From the Indian Railway timetables of 1975

The All-India Railway Timetable was the “Bible” of a section of railfans until 1976 when it was replaced by “Trains at a Glance”. The Indian Bradshaw started sometime in the 19th century and appears to have vanished a few years ago. And then there were the timetables of the individual zones. Unlike the All India RT and Bradshaw, they carried the zonal maps as well. They survive today as a sort of hybrid, an example being the Western Zonal Timetable which includes the Central, Western, West Central and North Western Railways.

Today, however, we look at some extracts from the maps attached to the Southern and South Central Railway timetables issued in November 1975. It is instructive to compare them with the maps of the present railway systems in those areas.

First, the inset showing the Madras area:


Notes: Many more stations have come up on these suburban sections since 1975.

See the MG lines extending up to the Tondiarpet yard. It was a bit startling to observe a YG next to the BG tracks while travelling north from MAS in the late 80s.

Madras has long become Chennai, while Madras Park and Madras Chetpat have since been contracted  to Park and Chetpat. (However they are listed as Chennai Park and Chennai Chetpat in the RBS tables. Not the first time that official names in the Railway’s own databases are not the same as the names on the signboards.

The Villivakkam- Anna Nagar branch came and went in the 2000s.

This map shows Veysarpadi which was and still is a cabin and not a station. Vyasarpadi Jeeva station came later.

And the mapmaker forgot the existence of Madras Beach station, where once MG lines met an outlying BG line.

The Hindi signboards in this area are curious in that they use Hindi transliterations of Tamil words rather than Hindi words. Today we have:

Chennai Beach : Chennai Kodikirai in Hindi

Chennai Fort: Chennai Kotte

Park: Punga

Also, Egmore is revealed to be the Anglicized form of Eshambur.

The Hyderabad area:


Notes: Husain Sagar Jn was a functioning station at that time, while James Street station vanished soon afterwards and was revived with the MMTS in the 2000s. Many new stations appeared when the MMTS started. Today Husain Sagar has a large signal cabin while the platforms of the long-vanished station can still be seen.

The short-lived Telapur-Patancheru branch appeared some years later and has now vanished. If you keep your eyes open you may see the abandoned station of Telapur west of Lingampalli, from where the branch departed to the north. There is some talk of reviving this branch as part of the MMTS.

Note the forgotten siding to Trimulgeri.

An intensive suburban system with YDM2 diesels served the MG suburban sections running north and south of Secunderabad. Now, of course, you will not see any MG line within a few hundred km of the Hyderabad area.


The oldest fast trains in India, and other topics for fans of the Indian Railways

Some generalities to start with. There is no firm answer to the question “Which was India’s first long-distance train?” The present Railway administration seems to have decided that the Punjab Mail from Mumbai CSTM to Ferozepur is the oldest, having started its run from Bombay VT  to Lahore in 1912.

While the dates of opening of different sections of track are well documented by the railways (with a full directory up to 1964), the date of introduction of trains is not so clear unless one looks at the old timetables, which are generally not accessible to the public. Anyway, some of the oldest trains would include:

Bombay-Poona Mail: probably soon after the line was opened in 1863. Was known to be running in 1869. However, the name vanished around 1971 when it became the Sahyadri Express to Kolhapur with the same timings between Bombay and Poona (which were yet to become Mumbai and Pune)

Madras-Bangalore Mail: probably soon after the line between these cities was completed in 1864. At that time it would have run between Royapuram (then the only terminus in Madras) and Bangalore Cantt (likewise for Bangalore). It would have started running from Madras Central after 1873 and from Bangalore City after 1882. It still runs on this route, although the stations are now Chennai Central and KRS Bengaluru.

Then there would be the Kalka Mail, which started as the Delhi-Calcutta Mail in 1866 soon after the last link of the Yamuna bridge was opened. At that time it would have run by the Sahibganj loop which was the only connection between Calcutta and the North then. It would have started running via the “main line” between Asansol and Kiul after 1871 and via the Grand Chord after 1906. And it would have been extended to Kalka after 1891. So this is also one of the oldest fast trains of India, despite the numerous changes of route. It is still running between Howrah and Kalka by the Grand Chord.

The Delhi-Karnal-Ambala-Kalka line was opened in 1891. Possibly the Kalka Mail ran via Delhi-Meerut-Saharanpur-Ambala at one time, as this longer route  had more commercial and military significance.

