Zones and divisions of the Indian Railways

May be of interest to those who are into the study of the Indian Railways all over the country:

http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=137331

Warning-not all the spellings are correct.

It is interesting if one wants to see how the newer zones were created. A rather obvious case is the North Western Railway which was formed from Jodhpur and Bikaner divisions of NR and Jaipur and Ajmer divisions of WR, thus creating a zone whose jurisdiction covers most of Rajasthan.

Similarly, the East Central Railway was formed from Danapur, Dhanbad and Mughalsarai divisions of ER and Samastipur and Sonpur divisions of NER, thus covering most of Bihar.

The North Central Railway has a rather mixed parentage. It includes the divisions of Allahabad (ex NR), Jhansi (ex CR) and Agra (a new division with bits and pieces of WR, CR and NR, perhaps even NER).

One particularly odd thing is the Waltair division. Waltair is a suburb of Visakhapatnam where the main railway station is located. Waltair was renamed to Visakhapatnam over two decades ago but the division name remains.

But there are counter-examples of this. On SR there used to be the Olavakkot division which became the Palghat division and finally the Palakkad division, in line with the changes of the name of the station.

There are plenty of other points of interest in this listing, particularly for those into the history of IR.

Revival of the Barisal Express

Much excitement has been caused among those connected with the Railways by the imminent start of the new cross-border train between Kolkata and Khulna.  Trial runs  were held a few days ago and many videos can be seen on Youtube showing the train running at various places along the line to Bangaon and beyond. Here is an example:

 

The earlier Maitree Express, now running between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantt, follows a route in which much of the route in Bangladesh did not exist before Partition. There had been trains with names like the Dacca Mail which started from Sealdah and terminated at Goalundo Ghat, from where the passengers embarked on a ferry trip of several hours to Narayanganj on the outskirts of Dacca (as it was then spelt). By 2001 the Bangabandhu Bridge had been completed along with a connecting line to Dhaka. This provided a route from the Gede-Darsana border to Dhaka without a ferry crossing. More about that in another post.

This new service between Kolkata and Khulna revives a pre-partition train called the Barisal Express between Sealdah and Khulna which was running since at least the 1930s. In fact it was running for some time after Partition and was listed in the ER timetables of 1964. However, all cross-border services between India and East Pakistan ceased with the 1965 war.

In a Bradshaw dated February 1935, we see the 31 Barisal Express leaving Sealdah at 15.26 and arriving at Khulna at 10.45. It stopped at many places beyond the present border, though the main stoppages were Bongaon (16.47/16.55) and Jessore (17.59/18.02). The return train was the 30 Barisal Express which left Khulna at 05.45 and reached Sealdah at 10.10, with the main stops at Jessore (07.27/07.30) and Bongaon (08.34/08.42).

Here is an extract from a Bradshaw of 1943, which is unfortunately not very legible as it has been photocopied many times.

Barisal express 1943 001

Part of the first page has got cropped, although the full route from Khulna can be seen on the second page. The distance is shown as 110 miles or 177 km.

Another curiosity on these pages is the Khulna-Bagerhat Light Railway, which was to be the only narrow gauge line running in East Pakistan. It started from Rupsa East, across the river from Khulna and was not linked to the rest of the rail network. This line was converted to BG around 1970 but was closed a few years later as it was uneconomical.

From the above time table, you can see that Petrapole station did not exist then and the border crossed the line between Bongaon and Benapol. The station at Petrapole, like Gede, was built after Partition in order to provide a station closer to the new international border.

Running of limited goods and passenger trains across the border continued after Partition up to 1965, though there may have been interruptions. Those who have been following the Indian Railways since the 1960s may remember seeing BG wagons marked PE and PW, being the initials of the then Pakistan Eastern and Pakistan Western Railways.

