- What is the significance of this pair of stations in the history of IR?
- Nowadays all passenger trains have at least a technical halt at Balharshah. But in 1963-64 the Southern Express (then the best train between New Delhi and Madras) ran through Balharshah without stopping. How was this possible?
- What is the historical significance of this station in Bangladesh?
- And of this station in Pakistan?
- Why was this small station’s name well known to Allied military personnel?
- And what was the significance of this station’s name to British soldiers?
- What is unusual about this station in Bangladesh? And what was it called before Partition?
- Until recently, what was (wrongly) claimed to be the first station in Arunachal Pradesh?
- Identify the time span when this picture was taken.
- Where in India would you have seen steam locos in green livery marked “PAK”?
- Name one station in Kerala which had steam sheds for BG and MG.
- Name one major rail-connected howler in the film “Julie”.
- Which was the only section of IR which had 4-foot gauge?
- And 3’6″ gauge?
- What was the northern-most MG station on IR? Ignore the short-lived MG lines north of Lahore.
- Bonus: Which important station most closely matches the description of the title of the novel “Bhowani Junction”?
Here you can see the start of the inaugural run of Pakistan Railway’s new premier service, the Sir Syed* Express between Rawalpindi and Karachi via Faisalabad:
And here is one of the leading expresses of Bangladesh Railways, the Sonar Bangla* * Express leaving Dhaka for Chattogram (the new official name for Chittagong):
See if you can pick out the different types of coaches. The locomotive seems to be considerably older than the coaches.
This is, of course, metre gauge and only a short portion of this major route has been improved to dual gauge with BG.
*Sir Syed refers to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), noted reformer and educationist. He is considered to be the founder of Aligarh Muslim University.
** The Bangladeshi national anthem begins with “Amar Sonar Bangla”, i.e. “My golden Bengal”. This, like the Indian national anthem “Jana Gana Mana”, was composed by Rabindranath Tagore.
(Pictures are copyright of the respective photographers):
Here we limit ourselves to South Asia, but we still find a number of examples:
The most well-known pair is:
(Possibly the signs would have read Hyderabad (Deccan) and Hyderabad (Sind) in the past.)
Followed by the Indo-Bangladesh pair of:
This is near Mymensingh.
Another very similar pair:
The first one is adjacent to Dum Dum airport in Kolkata.
Then we have a small station in Karimganj district of Assam, and a large junction being built near Faridpur in Bangladesh
The station is not fully functional yet, but you can see the nearby police station which has the sign “Bhanga thana, Faridpur”.
Then we have this station in the Indian side of the Thar desert, which once served a town which is a few km away but in Pakistan:
This town in Pakistan’s Punjab has nothing to do with the state in India:
There was also a long-closed Kachh station in Baluchistan, on the Chappar Rift line.
This station in Bangladesh will soon get an Indian counterpart nearby:
Hili on the Indian side will be connected to Balurghat.
There is also a long-closed Belonia station in Bangladesh which served the town of that name in Tripura. In Tripura, the line through Agartala is gradually creeping towards Belonia and beyond. It has already crossed Udaipur, not to be confused with the better-known Udaipur City in Rajasthan.
Going beyond South Asia, there will be a few more matches in the Commonwealth countries and the US. Wellington in the Nilgiris and Wellington in New Zealand comes to mind. Then there is Salem in Tamil Nadu and Salem in Oregon which does have Amtrak service, while the better known Salem in Massachusetts has local commuter service.
Here are extracts showing the timetable of the Calcutta-Siliguri route in 1943:
As you can see, the border line crossed the tracks between Chilhati and Haldibari stations.
Recent pictures of these stations:
Further south, the Radcliffe line crossed the tracks between Banpur and Darsana. Later Gede station was built closer to the border. (Similarly Petrapol station was built close to the border).
As we well know, the Maitri Express and some goods trains cross the Gede-Darsana border. Probably the Haldibari-Chilhati border will be used for goods trains only. In case you are wondering, there have been many attempts by Indian governments over the years to get Bangladesh to allow transit for Indian road vehicles and trains to cross Bangladesh to reach North Bengal and the Northeast. They do not seem to like the idea. In fact, tourist visas issued to Indians invariably mention that you must enter and leave from the same point if traveling by land e.g. if you enter at Benapole you have to leave at Benapole.
The US and Western countries do not have such restrictions on the entry and exit points. It is understood that the Bangladesh government has made these restrictions as it does not want visitors to use their country as a means of traveling from one part of India to another.
Anyway, there are some interesting stories connected with the Haldibari-Siliguri section, which I will take up next.
I happened to run into a British expert in railway history who had material from all over the world. One of the things he had was an Assam Bengal Railway timetable of 1929. He was kind enough to send me scans of a few pages from it. These are mainly from Sylhet and Cachar districts of the past.
Those familiar with the NFR would recognize the cover picture of a point on the Lumding-Badarpur section.
The Assam Bengal Railway ceased to exist in 1942 when it was combined with the Eastern Bengal Railway to form the Bengal & Assam Railway, which effectively covered all railways to the east of the Hooghly. This was primarily to facilitate efficient running of the war against Japan, and the US armed forces took control of the main routes into and in Assam.
This new creation lasted only a few years. Partition caused the B & A R to be broken into three parts. The BG lines left in West Bengal essentially became the Sealdah division of the EIR, which was then broken up into the ER and NR. What was left (both BG and MG besides a bit of NG) in East Pakistan was initially called the Eastern Bengal Railway until 1961, then the Pakistan Eastern Railway and finally Bangladesh Railways.