I am not actually sure when it started running via the Grand Chord, as that covered relatively unpopulated areas compared to the main line via Patna. This can only be answered definitely by seeing timetables from 1906 onwards. In the 1930 timetable of the North Western Railway the abstract timetables show it running via Patna. But in the 1935 Bradshaw it is running via Gomoh on the Grand Chord, where Netaji is supposed to have boarded it in 1941.

In the same way many of the older Mail trains would have started running soon after the routes were completed. Some which must  have started running in the 19th century include the Madras/Mangalore, Madras/Bombay, Bombay/Calcutta via Allahabad. By 1910 the Madras/Howrah and Bombay/Howrah via Nagpur would have started.

Some like the Punjab Mail from Bombay (1912), Frontier Mail (1928), and Deccan Queen (1930) are well documented, although the second one became the Golden Temple Mail in 1996.

The Delhi-Madras route never had a mail train. The last link between Balharshah and Kazipet was completed in the late 1920s in what was then the Nizam’s State Railway. This Grand Trunk Express ran for the first few months from Mangalore to Peshawar, then for a few months from Mettupalaiyam to Lahore and then settled to its long-term route from Madras Central to Delhi.

By the 1950s most trains from the West and South started terminating at New Delhi which had been a tiny station until it was expanded to be a station fit for a capital. Ultimately the GT  was extended to Delhi Sarai Rohilla a few years ago. A number of long distance trains suffered the same fate due to the lack of stabling lines near New Delhi and Delhi Jn.

And Sarai Rohilla is one of the most inaccessible rail terminuses in India’s major cities, though it gets good competition from Kolkata Terminus and (to a lesser extent) from LTT and Bandra Terminus in Mumbai. However, unlike in Mumbai and Kolkata many of these trains also have stops at New Delhi or Delhi Jn, so it does not affect reserved passengers that much. Those going towards Rajasthan and Gujarat may prefer the 2-minute halt at Delhi Cantt to the inaccessible starting point.

Most of the trains mentioned above have separate articles on Wikipedia and other sites like . Some sources are reliable, others are not. Anyone who says that the Punjab Mail of 1912 is the oldest train is clearly wrong.

To come back to the original question, the oldest long-distance train running on (almost) the same route throughout the years is almost certainly the Chennai/Bengaluru Mail, though the management of the CR and the NR would not like to hear that.

A footnote: some old timetables of India (including pre-1947 India) can be seen here:

It is not very systematic as bits and pieces have been added by a large number of people. If you expect to see the full all-India timetables for a particular year you will be disappointed. Some attempt has been made to give the full timetables for a particular company or zone, for instance the NWR from a 1943 Bradshaw:

and the Jodhpur railway, 2 pages from the same Bradshaw:

There are also a few pages from the NWR of 1930 and Assam Bengal Railway of 1929. But basically you have to find your own way in this site.

Another section of the irfca site which may interest you is:

although this was prepared over a decade ago and all the information may not be accurate.

Some railfans have acquired soft and hard copies of old timetables by various means over the years. If you expect them to put up the scans of the full timetables of the past, it will not happen because either the books are bound in such a way that scanning is difficult, or the pages are too yellow and/or fragile, or they are the result of multiple photocopies and are not very legible (the ones mentioned above are examples of this).

Anyway, I have been requested to summarize the timings of the Kalka Mail and Frontier Mail over the years. Probably the best you can expect is a summary of timings at some important stations retyped here.

Follow this blog, there are many other topics such as aviation and cricket covered here.


The mysterious station of Pattabiram Military Siding

I had wanted to mention the strange story of Pattabiram Military Siding station for a long time, and thought that the near disaster on May 5 would be a good time to bring it up.

First, a map of the region surrounding Pattabiram on the Chennai-Arakkonam section:


From Chennai to Arakkonam (right to left) you will pass Hindu College, Pattabiram and Nemilichery in succession. Note the turnoffs towards the north from Pattabiram. There are several EMU locals a day from Chennai Central and Chennai Beach to Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot, where the E supposedly stands for Engineering. There are turnoffs from both sides of Pattabiram station, although no scheduled passenger service uses the the one on the east.