Goods trains across Gede-Darsana and Petrapol-Benapol and (to a lesser extent) other crossing  points were running for some time before the Maitree express between Kolkata and Dhaka started running in 2008. There are frequent EMU services between Sealdah and Bangaon (the present spelling), but no passenger train seems to have run to Petrapole since 1965 till the present. Goods trains would have crossed the border after formalities at this station.

In early 2008 I had traveled by road from Khulna to Benapol. The highway between Khulna and Jessore runs mainly adjacent to the rails. One could see a number of IR wagons from various zones stabled at the small stations on this route.

A Google maps reference for Petrapole and surrounding areas is given here. Those who are interested can trace the path to Khulna, which involves a sharp turn to the south at Jessore.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Bangaon+Junction+Railway+Station/@23.0368542,88.8727271,16z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x39ff35a4ff881b6f:0xff12ef03d5e82d1!8m2!3d23.0302415!4d88.8330527

It can be seen that the main road crossing point is in the vicinity, though not very close to Petrapole and Benapol stations.

Petrapole-2

Here is the checkpoint for the existing Maitree Express at Kolkata station. Presumably the new train will also use it.

Kolkata-Maitree counter

Getting details of stations functioning in Bangladesh at present is not very easy, particularly as no detailed timetable seems to have been published since the 1980s. If one is really interested one can refer to http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf although it does not seem to have information beyond the 80s. This is the best I can find, from a map published by a railfan around 2001. The mapmaker has tried to show every station which existed at that time.

Benapol-Jessore section

Here is the best official map which I could find, which is dated 2013. It does not show every station.

http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/ff534cd8-a522-4c7d-a48c-6d41dc63aa82/Railway-Route-Map

While the route from Khulna to Jessore is part of the main line going to the north-western part of Bangladesh, the Jessore-Benapol section was quite neglected with a single pair of local trains between Khulna and Benapol. See train nos 53/54 near the bottom of this page:

http://www.travelonebd.com/transportation/12-railway/18-bangladesh-railway-schedule

This is a typical branch line train of Bangladesh, which you can see in this short clip:

 

Clearly the new service from Kolkata to Khulna will be a considerable improvement over the crowded EMUs on the Indian side and the neglected passenger train shown above.

 

More odd station signs in India

A number of odd things can be seen in station signs if one keeps one’s eyes open. Here are a couple picked up from the net. Copyrights of the pictures are that of their respective creators.

First, this one from New Delhi.

New Delhi..

Nothing out of the way, right? Now see this one, also from New Delhi:

New Delhi unofficial

See how the Punjabi inscription has been added. Just wondering if this was done by the railway staff or someone else.

Something similar has happened at Titagarh station near Barrackpore.

First see this one of Barrackpore, which can be taken as the “standard practice” in this area:

Barrackpore

It can be seen that it has Bengali, Hindi and English.

Now see the sign at Titagarh:

Titagarh

It looks as if  an unofficial Urdu inscription has been added, like in the case of New Delhi above. Thanks to those who pointed this out.

It does look to be unofficial as the official signs would have the inscriptions of different languages to be of similar sizes and not in relatively tiny sizes as in these two examples.

To end on a lighter note, here is a more humorous example of modifying signs (this time from England):

Turban outfitters

Good neigbours

Examples of station signs with languages of neighbouring states.

Copyrights of the pictures belong to the respective photographers.

Raichur station-5 languages

Raichur in Karnataka and close to Telangana. Has Telugu apart from English, Hindi, Kannada and Urdu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearby in Telangana there is Krishna. Has Kannada apart from English, Hindi, Telugu and Urdu.

kollengode-4

Kollengode, Kerala. Has Tamil apart from Malayalam.

Pollachi_junction_station_name_board

Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. Has Malayalam apart from Tamil.

Sini

Sini, near Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. Has Odiya and Bengali.

Finally, Pimpalkhuti in Maharashtra, close to Telangana.

pimpalkhuti

Another odd thing. Many stations in Maharashtra have separate inscriptions for Hindi and Marathi even if they are identical, but not here. A typical example is this one from Miraj where Hindi and Marathi inscriptions are identical:

Miraj

These are a few samples of good neighbourliness. Numerous other cases can be seen in other parts of India.

