and subsequent developments have led to a present day standard gauge network of over 10000km, with much more under construction or planned. There is an international connection with Turkey, and hence to the rest of Europe (albeit via a train ferry across Lake Van). In the Caucasus, there was an international connection involving a change of gauge with the Naxçivan enclave of Azerbaijan and beyond there to Armenia and Russia; however, this is currently out of use. A new international crossing with Azerbaijan opened in 2017, near the border town of Astara on the shore of the Caspian Sea; however, this location has yet to be linked by rail with the remainder of the Iranian network.

An international connection with Turkmenistan at Sarakhs, also involving a change of gauge, opened in 1996. This is envisaged as part of a potential through route to China. A further connection with Turkmenistan at Incheh Borun opened in 2013, part of a planned through route to Kazakhstan. There is also a short Russian (1520mm) gauge line from Turkmenistan serving the border facility at Loftabad, but this has no direct connection with the rest of the Iranian network.

A new line to Zahedan was completed in 2009. This provides interchange at Zahedan with the previously isolated 84km line to the Pakistan border. The latter line is connected with the Pakistan Railways network and is built to the 1675mm gauge of that system.

In 2013, a short (16km) but important line was opened between Khorramshahr (near Abadan) and Shalamcheh on the border with Iraq, this being the first section of a proposed new international connection..

In 2016, a new line opened between Mashhad and the Afghanistan border near Khvaf. The line would eventually extend into Afghanistan as far as Herat.

In 2017, a new international connection was opened between Astara and the city of the same name in Azerbaijan. It is a dual (1520mm and 1435mm) gauge railway and will eventually be linked with the remainder of the Iranian network by a new line currently under construction.

Also in 2017, a new 422km line opened between the capital Tehran and Kermanshah. Construction began the following year on a 263km extension from Kermanshah to Khosravi.

In 2017, a new 132km line opened between Mianeh and Bostanabad. A further 71km from Bostanabad to Tabriz opened in 2021.

In 2021, a new 271km line opened between Yazd to Eghlid; double tracking was completed on several existing railways.

Also in 2021, an agreement was reached for the construction of a new 32km line between Shalamcheh and Basra, Iraq, connecting the national rail networks of both countries.

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Photo image by Kabelleger / David Gubler from Wikimedia Commons