The Khyber Pass in the 1930s-photo feature and other rail-related material.

This post is dedicated to a photo album which used to belong to a British soldier named Albert Chalcroft who appears to have been posted in Landi Kotal in the Khyber Pass, (close to the Afghan border) in the late 1930s. As it often happens, the album was discovered by his descendants many years later (maybe c.2010) and was put up on the net.

This album is interesting in that is shows many aspects of life as a British soldier in the Khyber Pass area at that time. There are some pictures of trains on the Khyber Railway as well as a number of crashed light aircraft. Some pictures appear to show the road crossing between India and Afghanistan. However there are hardly any captions.

Many of these pictures have ended up in the results of Google searches for the Khyber Pass.

WARNING: A few pictures may be found to be disturbing as they show dead bodies.

Explanatory notes:

Landi Kotal was the terminus of the Khyber Railway which was opened in 1925. From 1926 to 1932 it ran a few miles further towards the border up to a station called Landi Khana, though this section was closed in 1932.

A collection of old timetables of the North Western Railway (which covered most of present-day Pakistan and a bit of present-day India) can be seen here:

The line up to Landi Khana can be seen in the folder of the 1930 timetable. Only a few routes are shown here.

The entire NWR timetable as of 1943 can also be seen in another folder, which is from the Indian Bradshaw of that period.

Note the bit about passport checks at Jamrud in the 1943 timetable. As I understood from older persons who had traveled there, tourists from other parts of India could travel up to Jamrud fort in the 1930s but not beyond without special permission. However, they could claim that they had seen the Khyber Pass.

In case you are wondering about the Looswala, this is an old term explained below:

And the milestone at the border refers to P = Peshawar, J = Jamrud (a cantonment at the lower end of the Khyber pass) and LKL = Landi Kotal (the main cantonment at the top of the pass).

Railway maps of Bangladesh

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:

For general timings of long-distance trains there are various official and non-official websites, like:

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.

Bangladesh 1991 (SOI) 001

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.

BD Rly Off Map-2013 001

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

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.

The decline of the Indian Bradshaw

The original Bradshaw started by George Bradshaw in Britain in 1839 lasted up to the early 1960s. The Indian Bradshaw was apparently not connected to the original one and apparently started publication in around 1868. A copy from 2003 mentions “135th year of publication”.

It has its place in Indian railway history as for many years it was the only consolidated source of information for the numerous railway companies all over the country-the big and the small, the railways owned by the Indian government, princely states and private companies. Many of these companies did bring out their own timetables but they would have had limited availability and would have been almost impossible to obtain outside their areas of operation. Hence the need for all-India coverage was filled by the Bradshaw which appears to have been published by W.Newman & Co of Calcutta for most of the time.

After Independence and regrouping in the 1950s, there was a regular publication called the All-India Railway Timetable which existed at least from the mid-60s and coexisted with the Indian Bradshaw. A typical page of the old Indian Bradshaw (this one from 1951):

Brad1951 000

And this one from the official All India Time Table of 1975 (though it did not always have advertisements on the cover):


This All India timetable appeared for the last time in 1976 and was replaced by “Trains at a Glance”, often referred to as TAAG by railfans. This covered only the reasonably important routes and the reasonably important stations on them.

The 9 zones of that time used to publish their own timetables which were generally available only in their own zones (though I remember a bookstall at Delhi Jn which used to have most of the zonal timetables). Once the All India Time Table ceased to exist the only reference for train timings all over the country (including the obscure branch lines) became the Bradshaw. It continued to be useful until the mid-2000s, when it still gave detailed coverage of the entire network (although the major suburban networks were never there). Here is one of the Bradshaws of that period:

Bradshaw 2003 001

Soon the publishers stopped covering the minor routes (and thus reduced it to a badly printed clone of TAAG). By 2005 the mess of 16 zones was addressed by the appearance of 5 zonal timetables which, between them, covered all the non-suburban services running in the country. Hard-core timetable fans concentrated on acquiring these. The networks like IRFCA had messages like “Wanted South Zone TT. Will send West Zone TT in return”.

By then, the original publishers seem to have lost interest in the Bradshaw and sold (or passed on) the brand name to other parties. This changed hands at least once more. As of today, the Indian Bradshaw is still published (but has not been seen by most railfans in recent years-not even in Kolkata).

In the mean time the Thomas Cook international timetables also ceased publication, leaving foreign tourists without a convenient source of detailed information.

Even railfans in Kolkata have had to take a lot of trouble to find a copy. Apparently the number printed is quite low now. Anyway, you can see proof of its existence below (along with the contact details of the distributors):

Bradshaw details 001

Note the prominent typo on the back cover. Nitpickers may also add that the Kolkata Metro is the 17th zone. One can also nitpick that the Konkan Railway is counted as a zone though it is not legally a part of Indian Railways (though operationally it certainly belongs to IR).

Is the present form of the Indian Bradshaw worth buying? Sadly, no. It does not seem to contain any information which is NOT contained in Trains at a Glance and costs more (particularly as the latter can be be easily downloaded for free, and detailed information is available from a variety of official and unofficial resources on the Net). And if you prefer hard copies, the 5 zonal timetables (plus separate suburban timetables for Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata) are still around.

Thanks to Souroshanka Maji for taking the trouble to locate a copy of this 2016 edition.

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.


For whom the bell tolls

This has nothing to do with Hemingway’s novel, though it will appear again at the end.

There used to be a railway station called Ghanta, on the narrow gauge line from Champaner Road to Pani Mines in Gujarat:


This picture is probably from before the 1980s, before the bell tolled for this and many other narrow gauge lines (mainly in Gujarat). Many other lines such as the Satpura network had enough traffic to justify conversion.

The village of Ghanta appears to be in Vadodara district, but is too obscure to appear in Google Maps.

Here is an extract from the 1943 Bradshaw:

Champaner branch

As you can see, our station was served by only one pair of trains daily. The timetables of the 1970s were similar.

Champaner Road is on the Mumbai-Delhi main line, between Vadodara and Godhra. No important train stops there now.

It has nothing to do with the Champaner of Lagaan, which was shot at a place in Kutch district.

And the Ghanta has become symbolic of other things in India, such as this:

which may have been inspired by the Razzie awards of Hollywood.

Footnote: the title of Hemingway’s novel is from a poem by the 17th-century poet John Donne. Many of us would have come across this poem in school or college:

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.


For railfans-the Fergusson papers

This is primarily for railfans interested in lists of stations on railway systems across the world. Some explanation is necessary.

The Fergusson papers on the link given below are compiled by an Englishman named Jim Fergusson, who has been collecting timetables from all over the world since around 1950. He has got hold of timetables from different time periods ranging from the 19th to the 21st century.

Most of those reading this will be interested in the Indian railway system. That is not covered, but the systems of all our neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar) are covered. He seems to have drawn largely from the Indian Bradshaw which has been published since the 19th century but seems to have vanished a few years ago.

Have a look at it here: