Trans-Iranian Railway

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Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby redharen » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:45 pm

Something thewalrus said in another thread reminded me of the Trans-Iranian Railway. I think the story of that particular railroad is pretty cool, so I thought I'd post some of it on here in case any other amateur geographers around here are interested in paths and routes and railways, and the way countries consciously construct them in order to screw each other over.

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The physical geography of Iran makes building a railway across the country a no-brainer -- you go northwest-to-southeast so you aren't cutting across all the huge mountain ranges. But Reza Shah wanted so badly to screw over the colonial powers that he was willing to do whatever. Check out this map -- Russia proposed Caucasus-to-Karachi lines that would give access to a warm-water port, and Britain wanted to connect its oil fields in Iraq to its empire in India. Those are all shown in blue. But no, the Shah decided to build an engineering marvel that would cut against the grain of the topography, crossing both the Elborz and Zagros Mountains and requiring 224 tunnels and 4,102 bridges along its 870-mile route. His route is in red.

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The Shah did all this because he thought the British and Russians would eventually invade his country if they got the rail lines they wanted. He built the gauge so it wouldn't match with the railways of Russia, Iraq, or India; he used it to connect ports on the Indian Ocean and the Caspian Sea that were unfavorable to both Britain and Russia; he financed it by taxing his own people to death so he wouldn't have to borrow money from colonial powers. He even divided up the contracting of the route so that no foreign country would have undue influence on its construction. The project made Reza Shah look like a hero, even though it was incredibly expensive -- it made Iran suddenly look modern because it was the first country in the region to make such a massive investment in its own infrastructure.

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But the Shah gave a little too much work to the Germans, who built the Tehran railway station with swastikas all over the ceiling. When Germany attacked the Soviets in World War II, the Allied Powers used the German influence on the railway as a pretense for invasion. The Allies needed to get supplies to the Soviets as quickly as possible, and it worked out that the standard gauge the Shah had chosen for the railway matched the gauge of American locomotives and rolling stock. So the Americans played a large part in building up the railway's infrastructure, and in the end, the Trans-Iranian Railway was used in the service of the very colonial powers it had been constructed to rebel against.

And that's how Richard H. Jansen, an American painter notable for -- well, nothing, besides creating murals for the post offices of Lincolnton, North Carolina and Reedsburg, Wisconsin -- ended up making this great painting of the Trans-Iranian Railway:

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Nowadays the railway still functions as the backbone of Iran's extensive rail network. But it still creates problems -- its gauge is still incompatible with those of neighboring countries, and the old British dream of a single rail line that could cross Asia via Iran is still unrealized.

I'm wondering -- has anyone here ever traveled on this railroad?
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby Penta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:25 pm

I'm wondering -- has anyone here ever traveled on this railroad?

Not me. Only from Tehran to Mashhad.
But it would be fun. Maybe one day we'll be able to. I'll come with you, if I'm still mobile by then. :)
Shes never interfered with me. I have no complaints about her.
Same here.
Mega ditto.
I met her once and I found her to be a nice lady. Not kookey in any way.
Penta has always been gracious, kind and very sane in all my interactions with her.
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby redharen » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:30 pm

I think there are two routes between Tehran and Mashhad, though. If you took the line that goes via Gorgan, then you would have been on the Trans-Iranian Railway. That stretch of track has some of the steepest elevation gains of any railroad in the world.
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby Penta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:06 pm

I can't say I remember, redharen. The painter and decorator we shared our compartment with had some of the strongest grass I had ever smoked at that stage in my young life. The other thing I remember (apart from some paranoia as there was also a heavy police presence on the train) was the flea bites I got from sleeping curled up on the floor with his wife, while he and Mr Penta (as he now is) had the (admittedly not much more comfortable, but flea-free) wooden bench seats.
Shes never interfered with me. I have no complaints about her.
Same here.
Mega ditto.
I met her once and I found her to be a nice lady. Not kookey in any way.
Penta has always been gracious, kind and very sane in all my interactions with her.
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby RYP » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:08 pm

Hey... don't go promoting the idea that the Iranians are smart, self motivated and successful. Israel might have to bomb your house on the way to the nuke facilities.:))

I actually like nations that tell big nations to go fuck themselves. It breeds a certain cultual strength that is missing in this increasingly globalized world. Israel, North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Cuba, Iran, even Equatorial Guinea have this sense of "hey we may not be rocket scientists, but we can figure this shit out to the level that we need it" I can't tell you how refreshing it is to go to a place like Syria and not see one iota of U.S. influence or products. (other than the old cars from the 50's)
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby Penta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:16 pm

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to go to a place like Syria and not see one iota of U.S. influence or products.

Yes! No Coca-Cola or Pepsi signs. No effing burgers. Fabulous food: everything locally grown or made (apart from the Lebanese beer). A great joy.
Similarly in Prague when we first went there: not a single neon sign to distract from the glorious architecture (but no food there other than ham and cheese rolls, which wasn't so good. Beer, though).
Shes never interfered with me. I have no complaints about her.
Same here.
Mega ditto.
I met her once and I found her to be a nice lady. Not kookey in any way.
Penta has always been gracious, kind and very sane in all my interactions with her.
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby flipflop » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:44 pm

Get a room hippies

(p.s. I'm sure the haji who wiped his fetid knob on your kebabs before reaching them to you hates Ronald McDonald too)

Cheers
Patriots always talk of dying for their country, and never of killing for their country - Bertrand Russell
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby RYP » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:34 pm

That was in Pakistan...
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Re: Trans-Iranian Railway

Postby redharen » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:47 pm

I would love to go and visit Iran. I think the history of Tehran's urban development, for example, is really fascinating.

The Azadi Tower is a case study in how various regimes have attempted to use architecture to serve pragmatic political ends. Mohammed Reza Shah built it to memorialize himself and to pull the development of Tehran toward the west, instead of allowing the city to continually expand north and grow up the side of Mt. Damavand. Then it was instrumental in his overthrow because it was a great place for the masses to assemble, and it could become a huge bulletin board for banners, graffiti, etc. Once the mullahs took over, they saw how dangerous this piece of architecture could be, so they built other structures designed to eclipse it, and they banned assemblies there. Still, the tower became a focal point for demonstrations a year ago, and again it was a threat to the establishment.

That's what got me interested in the railway. Rulers build things, thinking it gives them control, and then in the end, those things become instruments of their undoing. Reza Shah builds the Trans-Iranian Railway, and in the end it gets used against him. When the Allies took over Iran in -- what, 1941? -- Reza Shah was forced to abdicate, and never saw his native Iran again.

Routes are powerful things -- maybe more powerful than their evil twins: borders.
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