Apart from the privately published Indian Bradshaw, there was the All-India Railway Timetable which, until 1976, provided information about all the zones of the Indian railway system. All the 9 zones (which existed from 1966) had individual timetables which were bound into a single volume, along with some other pages of general information.
I used to have a copy of the 1964 edition which had all the 8 zones existing then (as the SCR was yet to be created). There was a small section at the end titled “Non-Government Railways”. These lines were also covered in Bradshaw, but were scattered all over and not segregated into one section.
These were the non-government railways mentioned in 1964:
1) Dehri-Rohtas Light Railway
The Martin Burn lines:
2) Howrah-Amta Light Railway
3) Howrah-Sheakhala Light Railway
4) Arrah-Sasaram Light Railway
5) Futwah-Islampur Light Railway
6) Shahdara-Saharanpur Light Railway
The McLeod & Co lines
7) Burdwan-Katwa Light Railway
8) Ahmadpur-Katwa Light Railway
9) Bankura-Damodar River Railway
The Amta and Sheakhala lines were 2’0”, and all the others were 2’6”
Here is some information from a talk I had given in 2007. Some further developments have occurred since then which I have updated, but this information may not be fully accurate.
1) The Dehri-Rohtas Light Railway ran south from Dehri-on-Sone to Rohtas and later Tiura Pipardih; the last extension was in 1958. It was built by Octavius Steel, and later became part of the Sahu Jain group which also owned Rohtas Industries in Dehri-on-Sone.
It had considerable passenger and goods traffic, mainly stone and marble.
It closed in 1984 due to problems with the parent company, which went into liquidation. There is no apparent plan for revival or conversion.
Tail piece: In 2007, the Railways acquired the land of Rohtas Industries at Dehri-on-Sone which would be used for the Eastern Freight Corridor.
The Martin Burn Light Railways
2) & 3) The Howrah-Amta and Howrah-Sheakhala Light Railways were amongst the very few 2’0” lines in the plains. They carried an extensive suburban traffic for commuters into Calcutta-and may well have been the most heavily used narrow gauge lines in the world.
These lines originally ran from Telkul Ghat, but were running from Howrah Maidan in 1964. They were closed due to losses (and labour trouble) on 01-06-71.
The Howrah-Amta line was gradually converted to an electrified BG line over the years. It remains a single-track section. It can now be found in the SE suburban timetable, with several pairs of trains daily. It also included the branch from Bargachia to Champadanga which remains closed.
The Howrah-Sheakhala line was supposed to be converted, but there is not much progress even though the Railway Ministry was controlled by the Trinamul Congress for several years. This also includes a short branch from Chanditala to Janai, near Janai Road on the Howrah-Barddhaman chord.
4) The Arrah-Sasaram Light Railway, like the Dehri-Rohtas line, passed through rather backward areas. It connected the Patna main line with the Grand Chord.
It was closed on 15-02-78. Conversion to BG was started and has been completed by the late 2000s. It is now on the East Central Railway. Local services run between Ara (formerly Arrah) and Sasaram, including an intercity express between Patna and Bhabua Road.
5) The Futwah-Islampur Light Railway ran south from a point near Patna on the main line. It was closed on 01-02-86, and was converted to BG around 2000. It now sees a few passenger trains and even the superfast Magadh Express from New Delhi. This is also part of the East Central Railway. Futwah is now known as Fatuha.
6) The Shahdara-Saharanpur Light Railway was the only such line in North India. It had considerable commuter traffic into Delhi as well as goods traffic. It had a separate station at Shahdara which could be seen till the mid-80s.
This also fell victim to losses and closed on 01-09-70. However it was converted to BG in the late 1970s, probably due to the influence of one-time PM Charan Singh whose constituency Baghpat was on the route. It now forms part of the Northern Railway. After this the trains terminated at Delhi Jn rather than Shahdara. A small diversion was made at the northern end where the line now branches off at Tapri rather than Saharanpur itself.
It now carries several crowded passenger trains including DMUs and a Saharanpur-Delhi express (since extended to Farukhnagar off Garhi Harsaru). There is also a tri-weekly express between Haridwar and Ajmer. Although the line is not suitable for high speeds, it has sometimes been used as an emergency backup for trains like the Kalka Shatabdi.
The McLeod & Co Light Railways
7), 8) The Burdwan-Katwa and Ahmadpur-Katwa Light Railways continue to run as part of the ER. They were transferred on 01-07-67 and 01-04-66 respectively.
Ahmadpur features in the famous “jackfruit letter”.
NG services with railcars and diesels continued until recently, The former line had 5 pairs of trains daily. The entire line is now electrified and now sees 6 pairs of EMU trains in a day.
The Ahmadpur-Katwa line was closed for conversion to BG in the past year. BG conversion was completed by early 2018, although full services have not been restored. There is one pair of MEMU trains running between Ahmadpur and Katwa.
9) The Bankura Damodar River Railway ran from Bankura to Rainagar. It was handed over to the SER on 01-07-67.Conversion to BG was completed in the late 2000s and extended to Gram Masagram, adjacent to Masagram on the Howrah-Barddhaman section. DEMUs are running on this route.
Some other “Non-Government lines” which existed after 1947:
The Port Trust BG lines in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Visakhapatnam were extensive but not part of the IR network. They never appeared in the timetables as they had no passenger traffic.
The NG lines around Murtazapur and Pulgaon are still owned by the Central Provinces Railway Company, but have been operated by the GIPR and then CR for many years. They appear in the main timetables, as they have done during the GIPR days.
Martin Burn had two lines which were not mentioned in the 1964 timetable:
The Barasat-Basirhat Light Railway closed on 01-07-55. It later became part of the Barasat-Hasnabad BG line of the ER which now has EMU services from Sealdah.
The Bukhtiyarpur-Bihar Light Railway was replaced by a BG line in 1962, which ran beyond Bihar Sharif to Rajgir. It now has several long-distance services including a section of the Shramjeevi Express from New Delhi and a passenger train from Howrah. The line has been extended south of Rajgir to Gaya via Tilaiya and Manpur, though only one pair of DMUs presently run on this route. It was part of the ER and is now in the ECR.
McLeod & Co had the Kalighat-Falta Light Railway which closed on 01-04-57. There is apparently no chance of revival.
Others which closed relatively soon after independence include the Bengal Provincial Railway and the Jagadhri Light Railway.
All-India Timetable of 1964 and current timetables.
The Great Railway Atlas by Samit Roychoudhury (2005 and 2010 editions)
Information about locomotives can be found in Indian Locomotives (Parts 3 and 4) by Hugh Hughes.
3 thoughts on “The Non-Government Railways of India in 1964, and what happened to them”
Port Trust lines of Visakhapatnam also included a narrow gauge line with steam locos hauling manganese hoppers for a brief distance. Closed in mid-80’s.
Thanks, I hadn’t heard of that.
Fascinating, Ajai. You have done a lot of research. I was not aware of so many light railways in existence earlier.
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