The Khyber Railway may not see trains again. While its basic history is known well enough, there are a couple of planned extensions which may have changed the history of the route if they had been implemented.
We start with the basics, from this “official” map used by Victor Bayley and Gordon Hearn in a paper presented at the Institution of Engineers in the late 1920s. It can be found in “Couplings to the Khyber” by PSA Berridge:
Not all of these stations appeared in timetables.
The Khyber Railway actually starts from Jamrud, which was the railhead beyond Peshawar Cantt since 1901. Work on the present line started in the 1920s, and the section up to Landi Kotal was opened in 1925 and up to Landi Khana in 1926. While an embankment may have been built up to the border, probably rails were not laid. These are points which are yet unclear and can be established only by visits to the area-if it is safe enough.
The stations listed in timetables are given in the Fergusson lists:
Note Kacha Garhi, we will meet it again soon. It seems to have been in the timetables only around 1910.
As most readers know, passenger trains did run up to Landi Khana up to 1932. Then the ruler of Afghanistan “requested” that this be stopped, and the trains then ran only up to Landi Kotal.
It is unclear how useful the line was for freight. Typically there was a passenger train from Peshawar Cantt to Landi Kotal on one or two days of the week from the 1940s onward. Regular services stopped in 1984, though tourist specials ran on and off until rainstorms washed away large parts of the line in 2006.
Even so, it is still possible to see see remnants of the line and stations (yes, even Landi Khana) if you travel by the road which now sees plenty of goods traffic into Afghanistan.
Next we come to the lesser-known stories connected with the line’s construction.
To begin with:
The official date of opening from Jamrud to Landi Kotal was 3 Nov 1925. and to Landi Khana 3 Apr 1926. Nothing is said about the line beyond Landi Khana.
But Richard Wallace has found evidence that work on the tunnels was continuing even after these dates. Not so surprising, as it is possible to run trains through tunnels where all work has not been completed as long as there is nothing to block the rails.
To be continued.
One thought on “Hidden stories of the Khyber Railway-1”
By the Laws of the time the British were fully entitled, I would say obligated, to mantain their border security by all reasonable means. The Afghan ruler may have objected to public trains on a regular schedule, possibly seen by the over-cautious among his advisors as a permanent low level threat to their territory. There may even have been a growing public demand by the civilian population for an Afghan extension.
But situations can change. Afghan Wars with very heavy British losses were still fresh in the memory of older administrators. The last (less serious) one was as recent as 1919. A mothballed border infrastructure that could be activated if the need ever arose would surely have been perceived as a sine qua non. Berridge even suggests that secret surveys were carried out for a continuation of the line inside Afghan territory. Quite credible. (Comments by Nick Lera).
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