Travelling by train is an inexpensive way to get around Iran and meet Iranians.
Iran’s first line was the trans-Iranian railway, built in the 1930s to connect the Caspian Sea at Bandar-e Torkaman with the Persian Gulf at Bandar-e Imam Khomeini. A useful way of getting to Sari or Gorgan from Tehran, the route goes through mountains and passes, and is one of the great engineering achievements of the 20th century. It has recently been joined by another engineering marvel: the line between Esfahan and Shiraz that bores its way through the Zagros mountainscape. The line is part of an ambitious program to expand Iran’s rail network that in recent years has seen lines open from Qazvin to Astara via Rasht, Mashhad to Bafq and Bam to Zahedan (though the connecting service into Pakistan has not run for years due to security issues).
Tehran is the main hub and most services begin or end in the capital. There is at least one daily service to Mashhad, Esfahan, Tabriz, Bandar Abbas and Kerman. Trains usually depart on time, but arrival times for stops en route are often in the middle of the night and, as a result, most travellers take the bus.
The majority of trains have two classes, though a significant minority have only one. If you decide a 2nd-class compartment is too crowded for you, you can often upgrade to 1st class along the way, provided there’s space. A seat in 2nd class costs a bit less than a mahmooly bus, and a 1st-class seat is a bit less than a VIP bus.
On overnight trains (usually to/from Tehran), the 1st-class carriages have sleeper couchettes (ghazal) with four or six bunks. Solo women should strongly consider requesting a single-sex sleeper. On most 1st-class services, meals are served in your compartment and aren’t too bad. Long-distance trains also travel with a restaurant car.
The most comfortable trains are on the busy Tehran to Mashhad route. The Simorgh, for example, is more expensive than other 1st-class options but includes dinner, breakfast, a particularly comfortable bed and the mixed blessing of a TV. You can ask to be seated in a nonsmoking compartment.
Train ticketing is on an integrated system and tickets can be booked at railway stations up to a month in advance. Especially for trains leaving on Thursday, Friday and public holidays, it’s recommended you book ahead through one of the train stations around the country. At the time of writing, online bookings were not possible.
|Esfahan||Shiraz||IR500,000||9hr||daily (morning or evening)|
|Mashhad||Yazd||IR950,000||18½hr||every 2nd evening|
|Tehran||Esfahan||IR350,000||7½hr||every second day (overnight)|
|Tehran||Gorgan||IR500,000/300,000 1st/2nd class||10hr||daily (overnight)|
|Tehran||Kerman||IR700,000/500,000 1st/2nd class||8-13hr||14 daily|