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A train travels on a track passing a brown river with greenery and mountains in the background
Photograph: Hossein Javadi

This epic railway route across Iran just became a World Heritage Site

The Trans-Iranian Railway is a spectacular feat of engineering, stretching 1,394km across two mountain ranges

Written by
Rosie Hewitson
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You’ve probably never heard of the Trans-Iranian Railway before, but this epic route is a masterpiece of engineering. Stretching 1,394 kilometres across Iran, the spectacular rail network links the Caspian Sea in the northeast of the country with the Persian Gulf in the southwest, traversing inhospitable desert, dense forest, two mountain ranges and four different climate zones along the way.

Over 11 years, a total of 43 separate contractors from around the world were involved in the construction of the mammoth route, which opened in 1938 and includes 224 tunnels, 174 viaducts and 186 smaller bridges. But despite being one of the twentieth century’s greatest feats of engineering, the Trans-Iranian Railway is relatively unknown compared with the likes of its Trans-Siberian cousin. 

Now, however, it looks as though the network might finally receive some long-overdue international recognition, after the Unesco announced the railway’s inclusion on its list of World Heritage Sites last month alongside 32 other new entries.

A train crossses a high level bridge build on tall archways with a mountain covered in green shrubs in the background
Photograph: Shutterstock

Taking its place on the list alongside India’s Taj Mahal, the Palace of Versailles near Paris and Egypt’s ancient pyramids, the Trans-Iranian Railway can expect to see a huge tourism boost as a result. The Iranian government will now be able to access conservation funding to help maintain the site, which will also receive special protection in wartime through the Geneva Convention. 

It becomes only the fourth railway network to be awarded the prestigious status, after Austria’s Semmering Railway was listed in 1988, the Mountain Railways of India in 1999 and the Rhaetian Railway – connecting Italy and Switzerland – in 2008.

Passengers on the network are able to take in a huge number of sights. These include both the Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges, the ancient city of Susa and two other World Heritage Sites: Chogha Zanbil, a complex built by the ancient civilisation of Elam, and the Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System, built by Romans during the third century. Sounds like one for the bucket list if you ask us.

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