Beyond the Mashriq Maghreb Express

UPDATE: In 2021 I received a message from a person in India who admitted to placing the article on this topic in Wikipedia as a sort of joke. This confirms my suspicion that there was something wrong with this entry as no other reliable reference could be found.

One of the persistent “urban legends” in South Asian railway history relates to train services between the two parts of Pakistan. This is what you will see in a Google search:

“Between 1950 and 1955, there used to be a train named the Mashriq–Maghreb Express which ran from the westernmost extremity of Pakistan (Koh-i-Taftan in Balochistan) to the easternmost rail extremity at Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh, stretching at total of 2000 km over the Indian Territory.”

This translates to “East-West Express”.

This even made it to Wikipedia. The problem is that there is no reference to such a train in any official documents of India and Pakistan. Not even in the Bradshaw of 1951.

There are several odd things here. Why start from Koh-i-Taftan, a small place near the Pakistan-Iran frontier which never had more than two trains a week? More importantly, how would it reach Chittagong directly when it was (and still is) metre gauge? Nothing is said about the ferry crossings in East Pakistan which were in use until the early 2000s.

Perhaps it was something which the government of Pakistan wanted to introduce, but was never implemented. Whatever reference you will see on the net essentially repeats the paragraph given above-but only in anonymous blogs or general articles about Pakistan.

It is just possible that some travel agency in West Pakistan had offered packages of combined railway tickets between West and East, including the intervening routes in India. And the advertising may have been fancy enough to give the impression that they could buy a single ticket for these journeys.

Now the references in Wikipedia have also gone. Someone must have pointed out the lack of supporting references.

However, there were a number of relatively short-distance trains connecting India and West Pakistan as well as India and East Pakistan running in the early 1960s before the 1965 war put an end to them. They include trains connecting

Amritsar and Lahore

Munabao and Hyderabad (Sind)

Sealdah and Khulna, Goalundo Ghat and Parbatipur

Various short trips across the border connecting places in Bengal and Assam with East Pakistan, such as one between Kulaura and Karimganj. These are all mentioned in Indian timetables of that period.

For the moment, it is interesting to look at the details of meetings between ministers and officials of the two countries in 1955 about the planned improvements of the train services. This largely consists of details of how goods trains would connect the Calcutta area with north Bengal via East Pakistan:

Note that the entire railway system of East Pakistan was then called the Eastern Bengal Railway. Similarly the entire system of West Pakistan was called the North Western Railway.

The document also lists out how this was to be implemented including transhipment between BG and MG at Santahar.

At that time the line from Haldibari to Siliguri was metre gauge, so BG trains coming from Calcutta side through Pakistan would be transhipped to MG wagons there.

Another document which may be of interest is a IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) report on transport in both parts of Pakistan, covering river, road and rail transport. Apart from a review of the systems at that time, it is interesting as it describes several projects which were implemented in later years:

This document may be of interest to those studying the history of transport in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Special thanks to Ash Nallawalla, Kamal Narang, Jishnu Mukerji, Harsh Vardhan and others.

Chetan Chauhan R.I.P.

Chetan Pratap Singh Chauhan (1947-2020) appears to be the first international cricketer to fall victim to Covid-19.

At the time of his death, he was a state minister in Uttar Pradesh. He had earlier been a member of the Lok Sabha (Parliament).

A quick look at his cricketing career :

He started on a low key in 1969 against New Zealand. By 1973 he had appeared in 5 Tests without a fifty, and most cricket followers in India thought they would not see him play Tests again. However, strong domestic performances got him a place on the 1977-78 tour to (Packerized) Australia. He made a century in a tour match, 88 and 32 in his comeback Test and was then a regular in the side until 1981. Openers who followed him (such as Srikkanth) usually failed to match his consistency.

He did possess an odd record of the most Test runs without a century. He was the first to score 2000 without a century, and held this record until Shane Warne crossed it in March 2002 and went beyond 3000 until he ended with a top score of 99.

Here is a list of those who crossed 1000 without a century. Many of them are tailenders (including many regular No 10s and 11s) who played enough Tests to reach 1000:

(Up to Jul 31 2020. Does not include the ICC XI v Aus Test).

1000 without century

We can see that Warne and Chauhan are the only ones to cross 2000 without a century. The current player N Dickwella will probably join them soon. But he would probably prefer to score a century and get off this list!

