The Assam Bengal Railway in 1929

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.

ABR-1929 coverABR-1929 mapAssam Bengal TT p 014Assam Bengal TT p 015Assam Bengal TT p 016Assam Bengal TT p 023Assam Bengal TT p 026

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.

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:

http://www.irfca.org/gallery/Heritage/timetables/ 

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 1937 TT of the BB & CIR (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.

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More from the “border from hell”-Hili (updated in May 2017)

If you are reading this, you probably have read about the weird border between India and Bangladesh in the Cooch Behar/Rangpur region. If not, you might as well read it now:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/india-and-bangladesh-the-border-from-hell/

But there are plenty of other strange things on the borders of these countries. Many of them arise from the Radcliffe line of partition.

For the basics, read the first few paragraphs of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radcliffe_Line

Or this: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/peacocks-at-sunset/?_r=0

The writer of the latter piece is quite knowledgeable though he fails to mention that Sylhet district of Assam was also partitioned.

Today I will deal with one specific oddity which is on the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The actual reports produced by the Radcliffe Commission total only about 7 pages, dealing with the partition of Punjab, Bengal and Sylhet district of Assam. Strangely enough these documents do not seem to be easily available anywhere on the net, though they are readily available in various publications. The following extract is from p.21 of “Committees & Commissions in India, 1947-54″ compiled by Virendra Kumar (Concept Publishing, Delhi, 1976)

” The line shall run…….and will terminate at the point where the boundary between Phulbari and Balurghat meets the north-south line of the Bengal & Assam Railway in the eastern corner of the Thana of Balurghat. The line shall turn down the western edge of the railway lands and follow that edge until it meets the boundary between the Thanas of Balurghat and Panchbibi”

What this means is the boundary line (which was basically intended to segregate Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority areas) needed some special adjustments to avoid disruption to communication links. This was not the only place this happened. In this particular case the north-south railway line (which was then on the route of the prestigious Darjeeling Mail) remained a major connection between the north-western part of East Pakistan and the rest of the country, and so it should not be disturbed and the Pakistani trains should be able to run without hindrance.

The map of Hili railway station and surroundings:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@25.2788172,89.0098371,16z

You could expand it further if needed. What should be apparent is that the town of Hili lies on both sides of the border, and that the railway embankment itself is the border. The border itself seems to cut through the station premises.

Here are a few pictures from this area:

Border marker near the railway line:

Hili area 1

The black cow is closer to the Indian border than the white cow. Perhaps they come and go across the border. Probably the black cow has realized that her life expectancy will be more in India than in Bangladesh.

An Indian truck waiting to cross the border (which is the railway line itself):

Hili area 2

Note the BG/MG dual gauge track.

A couple of pictures from Hili station itself. The second one shows some semblance of security with the BGB (the equivalent of the BSF):

(As in many smaller stations in Bangladesh, the signboards may be only in Bengali).

To get a better idea of the ground situation, here is a segment of a documentary by CNN-IBN which apparently dates to 2007. It should be self-explanatory:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ntOdCQuZoc

As you can see, at that time no one seemed to bother if you crossed the border in either direction. Probably things are a little tighter now, though the great wall of barbed wire probably has a break here.

Here is a video of Bangladeshi trains passing Hili station, taken from the Indian side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-xek8UeS0E

Here you can see the “Welcome to Bangladesh” sign right next to the railway line.

A Bangladeshi video showing BGB officers visiting Hili station. You can see the border markers in the station premises:

Finally, a better view from the Bangladesh side. This is a video shot by a Bangladeshi visitor to the border areas (in Bengali with English subtitles).

Not sure if you would find the entire video interesting, but 1.20 to 2.45 pertains to Hili with coverage of the station and the border.