As you would have read, one of these locals was moving from one track to another when the Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram Mail collided with its side, probably after over-running signals. Or there may have been malfunctioning signals. Fortunately there were no fatalities although eight were injured.

Those familiar with this route would know the separate platforms for the branch which are to the north of the main line. After turning north and crossing the West cabin, the line passes the station called PTMS and then continues to another station called Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot (PRES) where the EMUs terminate. That would be clear from this map, which shows the area slightly north of the first map.


The strange thing is that the station marked PTMS is a stop for these locals but does not seem to have ever appeared in the suburban timetables-even in the 1960s when the BG suburban timetables for Madras were included in the SR timetable. I have not seen it in any timetable since the 1960s.

Here you can see the trains which run to the E depot terminus:

and return:

These trains run both from the Chennai Central suburban terminus and Chennai Beach.

You can check the timings of these trains and find no reference to PTMS. Here is an example:

Of course, in this era of Google Maps blanketing the country it is impossible for any station to hide its existence unless it is in a restricted area. But 2005 was a long time ago. In March of that year I spent a few days exploring the unknown corners of Chennai including almost all of the suburban rail network existing at that time. I visited the now-vanished branch to Anna Nagar, and later took one of the locals bound for PRES.

After crossing Pattabiram West cabin the local came to a halt. The station sign said Pattabiram Military Siding, which I took to be the terminus. I found it odd that some passengers continued to sit in the coach. The train then zipped off towards the north to its ultimate destination.

It was then that I realized that this was a “ghost” station with no mention in timetables.

Fortunately a picture of the sign could be found on the net:

Pattabiram military siding

Not sure when this picture was taken, but clearly this was painted a long time ago compared to other signs in the Chennai area.

Some years later, when the RBS charts became available on the net, I found the Railways finally acknowledging the existence of the “orphan” station:


and if you approach from the west:


It is strange that this table does not acknowledge that the trains from the east do stop at Pattabiram station (though at a platform slightly away from the main station).

If you still doubt the existence of this station, it does have a ticket counter which issues tickets to all stations in the Chennai region, as you can see from this ticket I purchased on 24 March 2005:

PTMS ticket

It’s a long, long way to Gummidipundi (76 km at Rs 16 at that time), but only a railfan interested in studying the Chennai network in detail would make this journey.


Spotlight on the Arakkonam airfield

Arakkonam (formerly Arkonam) is well known to railway followers because it is an important junction as well as electric loco shed, but has recently come into prominence because the inundation of Chennai airport caused some commercial flights to be operated from there. To be precise, this is the NAS (Naval Air Station) at Arakkonam which the Navy calls INS Rajali.

Most basic information can be seen here:

Although it started off as an IAF base in the 1940s, it was abandoned soon after WW2 and was reactivated for the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy during the late 1980s. The TU-142s and now the Poseidon P-8s have made good use of the 4.1 km runway which has been claimed to be the longest military runway in Asia.

Here you can see the locations of Chennai international airport (MAA), IAF Tambaram and INS Rajali marked with the small gold stars.

Chennai area

One can see that INS Rajali is about 50 km west of MAA, while IAF Tambaram is only 10 km away. At least there is no chance of a confused airline pilot landing his 747 at INS Rajali by mistake, though this has happened once at Tambaram in recent years.

Here is a closer view of INS Rajali:

INS Rajali

Though it is not very clearly shown, the railway line from Chengalpattu runs along the highway right by the boundary wall of the base. The Railways have been planning to electrify this section for a long time but the Navy have objected to the presence of the traction equipment being an obstacle to the flight path. Thus an alternative line is being built further from the airfield, but this seems to have dragged on for several years. This new line is not shown in the map. Meanwhile  the diesel-hauled trains continue to run past the base.

This is not the first time that military airfields have been used a a backup. Sulur for Coimbatore and Avantipur for Srinagar are other examples. The inaugural flight of Jet Airways to Coimbatore did land at Sulur by mistake. Apart from the Saudia 747 which wrongly landed at Tambaram, there have been several incidents including a mid-air collision and another which totalled a DC-8 which were caused by the proximity of BOM to Juhu. More about these later.

With all these movements of heavy aircraft, it is fortunate that this airfield has not seen a major aviation accident yet. However, India’s experimental AWACS on an Avro frame did crash a few km away in 1999, apparently putting an end to DRDO’s efforts in that direction.