Station signs in undivided India

Here are some pictures of stations and signs as they were in the 1940s or earlier. It is interesting to see the languages used in some of  the signs, as these places are now in Pakistan

First, Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film shot by a British soldier):

Karachi Cantt-1

Lahore, probably 1940s:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

Landi Khana. This is truly a rare picture, as it could have been taken only between 1926 and 1932. Note the Gurumukhi script.

LANDI_KHANA_STATION_1932

Landi Kotal, probably 1930s:

Landi Kotal Railway Station during British Raj

Landi Kotal another old

Shelabagh, close to Chaman on the border with Afghanistan and not too far from Kandahar. Note the southern end of the Khojak tunnel:

Shelabagh (old)

And finally Tanduri, on the now-closed Sibi-Khost section. It appeared in the 1891 timetable and never again. Perhaps the extreme heat gave it its name and hastened its closure:

Tanduri

(This picture seems to have been taken in 2009). The sign does look to be a century old.

Finally, this is what you would see while entering British India from Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass border checkpoint in the 1930s:

Afghan border

Afghan border (4)

It is easy to guess that the milestone refers to Peshawar, Jamrud and Landi Kotal. The station of Landi Khana was still closer to the border. It appears that an embankment and maybe rails were laid from there to the border, but trains never ran on them.

And when you tried to cross into Afghanistan at other points on the border, you would see this:

Afghan border(3)

From Gandhinagar to Gandhinagar

As we have seen in

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/indian-railway-stations-with-matching-names/

there are many pairs of railway stations in India which are situated far apart but have similar (if not identical) names. In general, there are no convenient connections between these pairs, such as Udaipur City (Rajasthan) and Udaipur (Tripura) or Chandrapur (Maharashtra) and Chandrapura (Jharkhand).

Except for one pair:

Gandhinagar Jaipur

and its better-known namesake

Gandhinagar Capital

The one above has now developed into an important secondary station for trains heading on the routes from Jaipur to Delhi and beyond as well as to Agra and beyond. Thus we have the Ajmer/Delhi and Jaipur/Agra Shatabdis halting there, as well as several other prominent long-distance trains.

While Gandhinagar is the capital of Gujarat, it has relatively poorer train service as it is not on a main line, but on a loop between Ahmedabad and Kalol which is used by a handful of long-distance trains as well as locals connecting it with Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad itself has secondary stations such as Sabarmati and Maninagar.

The relative importance of the two Gandhinagars can be seen from the lists of trains serving them:

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/jaipur-gandhinagar-gadj/363

and

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/2474?

Recently I did have reason to make a round trip between the two Gandhinagars, in connection with work at IIT Gandhinagar, which many feel is the best of the “newer” IITs.

There is, in fact, precisely one daily train which connects the two stations, as you can see below:

https://erail.in/?T=GADJ::GNC

and

https://erail.in/?T=GNC::GADJ

That is the 19031/19032 Yoga Express, which was the Ahmedabad/Haridwar Mail until 2013 and the 1/2 Delhi/Ahmedabad Mail still earlier. Until the 1970s it was considered to be the most prestigious train between Delhi and Ahmedabad, but this mantle then passed to the Ashhram Express (for the regular traveller) and the Rajdhani (for the premium traveller). Somehow the Mail never got superfast status.

There is also the Garib Rath which runs 4 times a week between Bandra Terminus and Delhi Sarai Rohilla. But taking that would be “cheating” because it does not stop at Gandhinagar Jaipur but only at Jaipur Junction.

So if you have to start from the southern half of Jaipur, Gandhinagar Jaipur is preferable.

For the hard-core timetable fan, here are the details for the up and down journeys between the two Gandhinagars:

GG1 001

GG2 001

Although the Yoga Express is supposed to be a train with reasonable prestige (as it has AC-1 accommodation), it does not have a pantry car and passengers make do with informal arrangements. For instance, the northbound train had provision for meals to be delivered at Beawar, although this did not seem to be part of the e-catering system which IRCTC tries to push.