The lowest average here is by JM Anderson (9.68) followed by Waqar Younis (10,20)

Waqar and NM Lyon are the only ones to cross 1000 without a fifty. Lyon has a slightly better average of 12.27.

Chauhan has the most 50s here (16) and is followed by Dickwella with 15 and Mackay with 13.

We take a look at the

Same players ranked by batting averages (for averages above 20):

1000 without cemtury, avg above 20

This table is headed by the relatively unknown BM Laird (an opener), KD Mackay (all-rounder) and TD Paine (wicketkeeper). Chauhan is 4th on this list. There are several other Indian players in this category who averaged above 20, ranging from Surti to Abid Ali.

Finally, let us look at

Indian opening batsmen (who played at least 20 innings at No 1 or 2):

Indian openers by average

The first two names are easily guessed, though you might not have expected Shastri and Gambhir to be the next two. Chauhan does not fare too well here, being 20th out of 28. However he is above some well-known names such as Pankaj Roy and K Srikkanth.

Even non-flashy openers have a place, although they often do not get a long enough run.

75 years ago: V-J day and more

On August 15, 1945 Japan surrendered bringing World War 2 to an end. This day is celebrated in the UK and several other countries ( including Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and even South and North Korea)  as V-J day, in line with V-E day which marked the end of the war in Europe.

However, the surrender document was signed on September 2. This is considered as V-J day in the US. And September 3 is V-J day in China and some other countries.

For more details see

Now we come back to the Indian sub-continent. Sometimes you may wonder how August 15 came to be India’s Independence Day.

Lord Mountbatten stated that this date came into his mind when he had to decide the date of transfer of power. This is what he said to the authors of “Freedom at Midnight”.

It also appears in numerous other references. For instance, see

Another question is why Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day on August 14 instead of 15. In fact, for some time Pakistan did consider August 15 as its I-day and this appears on official documents (and even stamps) up to July 1948.

This makes it clear:

Naturally, the country now known as Bangladesh used to celebrate I-day on August 14 until 1971. After that it became March 26 which was when independence was declared in 1971.

There is also Victory Day on Dec 16 (when the Pakistani forces surrendered) and National Mourning Day on August 15 (marking the assassination of President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975).

Kerala’s worst air crash

The crash of the Air-India Express Boeing 737 at Kozhikode on 07/08/2020 resulted in the loss of at least 21 lives.

It appears to have been the worst aviation accident in Kerala (counting both civil and military aircraft). The previous worst accident was near Kochi airport in 1998, which resulted in the loss of 9 lives including 3 on the ground:

One military crash had a slightly higher death toll of 10 :

There have been other accidents which occurred outside Kerala but had a large number of casualties from that state. Offhand one can think of Mangaluru 2010 and Mumbai 1978 which must have had at least half of the passengers from Kerala:

Unique instances on the Indian Railways

There are many oddities on the Indian Railways. Here are some which occur only once in the entire system.

A station where at least one regular passenger train stops but EMUs do not stop: Sanatnagar, west of Secunderabad. EMUs run through this station which has a large goods yard. They stop at Bharatnagar which is about 1 km away. This was probably because proper road access was not possible at Sanatnagar.

Division which continues with the old name of the HQ station. Numerous cities have had their names changed over the last two decades. Examples include Mumbai, Chennai, Vadodara, Palakkkad, Tiruvananthapuram and Prayagraj. When the station name was changed, the division name was changed EXCEPT for Waltair/Visakhapatnam where the old name of Waltair (on the East Coast Railway) continues. I am not sure why this is so.

Yes, there is a Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya division on ECR.

Station names-the only one with the suffix of “new” is Bhubaneswar New.

The only well-known station starting with “old” is Old Malda. There is also Old Sachivalaya Halt on the Digha branch from Patna, which is probably closed. Some obscure sidings and yards with names starting with “old”  and the various directions can be found through the station index on RBS.

With the prefix West, there is West Hill on SR and West Point Halt near Darjeeling. For the latter,  no platform seems to exist now. There is a tiny sign.

With the suffix West: Ratangarh West, earlier Hudera. Presently there is Tirupati West and Kulitturai West (also open) and Guntakal West (no passenger service now, but may have stoppages in future).

