Iran has one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world

The Trans-Iranian Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, passes through four different climates in Iran. This long journey through Iran challenges stereotypes about this long isolated country. It connects the Caspian Sea in the northeast with the Persian Gulf in the southwest crossing two mountain ranges as well as rivers, highlands, forests and plains, and four different climatic areas.

You feel as if you have moved from one country to another because the cultures and peoples are very different. You’re talking about a complete change of scenery and even languages.

Yeganeh Morakabati, professor at Bournemouth University

Trans-iranian railway © UNESCO Hossein Javadi

Started in 1927 and completed in 1938, the 1,394-kilometre-long railway was designed and executed in a successful collaboration between the Iranian government and 43 construction contractors from many countries. The railway is notable for its scale and the engineering works it required to overcome steep routes and other difficulties.

The Trans-Iranian Railway in 1938 © Wikimedia

Its construction involved extensive mountain cutting in some areas, while the rugged terrain in others dictated the construction of 174 large bridges, 186 small bridges and 224 tunnels, including 11 spiral tunnels. Unlike most early railway projects, construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway was funded by national taxes to avoid foreign investment and control.

“When you sit on the train from Tehran to go towards the south, you suddenly change seasons in a matter of hours,” said Yeganeh Morakabati, a tourism researcher and associate professor at Bournemouth University, to National Geographic.

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2021, the network of this undertaking includes one hundred and seventy-four large bridges, 186 small bridges and 224 tunnels. It was built between 1927 and 1938. This feat required more than 70,000 workers, detailed mapping and aerial photography.

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From the railroad weaves an amazing web of landscapes, from the skyscrapers of the capital to the tombs and mosques of Qom, passing by the nomadic settlements of the Zagros Mountains.

Iran’s image as a multifaceted tourist destination has suffered since the 1979 revolution. Decades of sanctions and negative media portrayals of the country’s society as anti-Western have further marginalized the nation, says Morakabati. But as more tourists flock to the country and form their own opinions, these stereotypes are disappearing.

According to National Geographic, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup being held in nearby Qatar in the fall, the country is preparing for an influx of travelers. The railroad, initially considered one of Iran’s most controversial infrastructure projects, is at the heart of the nation’s efforts to boost tourism. The Iranian railway network took shape relatively late compared to its neighbors in the Ottoman Empire, the British Raj and Egypt.

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