Afghanistan Rail Network

The Afghanistan Rail Network seeks to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign assistance and rebuild its economy through sustainable growth within a Trans-Asian Rail Network. Since 2012, the Afghanistan Railway Authority (Af.R.A.) has been responsible for legal and regulatory policies governing rail investment, development, and operations. The Af.R.A. has also worked to develop and implement with partners the Afghanistan National Railway Plan (ANRP). The ANRP aims to establish Afghanistan as a regional transportation hub and to provide for the transportation needs of the mining, agricultural, manufacturing, and other economic sectors. It provides for corridor access to regional networks, including with China. Once fully completed, one study estimates that the Afghanistan Rail Network will generate more than 50,000 new direct jobs and over 200,000 indirect jobs. Reducing freight and passenger transportation costs, the rail network forms an integral part of future Multimodal Transport and Logistics Facilities (see project overview #15). With the ability to carry 20 to 30 million tons of cargo annually through Afghanistan, the rail network will provide the Afghan Government with increased customs duties and transit fees. The first train in Afghanistan ran on the completed Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif rail line on 21 December 2011 (just prior to the establishment of the Af.R.A. and development of the ANRP).

Current Status

As also reported in the project overview #5 (One-Belt-One-Road initiative), the first train carrying freight containers from Nantong in eastern China and—after passing through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan—reached the northern Afghan border town and port of Hairatan on September 7, 2016 (7300 kilometers in fourteen days). On the same day, the Afghan and Iranian Governments commenced with track laying for the remaining 114km section (between the Afghan border town of Shamtigh and Herat) of the 191 km Khaaf (Iran) to Herat rail line. Earlier, in March 2013, the Presidents of the Governments of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a rail corridor between the three countries, which is now part of related conversations on the Lapis-Lazuli Transit, Trade & Transport Route Agreement (see project overview #6) and Five Nations Railway Corridor (see project overview #8). A recent assessment has also concluded that while a “dual gauge” (Standard and Russian) is needed for trains traveling north from Afghanistan, Standard is deemed the preferred rail gauge system for the national rail network. The Afghanistan Rail Network serves as an integral part of the Afghan Government’s Infrastructure and Connectivity Development National Priority Program.

Recommended Actions by RECCA-VII and Beyond:

  • In accordance with the Afghanistan National Railway Plan, prioritize the construction of the Afghanistan Rail Network in the Northern Zone (Sherkhan Bandar–Kunduz-Mazar-Aquina-Herat), with the Southern Zone (Kandahar–Spin Spoldak) expected to operate by 2020 and the Eastern and Western Zones in 2025 and Central and Northeastern Zones by 2030.


Budget & Funding Status Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif (USD $165 million), Khaaf-Herat (USD $141.8 million), Five Nations Railway Corridor (est. USD $2 billion), Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan Rail Corridor (est. USD $810 million) feasibility studies are still being undertaken for other lines within the Afghanistan Rail Network
Institutional Partners Afghanistan, Asian Development Bank, China, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United States, and Uzbekistan