Pentas and Hexas

You have heard of quadruplets, quintuplets and hextuplets. Or quadrilaterals, pentagons and hexagons.

The Penta has various connotations. Like the Pentagon. Or Brazil winning the soccer World Cup for the 5th time in 2002. Or even the dreaded Khalistani terrorist named Surjit Singh Penta, and the long-gone Hotel Leela Penta.

And there are penta locomotive combinations on the line through the Braganza ghats to Goa:

Note the “station” of Dudhsagar Water Falls, with is nothing but a viewing platform with signs.

This impressive array of power is needed for trains going downhill, particularly as they need additional braking power.

However, these are not the most locos on a train on the Indian Railways. Admittedly the six-pack you see below is quite rare.

Most of you have heard the one about “How do you get 4 elephants into a Volkswagen Beetle? Two in the front and two in the back”.

And the desi version involving the venerable Ambassador, where the 6 elephants are accommodated three in the front and three in the back.

Remember that now:

This was taken above Palasdhari at the start of the Bhor Ghat incline to Lonavla. Goods trains are normally hauled by electric locos, though here we have three WDG-3As in front and a triplet of WCG-2 howlers at the back. Not unlike howler monkeys. Sadly, you cannot hear them today.

The lonely line through Balochistan

Many of us in India have vaguely heard of the line from Quetta to Zahidan in Iran, which was completed about a century ago. The location can be seen here in the north-west corner:

NWR-1930 map

This map is from 1930 and only shows the line up to Nushki. This is a better map from the 1960s:

PWR in 1969

A good summary of its history up to 2007 by Owais Mughal can be seen here:

Also see the timetables from the 1930 NWR TT:

NWTT 011

Note the distances: 68 miles (109 km) form Yakmach to Nok Kundi, a further 86 miles (138 km) to Mirjawa across the border and a further 52/84 to the terminus then called Duzdap.

And from the 1943 Bradshaw:

1943 Badshaw-Zahidan line

At that point the line was closed beyond Nok Kundi, though it was revived as part of the war effort.

Now we have something more up to date, in the form of 2 videos making a travelogue by a Pakistani blogger. These are fully in Urdu, though anyone who can understand Hindi should not have a problem.

The narrator’s style may be a little irritating, but you do see a good view of life on the Pakistan-Iran border including the last PR station at Koh-e-Taftan and the nearby road crossing along other bits like the last mosque and the last ATM in Pakistan. (This station seems to have come up after 1947).

Note the single train between Quetta and Zahidan which is a mixed train with very limited passenger space. It is interesting to see the large volume of Iranian consumer goods being imported here.


Footnote: we hear a lot of Gwadar and its port nowadays. Did you know that it was NOT part of British India but was an exclave of Oman until Pakistan took over in 1957, long after Independence.

Which name is correct?

In some stations, the signs at different places show different names:


Sakleshpur is supposed to the correct spelling.

I have seen signs of Hafizpet and Hafizpeta coexisting.

And in Chennai:


Washermanpet is listed in official sites. And the Hindi signs seem to agree.

Chromepet is the official name, which is logical as there is or was the Chrome Leather Factory nearby. But today all signs gave been changed:


More peculiar is the station which is listed as Dalhousi Road (which is wrong as the town and the Governor-General were spelt Dalhousie). And the station sign is more correct than the official listing:

Dalhousie Road

Finally, the official name is Atari, but signs mainly show Attari:

To make things more confusing, the Punjab government has renamed the station Atari Shyam Singh in 2015, though it appears that the Centre has not approved of this .

Similarly, you will still see Allahabad and not Prayagraj. (There are also Prayag Jn and Prayag Ghat which are different). There are numerous photoshopped pictures of the new signs on the net, but no genuine pictures of the new signs where Prayagraj has replaced Allahabad.

(While on this topic, note the continued existence of IIT Madras, IIT Bombay and IIM Calcutta).

Tail piece: note the mismatch between Hindi and Bengali here:



India’s meanest tank locomotives

Inspired by the Popular Mechanics articles on badass planes and locomotives, here are the biggest and baddest of the tank locomotives which ran on the Indian Railways.

