Transportation in Iran
Major routes and railways of Iran. Tehran is the hub of Iran’s transport and communication system.
Transport in Iran is inexpensive because of the government’s subsidization of the price of gasoline. The downside is a huge draw on government coffers, economic inefficiency because of highly wasteful consumption patterns, contraband with neighboring countries and air pollution. In 2008, more than one million people worked in the transportation sector, accounting for 9% of GDP.
Iran has a long paved road system linking most of its towns and all of its cities. In 2011 the country had 173,000 kilometres (107,000 mi) of roads, of which 73% were paved. In 2008 there were nearly 100 passenger cars for every 1,000 inhabitants.
Trains operate on 11,106 km (6,942 mi) of railroad track. The country’s major port of entry is Bandar-Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz. After arriving in Iran, imported goods are distributed throughout the country by trucks and freight trains. The Tehran-Bandar-Abbas railroad, opened in 1995, connects Bandar-Abbas to the railroad system of Central Asia via Tehran and Mashhad. Other major ports include Bandar e-Anzali and Bandar e-Torkeman on the Caspian Sea and Khorramshahr and Bandar-e Emam Khomeyni on the Persian Gulf.
Dozens of cities have airports that serve passenger and cargo planes. Iran Air, the national airline, was founded in 1962 and operates domestic and international flights. All large cities have mass transit systems using buses, and several private companies provide bus service between cities. Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Ahwaz and Esfahan have underground mass transit rail lines, in different stages of operation and construction.
Most visitors are pleasantly surprised by the transport system in Iran. Once you accept that the driving is more imaginative than what you’re used to at home, you’ll appreciate that services on most forms of public transport are frequent, fairly punctual and very cheap. For planes and trains it’s worth booking ahead if you’re travelling on a weekend or any public holiday, especially NoRuz, Ramazan and Eid al-Fitr. At No Ruz bus fares usually rise by about 20%.
Ministry of Road and Transportation
The Ministry of Roads and Transportation is in charge of studying and deciding pricing policy of the transportation; as well as issuing licenses for the establishment of transportation firms. In addition, the Ministry is in charge of implementing comprehensive and integrated transportation policies in Iran. As of 2016, plans for foreign direct investment in the transport sector include over 5,600 km of highways, 745 km of freeways, and close to 3,000 km of main roads. These projects and others are worth $25 billion (not including airplanes purchases worth another $50 billion). Iran says it needs more than $40 billion to complete 258 major unfinished transportation projects (2016).
Railway system map (09-2006)
Total: 11,106 km Plan to increase total railways length from 13,500 km in 2016 to 20,000 km by 2025.
Standard gauge: 8,273 km of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) gauge (146 km electrified) (2006)
Broad gauge: 94 km of 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) gauge (connected to Pakistan Railways)
Electrified railway is 146 km from Tabriz to Jolfa and the tender for electrification of Tehran- Mashhad has been finished according to Railway electrification in Iran. Note: Broad-gauge track is employed at the borders with Azerbaijan Republic and Turkmenistan which have 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in) broad gauge rail systems; 41 km of the standard gauge, electrified track is in suburban service at Tehran (2007).
The majority of transportation in Iran is road-based. The government plans to transport 3.5% of the passenger volume and 8.5% of the freight volume by rail. Extensive electrification is planned. The railway network expands by about 500 km per year according to the Ministry of R&T.
Railway links with adjacent countries
In December 2014, a rail line from Iran opened to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. The opening of the line marks the first direct rail link between Iran, Kazakhstan and China and upon completion of the Marmaray rail project direct rail transport between China and Europe (while avoiding Russia) will be possible.
The Tehran Metro is a rapid transit system in Tehran carrying 3 million passengers a day and consisting of five lines that run a total of 170 kilometres (110 mi) with two further lines under construction. The metro will have a final length of 430 kilometres (270 mi) once all nine lines are constructed by 2028. Metro services run from 5:30 to 23:00 throughout the city and the ticket price is 5,000 IRR ($0.17 USD).
Tehran Bus Rapid Transit
The Tehran Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a rapid transit system serving Tehran which was officially inaugurated in 2008. The BRT has a network of over 150 kilometres, transporting 1.8 million passengers on a daily basis. The BRT has a total of nine lines with a further expansion planned to bring the total length to 300 kilometres.
Mashhad Urban Railway
The Mashhad Urban Railway is urban rail line in Mashhad, construction on line one began in 1999 and was opened on 24 April 2011. Line two is currently under construction. Mashhad Urban Railway operates its single line from 6:30 to 21:30 daily. It has a daily ridership of 130 000 passengers and has a total length of 24 kilometres (14.9 mi).