The only case of prefix North is at North Lakhimpur on NFR. (and the lesser known North Panakudi on SR).

While Ernakulam Town was called Ernakulam North in the past, local people refer to it as North station. Similarly for Ernakulam Town, formerly Ernakulam South. These old names only existed in the period from the early 1940s to late 1950s, but still persist in local usage.

No cases of prefixes of Central, South, East. (Even though there are countries like the Central African Republic, South Korea and the former East Germany and East Timor).

Some large yards have cabins with names like   ***** West Outer Cabin or ****West Central Cabin.

The other junctions on Indian Railways

The definitions of a railway junction are many. In general, we say that a junction is where three or more lines meet.

A more detailed definition is given by my friend DSP Anirudh:


“In the company-era railways, the stations at the boundary between the railway networks of 2 different companies, were also called Junctions.

This reflects the more generic meaning of Junction, which refers to a point where two or more things are joined. In railway parlance, this meant that even passing stations (with no branch lines and no break of gauge) could also be termed as Junctions as long as there was something different about the railway lines on either side of the station.”


However, there are also “pseudo-junctions” where one line ends and another one starts, where they are of different gauges. So passengers and freight would have to be transferred at this point.

We look at the pseudo-junctions which existed since 1950. If we go further back many instances can be found in the years while the IR system was expanding.

Kalka and Mettupalaiyam are the most obvious ones, with BG/MG and BG/NG. These will continue indefinitely as long as the mountain railways are running.

Not Neral, NJP, Siliguri and Pathankot as they are junctions in the normal sense as three or more lines are meeting.

One which existed until the 1990s was Parli Vaijnath, where a BG line from Vikarabad met a MG line from Parbhani. Now the MG line is converted.

One which still exists (from 2005) is Udaipur City, where the MG line from Ajmer side was converted to BG and the MG line to Ahmedabad side remained. This was a relatively new line which was opened in the mid-60s. However, the line from Ahmedabad via Himatnagar is partly converted and may be fully BG by 2021. So this, like Parli Vaijnath, will become a wayside station on BG.

Others which will exist for a year or so are Bahraich and Mhow (Dr Ambedkar Nagar).

You may be thinking of Miraj, but that was a junction in the normal sense with branches to Kolhapur and Kurduwadi.

Shantipur on ER had this status until a few years ago, when the BG line from Ranaghat met the NG line to Krishnanagar and Nabadwip. Now the NG line is being converted and there is no longer a BG-NG connection at Shantipur.

A short-term BG-NG junction existed at Balgona for a year or so in the course of the NG to BG conversion of the Barddhaman-Katwa section. Now the conversion is completed.

You may think that New Bongaigaon was where BG ended and MG started between the mid-60s and early 80s. This is incorrect as the BG branch from NBQ to Jogighopa was also opened in the mid-60s, but did not have passenger service for a long time. Local trains were there in the early 70s.

Viramgam was where BG ended until the 1970s, but more than one MG line ended there.

Jaynagar on the Bihar-Nepal border would not qualify since the IR station (MG, then BG) was at a different location from the NG line of the Nepal Railways. I don’t know if there is any change now. The new BG line from Jaynagar to Janakpur and beyond does not seem to have opened yet.

If you go back to the time of independence, there was a BG-NG connection at the OLD Siliguri, where the BG line from Sealdah via Haldibari ended and the NG line started. The NEW Siliguri Jn was built to the north of this, near the old station of Siliguri Road.

At this time, Kishanganj was the end of a MG branch from Katihar and Barsoi and the NG line to old Siliguri started from there.

If you count cases where only passengers had to move from one gauge to another, we can include Madras Beach in the past. For a while, the BG Ganga Kaveri Express used to end there and the corresponding MG train to Rameswaram would start from there.

Also Coimbatore, as it was the end of MG lines from the Pollachi side. The MG lines continued to a point near Coimbatore North.

Many other cases can be found from the earlier days. The weirdest case in undivided India was probably in the Bolan Pass connecting Quetta to the Indus Valley, where there was a small MG section in the middle of the pass between two BG lines. This MG section between Hirok and Kolpur did not last long. During that time (in the late 19th century) passengers and goods were transhipped at both these stations.

This is incomplete, but it is probably not feasible to include all such cases which occurred in the course of lengthy gauge conversion projects.