The first railway in Georgia opened in 1871 between the port of Poti and Kvirila (present day Zestaponi). It was extended the following year to the Georgian capital, Tiflis (present day Tbilisi); completion of this link saw the introduction of passenger services on the line. Because Georgia was then part of the Russian Empire, it was natural that the new railways should be constructed to the Russian standard gauge of 1524mm (later revised to 1520mm), even though there was at that time no rail connection with Russia.
Several more main line railways were built in the late decades of the 19th century, including international connections with Azerbaijan and Armenia. There were also a couple of narrow gauge railways, using either 900mm or an unusual 1200mm gauge.
Extensive railway development took place from the start of the Soviet era until World War II. This included lines to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, both now de facto independent of Georgia. The line through Abkhazia eventually reached the northern border of the country where it would connect with the Russian railway network.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgia Railway came into being as an administration in its own right; however the network suffered considerable damage in the various conflicts that followed. Much of the network has been restored, but links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain severed.
One of the last railways constructed by the Soviet Union was that to the small remote city and army base of Akhalkalaki. The line was closed following Georgian independence but has since been reopened as part of a new line linking Georgia with Kars in Turkey. Plans were agreed in 2007, and after various delays the line opened for traffic in 2017. There is a break of gauge at Akhalkalali, with the line from there to Kars being constructed to standard (1435mm) gauge, as used on the Turkish network with which it connects.
Train ferries link the port of Poti with Russia and Batumi with Ukraine.
See also Abkhazia, South Ossetia.
© 2004-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Alexjtb from Wikimedia Commons