The Isfahan Metro is a metro system serving Isfahan. Construction of line one commenced in 2001 and was finally opened to the public on 15 October 2015. Line one has a total length of 11 kilometres. The city is planning a second East to West line to serve the city.
The Shiraz Metro is a rapid transit system in Shiraz. Line one was officially inaugurated on 11 October 2014 after being in construction since 2011; the single line has a length of 10.5 kilometres (6.5 mi) and stops at six stations. Line 2 is currently under construction and has a length of 15 kilometres (9.3 mi). The metro currently has a daily ridership of 500 000 passengers with 27 trains in operation.
The Tabriz Metro is a metro system serving the city of Tabriz. The first line was opened on 28 August 2015 with a 7-kilometre length and six stations. There is also a regional commuter line planned to the city of Sahand. Line one runs Northwest from El Goli Station to Ostad Shahriar Station.
Roadways and automobiles
Total: 172,927 km (2006)
Paved: 125,908 km (includes 1,429 km of expressways)
Unpaved: 47,019 km
Note: There were more than 11 million vehicles in Iran by 2010 mostly manufactured or assembled locally. As of 2015, 34,000 km of roads provided essential corridors of transportation, while 45,000 km of major roads and 100,000 km of roads connecting villages and rural areas have seen no maintenance and upkeep practices (worth a total of $57 billion).
850 km (on Karun River; additional service on Lake Urmia) (2006)
Note: The Shatt al-Arab is usually navigable by maritime traffic for about 130 km; channel has been dredged to 3 m and is in use.
See also: Ministry of Petroleum of Iran and Petroleum industry in Iran
Iran Gas Trunkline.
Condensate 7 km; condensate/gas 12 km; gas 19,246 km; liquid petroleum gas 570 km; oil 7,018 km; refined products 7,936 km (2008)
Iran is currently undergoing negotiations with neighboring Pakistan for the construction of an oil and gas pipeline to that country to help integrate their respective economies and solve the energy shortage being faced by Pakistan.
Major Export Terminals (loading capacity): Kharg Island 5,000,000 bbl/d (790,000 m3/d), Lavan Island 200,000 bbl/d (32,000 m3/d), Neka (Caspian sea) 50,000 bbl/d (7,900 m3/d), Assaluyeh 250,000 bbl/d (40,000 m3/d) gas liquids, Kish Island, Abadan (aka Bandar-e Eman Khomeyni) and Bandar Mahshahr (latter 2 are used mostly by NPC for petrochemicals export).
Airports and airlines
Iran Air Boeing 747SP at Narita International Airport
Iran handles about 50 million passengers annually (2016). Iran’s airports are improving their international connections, and Arak Airport in Markazi province has recently begun to operate international flights, making a total of five such airports in the country, in addition to ten local airports. In May 2007 international flights into the capital, Tehran, were moved to the Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA), just outside the city because of capacity constraints at the existing central Mehrabad Airport.
Airports: 319 (2013)
There are 54 “major” airports in Iran (2008): 8 international, 21 air border, and 25 domestic.
Number of flights from airports nationwide reached 31,088 in a month (October 20-November 20, 2008): 10,510 domestic, 4,229 international and 15,404 transit.
Airport capacity for departures and arrivals: 73 million persons (2011)
Number of passengers departing and arriving at airports: 40.1 million persons (2011)
Share of non-public sector in domestic flights: 60% (2011)
Share of non-public sector in international flights: 58.7% (2011)
Iran Air handles 6 million passengers annually (2016)
Airports – with paved runways
Imam Khomeini International Airport
Airports – with unpaved runways
Total: 179 (2013)
Total: 26 (2013)
In 2011, some 27 million travelers and businessmen passed custom departments.
Over five million passengers have been transported via border points mainly Mehran and Bazargan. In 2002, about 70% of visitors arrived by land, about 29% by air and less than 1% by sea
In 2011, cargos and commodities from 100 countries have been transited across Iran. Over 10.5 million tons of oil products and non-oil commodities were transited via land (91% via road and 9% via railroad) and marine borders. In 2010, 10 million tons of commodities from 110 countries, worth $31.5 billion, transited through Iran for 82 destinations.
In 2009, the value of goods transited was about $25 billion. This figure constitutes seven percent of the GDP.
From March 22, 2009 until September 22, 2009 over 3 million tons of goods worth some $11.3 billion were transited through Iran. Regarding the countries of origin, China was first in terms of volume, Turkmenistan ranked second, Uzbekistan came third, Turkey fourth and UAE fifth. Among the destinations, Afghanistan was first, Iraq second, Azerbaijan third, UAE fourth and Turkmenistan ranked fifth.