The MG lines in northern West Bengal, a bit of Bihar and everything to the east were combined with a few smaller systems (such as the NG Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the company-owned lines around Tinsukia) became first the Assam Railway, then part of the North Eastern Railway and finally the Northeast Frontier Railway in 1958.
Some points of interest:
No express or mail trains served Chittagong and Sylhet. They were not directly connected to Dacca and other parts of present-day Bangladesh as there was no bridge over the Meghna at Ashuganj/Bhairab Bazar (though there was a ferry). The bridge was opened only in 1937. It was named the King George VI bridge. Had it opened a year earlier, it may have been one of the few things to be named after King Edward VIII.
There was, however, the Surma Mail which you can see running from Chandpur to Silchar via Laksam, Akhaura and Karimganj. Possibly it had slip coaches for Chittagong and Sylhet, though these would be mentioned elsewhere in the timetable. It would have started from Sealdah and passengers would have to travel in the ferry from Goalundo Ghat to Chandpur. Other ferries linked Goalundo Ghat to Narayanganj (for Dacca).
Note that extracts from various old timetables can be seen here:
Most of these are small fragments, as it is a painful process to scan large numbers of pages from the fragile originals. Even so, there are complete timetables of the North Western Railway and Jodhpur Railway from the 1943 Bradshaw, which cover the entire area of Pakistan and parts of Rajasthan and UP, besides most of Haryana and Punjab.
There is a copy of the 1943 Bradshaw which someone got hold of, which has been repeatedly copied and circulated to dozens of railfans connected with the IRFCA group. Someone seems to have got hold of the Bradshaws of the 1930s and has put up a few pages pertaining to present Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
There is also a full timetable of the BB & CIR from 1937 (roughly corresponding to the pre-2002 WR).
In case you are wondering, foreign websites (mainly abebooks.com, also ebay.com, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk) occasionally stock old Indian zonal timetables and Bradshaws from small independent booksellers (mainly in the UK). But any Bradshaw or all-India TT before the 1980s may cost a few hundred US dollars. Old zonal timetables are rarer but not so expensive-for instance, a few years ago one NWR timetable of 1930 was available for about 35 USD including shipping to India.
Rajshahi, Bangladesh in late 1971:
Dinajpur, Bangladesh also in late 1971. The two pictures from 1971 appear to have been taken by Indian military personnel:
The Urdu signs have disappeared, while there are also less English signs than before.
Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film taken by a British soldier): Possibly young L. K. Advani appears in it somewhere.
Karachi Cantt today:
Note the variety of languages used in the pictures from Pakistan.
Lahore Jn, probably around 1940:
Lahore Jn today:
Finally, to what used to be the end of the line up the Khyber Pass:
In the 1930s:
And during its last years of operation (probably early 2000s):
Getting information about the railway network in Bangladesh is difficult, especially as detailed timetables for the public have not been issued since around 1980. (Sri Lanka also seems to have stopped issuing timetables long ago). Anyway, one reference which gives the list of stations based on timetables up to 1978 is: http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf
For general timings of long-distance trains there are various official and non-official websites, like: http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c?lang=en
The Indian Bradshaw used to publish timetables of East Pakistan and Bangladesh up to the mid-1970s although I have grave doubts as to whether the data for India’s neighboring countries was regularly updated.
Anyway, I have collected a few maps from various sources which some may find useful.
This one is from the “Railway Map of India” published by the Survey of India in 1991. Data for neighboring countries may not be fully up to date.
Note that the border stations on the Indian side are marked in red. There were probably limited cross-border goods services on a few routes at that time, though details are unclear. Note the Rupsa East-Bagerhat line being shown as NG, though from other reliable sources we know that it was converted to BG in around 1970 and closed after a few years.
Also note that there was no bridge connecting the western and eastern halves of the country. This purpose was served by the ferries between Sirajganj Ghat and Jagannathganj Ghat, and between Tistamukh Ghat and Bahadurabad Ghat. The Bangabandhu Bridge came up near the Sirajganj-Jagannathganj ferry.
Now we have this amateur effort from 2002. It was created by Y. Sakai, who appears to have been a Japanese who spent some time in Bangladesh. He tried to show every station which was then functioning. It does not show the link between the Bangabandhu bridge and Dhaka, which had not opened then.
Also in pdf, which is easier to zoom and read:
This mapmaker seems to have done his own transliteration from Bengali to English, so the names may not exactly tally with earlier English maps and timetables. I found it useful while traveling in 2008, before the age of smartphones where one could follow Google Maps and the like.
Finally we have this map dated 2013 taken from the official website. This can be considered to be the latest official version, though it does not show every station.
It does have some information about the little-known bypasses of Ishurdi and Akhaura which avoid reversals for numerous long-distance trains. Note the newer developments such as the links from Bangabandhu bridge to Joydebpur (for Dhaka) and Jamalpur Town (for the Mymensingh area).
Some lines like Feni-Belonia are shown to be closed, but the Kulaura-Shahbazpur (ex Latu) line is shown to be open while other sources say that no train has run there since around 2002.
Other points of interest are at least two stations where Bangladeshi trains run within a few metres of the Indian border, at Hili in the west and Kasba in the east.
Someone who was really interested could create a more detailed atlas using this as a basis and supplementing it with Google Maps. To show sufficient detail, it would have to be in book form like the well-known Great Indian Railway Atlas. See http://indianrailstuff.com/gira3/
But would it be commercially viable? Perhaps only a handful of railfans (and that too mainly from outside Bangladesh) would want to buy it. The print-on-demand self-publishing sites could provide a way out.