One place where you saw large tank engines was in shunting yards, especially where hump shunting was involved. Here is one of a pair of 2-10-2s which were working at the Bombay Port Trust lines up to at least 1996:

BPT tank loco 001-crop

(From “Industrial Locomotives…. ” by Simon Darvill, 2013)

The locos numbered 25 and 26 were built by Nasmyth, Wilson at Manchester in 1922.

Large tank locomotives were also found to be useful on steep mainline sections such as the Bhore Ghat and Thull Ghat sections now on the Central Railway (earlier GIPR), besides the Bolan pass line now in Pakistan.

Here is an 0-8-0 ST (saddle tank) which ran on the GIPR in the late 19th century:

W1 tank loco 001-crop

(“From Indian Locomotives Part 1….” by Hugh Hughes, 1990).

This one was built by Neilson (Glasgow) in 1885. After a stint on the ghat sections they were used for shunting in the Bombay area.

If you need to brush up on tank locomotives (not just Thomas!) see

and for hump shunting:

Tail piece: 0-10-0 tank locomotives have been used in Finland:


Book on Industrial Locomotives of South Asia

The more determined railway fans from South Asia would appreciate this weighty book by Simon Darvill (2013):

It gives most details of industrial locomotives which ran in the countries between Afghanistan and Myanmar. A special feature is the lengthy section on the British Army’s military railways in what is now India and Pakistan, including the large amount of rolling stock and other material sent to other theatres of WW1 and WW2.

An interesting point (which one had not come across earlier) is that there was a serious plan to lay a 2’0″ Decauville track across the Khyber Pass from the then railhead at Jamrud, crossing the border and extending into Dakka Fort in Afghanistan during the 3rd Afghan War in 1919. This was some years before the “real” broad gauge line was built to Landi Kotal and Landi Khana.

However, there is no mention of this little line in accounts of the war, so there is some doubt if it was actually built.

While the stress is on steam, there are plenty of diesel locomotives listed as well. Profusely illustrated with b/w photographs.

This book may be available from amazon com and amazon in. Otherwise it is available from specialized bookshops in the UK. Sellers can be located by using Google for the book’s title or ISBN no 9781901 556827

International shipping charges will be high as the packed weight is over 1.5 Kg.




Multilingual railway coaches

You have heard of multilingual signs on railway stations in India. They will have at least 2 languages, English and Hindi and whatever else is widely used in that area-the regional language such as Tamil or Bengali, Urdu in some states and sub-states, the neighboring state’s language and so on.

There are numerous stations with 4 languages, and at least two with 5: Raichur in Karnataka and Krishna in Telangana, which have English, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Urdu.

Sometimes it seems illogical to find some languages on a signboard, such as in Cachar and two other districts of Assam where the signs have Bengali and not Assamese. (Nothing unusual since Bengali is the official language here).

Sri Lanka seems to have a strict 3-language formula of Sinhala/English/Tamil which is followed regardless of the Sinhala or Tamil population in a particular place.

Bangladesh has a simpler policy: Only Bengali, except for larger stations where English is added.

Pakistan seems to generally follow the Indian pattern with English and Urdu everywhere and regional languages as well, in Sind and parts of KP province but not in Baluchistan.

A few posts on station signs and language policies are elsewhere on this blog.

Anyway, today we look at an unusual coach in Chennai:

MSM wagon 1

MSM wagon 2

Copyright of these pictures is with the original photographer.

These pictures were taken some years ago at the Perambur workshops (NOT the ICF). Not sure where it is now.

As you can see, this broad gauge troop wagon belonged to the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway, and probably dates back to the 1930s or earlier.

In its time, the M & SM (“Mails Slowly Moving”) covered parts of the present Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana.

Thus the sign has English, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Urdu and Tamil which should cover all eventualities where the wagon would carry troops (Not Malayalam, though the Shoranur-Mangalore section appears to have been under the M & SM for some time).

Also note that a British soldier’s bottom is understood to be larger than his native counterpart’s bottom.


Rail Quiz-May 2019

This time it is with a focus on ancient history.

Answers included below. Best results were by Debatra Mazumdar and Jishnu Mukerji.

  1. Look at this old picture of Delhi JnDelhi Jn NWR

Is there something wrong with it? Why or why not?