Some 33 million tons of goods and 29 million passengers are transported annually by the rail transportation network, accounting for 9 percent and 11 percent of the whole transportations in the country (2011).
Per capita parcel post for each Iranian stands at 15 per annum (2008).
One million tons of commodities, fuel and barter have been transited abroad per month (2008).
Fuel is transported in Iran by road tankers, tank wagons, tanker ships as well as through pipelines. Nearly 10,000 tankers from 400 private sector companies transport fuel by road. In 2013, nearly 87 billion liters of fuel were transported by Iranian tankers. Iran’s tank wagons and ships transported 3 billion liters and 8 billion liters of fuel, respectively.
3.498 million tons of non-oil commodities were transited abroad via Iran during March 20-November 20, 2008 (79% of the commodities were transited by road).
In September 2009, Iran formally joined the Transport Corridor Europe – Caucasus – Asia (TRACECA) programme, also known as the “new Silk Road.” TRACECA was founded in 1998 with the aim of promoting economic relations, trade and transport communications between Europe, the Caucasus and Asia. This programme consists of the EU and 14 member states (including Iran) from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Iran’s strategic location means that it is a key transport corridor between Europe and Central Asia.
In August 2010, Iran declared that it “did not sign on to TRACECA project” and said it has been fostering improved transport links through a series of bilateral agreements with neighboring states instead. According to Iran’s first Vice-President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi “If all the potential of the country’s transit sector is tapped, it can bring in as much revenues as [the] oil [industry]”. He also announced that Iran will join China and Europe by rail in the near future.
In Iran, if you can’t get somewhere by bus (or minibus), the chances are no-one wants to go there. More than 20 taavonis (bus companies) offer hundreds of services all over the country, so business is highly competitive, fares cheap and, on busier routes, departures are frequent. Most buses are comfortable, with your own cushioned seat and, except on very short trips, standing is not allowed. Fares don’t vary much between companies, but they do vary between classes of bus.
Don’t be confused by the names of the destinations on a bus. It’s common for a bus travelling between, for example, Khorramabad and Ahvaz, to have ‘Tehran–İstanbul’ written on the front or side in English. Similarly, phrases like ‘Lovely bus’ are not always a fair reflection of reality. There are no bus passes.
The cost of bus tickets is very low in Iran. For example, the purchase price of the best V.I.P bus ticket from Tehran to Isfahan is about 6USD.The same way with normal bus is about 4USD
Most Iranian towns and cities have local bus services. Because local buses are often crowded and can be difficult to use unless you know exactly where you’re going, most travellers use the ubiquitous shared and private taxis instead.
Bus numbers and destinations are usually only marked in Farsi, so you need to do a lot of asking around – most people will be happy to help (even if you don’t entirely understand their reply). Except in Shiraz and on one new private operator in Tehran, tickets must be bought at little booths along main streets, or at local bus terminals, before you get on the bus. Tickets on state-run buses cost between IR100 and IR500. Private companies cost a bit more.
Small children of both genders and all women have to sit at the back of the bus. This segregation can be complicated if you are travelling as a mixed couple and need to discuss when to get off. You must give your ticket to the driver either before you get on or after you get off, depending on the local system. Women must pass their tickets to the driver while leaning through the front door of the bus and then board the bus using the back door.
If you think using local buses is a hassle, don’t even bother trying to use the infrequent and desperately crowded minibuses. Quite often they are so crammed with passengers that you can’t see out to tell where you’re going. You normally pay in cash when you get on – about IR1000 a ticket depending on the distance. Men and women get a seat anywhere they can; there is no room for segregation. Minibuses stop at normal bus stops or wherever you ask them.
Excellent roads, friendly people and a relatively small risk of theft mean Iran sounds like an ideal cycling destination. And indeed, there are usually one or two travellers pedalling across the country and reporting a fantastic experience full of selfless hospitality. It’s not, however, all easy. Vast distances, dodgy traffic and hot, tedious stretches of desert road – not to mention seasonal winds – can get tiring. You’ll need to carry plenty of water and food to last the long desert stretches, camping equipment if you are not sticking to major towns, a decent map, and a phrasebook.
If you arrive in a village or small town and find either nowhere to stay or only a hotel you can’t afford – and if you can’t persuade the caretaker at the local mosque to take you in – you might have to load your bike on a bus or truck and head for the next big town.
The biggest drawback with cycling, as with most other activities in Iran, is the need to stay covered up. We have received varying reports from travelers: some say that it’s fine to wear cycling gear when actually on the road, as long as you have clothes at hand to cover up as soon as you stop; others say that women in particular must be covered at all times.
Spare parts can be hard to find and there is nowhere to rent bicycles for long distances, so bring your own.