(Nothing wrong. It was in the North Western Railway until 1948.)

2. You know about the Grand Chord via Gaya and Dhanbad. Why is the word “Grand” used? You know it is a chord line with respect to the “main line” via Patna, so what is grand about it?

(The first line connecting Calcutta to northern India was along the Ganga via Sahibganj and Bhagalpur. This was running by the end of the 1860s. The next shortening was from Burdwan to Kiul via Asansol and Jhajha, which was opened in the 1870s and was called the Chord line. When the distance was shortened still further from Asansol to Mughal Sarai via Dhanbad and Gaya, the route was called the Grand Chord.)

3. Sticking to the Grand Chord, a look at Google Maps or other large-scale maps would show a sharp S-curve at Gaya. Is there any logical reason for this? After all, you would not like to have sharp curves on an important line.

(The Patna-Gaya line was completed first. Naturally as the line was in a north-south direction, the terminus at Gaya was aligned that way. When the Grand Chord came along with its slight north-west direction, there had to be sharp curves. You can see similar curves while traveling north or south through Itarsi. Many similar examples are there.)

4. You know Khanalampura near Saharanpur, which is a newly opened electric loco shed. In the past it was the siteĀ  for one of the largest marshalling yards in India. Now Saharanpur does not seem to be that important a junction, so why was such a yard constructed there?

(It was the main junction for goods interchange between the EIR and NWR, the largest systems of undivided India. It even had the largest steam shunters, the 0-8-0 XGs. These tended to damage the tracks so they became the 2-8-2 XG/Ms.)

5. There are a number of sugar factories along the line between Saharanpur and Meerut. One of them has building with a sign “E.P. Rly 1951”. Explain what this means.

(After partition, the portion of the NWR remaining in India was called the East Punjab Railway. This covered practically all of the present Punjab, Haryana and Delhi and parts of UP and Rajasthan. By 1954 it became part of the new Northern Railway.)

6. On August 13, 1947 which was the northern-most station on IR?

(Dargai in NWFP, on a branch going north from Nowshera. It has been closed for several years now.)

7. On August 13, 1947 which was the western-most station on IR? It was not (and still is not) part of India or even Pakistan.

(Zahidan (and Mirjawa to its east). They are in Iran, and Zahidan (earlier Duzdap) was the western terminus of the NWR and thus IR. There was apparently no stoppage at the border then. At that time Nok Kundi in Baluchistan was the westernmost station of IR in India. Trains ran from Quetta to Zahidan. Today the line still functions but there does not seem to be more than one train in either direction in a week.)

8. Walajah Road is a relatively minor station now. But it has an important place in India’s railway history. Why? And what was its earlier name?

(The first passenger train in South India ran from Madras (Royapuram) to here in 1855. It was then called Arcot, although that town is some distance away and has not been connected by rail yet.)

9. Until Partition, which was the only stoppage for most express trains between Amritsar and Lahore? Why was it an important station?

(While Atari and Wagah stations existed, they were served only by slow passenger trains. The one stop was at Moghalpura (one stop east of Lahore Jn), which was an important railway centre with a number of workshops and offices. It was earlier called Meean Meer East and then Lahore Cantt East).

10. Which station on the former EIR was the site of a long siege during the War of Independence in 1857?

(Arrah (now Ara) to the west of Patna. It is covered well in most histories of the war. Though the besieged building may not have been the station building, it was close to the line being constructed and was largely manned by troops and others connected to the railways. Another well-known but shorter siege was near Bharwari station, west of Allahabad).

Bonus: What similarity do you see between Abu Dhabi airport and Castle Rock station?

(A bit complex. Castle Rock is last station in British India (Bombay province) and independent India (Mysore state, later Karnataka) before entering Goa. Naturally, this was an international border until the end of 1961. The Portuguese customs and immigration staff were posted here and conducted their checks, before passengers could continue their journey to Goa.

Now the US has a similar agreement with several airports such as Abu Dhabi, Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, and several others in the Caribbean and Canada. There is even one such post at Vancouver railroad station in Canada. The US CBP conducts their checks here. If they don’t like you, it saves them the problem of sending you back from the US. And they cannot arrest you either.)