Mannargudi, its mafia and its railway connections

Today we hear a lot about this nondescript town in Tamil Nadu:

mannargudi

It is not even in the top 20 cities of Tamil Nadu when ranked by population. However, the term “Mannargudi Mafia” has come to mean a group of people connected with the CM-aspirant Ms VK Sasikala. Google for “Mannargudi Mafia” if you are not familiar with this aspect of TN politics. For instance, see: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/slideshows/nation-world/all-you-wanted-to-know-about-sasikala-and-mannargudi-mafia/what-is-mannargudi-mafia-/slideshow/57021899.cms

Even Wikipedia cannot find anything out of the ordinary here except for the presence of some moderately important temples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannargudi

Ms Sasikala was not born here, but at a more tongue-twisting place called:

ttp-jn

Mercifully we can use the station code for TTP here. It is maybe a little bit larger than Mannargudi. While Mannargudi has enjoyed a railway revival of a sort in the last few years, TTP has not seen trains running for the last few years due to gauge conversion. It also used to have a branch line running to the quaintly named Point Calimere (later Kodikkarai) but that line may or may not be reopened.

Of course, the phrase Mannargudi Mafia sounds catchy, just like the Maharashtra Mafia and Malayali Mafia we may have heard about elsewhere. How about a Mathura Mafia? In other countries there may be a Manchester Mafia or a Massachusetts Mafia, but probably not one from Maine as it is not important enough in US politics.

We now move back to the strange history of the railways in and around Mannargudi and its feeder junction Nidamangalam:

nidamangalam

(Note the new trend of mentioning the PIN code on station signboards).

In the early 1860s, the predecessors of the South Indian Railway built a broad gauge line all the way from Erode to Trichnopoly, Tanjore and Negapatnam (those being the spellings used at the time). A wayside station now called Sikkal was then listed as Sickle.

By the mid-1870s, the South Indian Railway Company (with HQ at what is now Tiruchchirapalli) had decided that MG would be used through most of its territory. By the end of the 1870s the above mentioned line from Erode to Negapatnam was converted to MG. An MG extension to Nagore was opened in 1899, and a branch from Nidamangalam to Mannargudi still later in 1915.

Erode to TPJ was converted back to BG in 1929. The rest of the route to Nagore became BG only in around 2000. Extensions were made to Velankanni in the south and to Karaikal in the north.

However, the branch from Nidamangalam to Mannargudi had a few trains running on the 14-km route. There were two intermediate stations -Rajapayyam Chavadi and Haridranadhi (which have now vanished from the railway map, apart from the Great Indian Railway Atlas). I remember seeing this route in timetables of the 1960s and early 1970s. But it is absent from the 1975 timetable. This 1975 timetable does have the Mayuram-Tranquebar and Peralam-Karaikal lines which were closed soon afterwards. The Mannargudi branch was also thought to have gone the way of the dodo until a few years ago.

Though not considered to be from the Mannargudi Mafia, the DMK leader TR Baalu set his sights on improving things in the region around Thanjavur. His somewhat complicated political career can be seen at more length here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._R._Baalu

Essentially he served as a minister in both NDA and UPA governments up to 2009. Although he was not in the railway ministry, he appears to have been instrumental in getting the branch to Mannargudi reopened in BG in the mid-2000s. It now has a variety of express trains to different parts of Tamil Nadu and even to faraway Bhagat-ki-Kothi near Jodhpur, better known for its large diesel shed and for being the terminus of the Thar Link Express to Munabao.

Here you can see the station’s list of trains:

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/mannargudi-mq/9633

The 4 daily trains include a DEMU passenger to Tiruchi, another passenger to Mayiladuturai and expresses to Chennai Egmore and Coimbatore. Then there are a tri-weekly express to Tirupati and a weekly express to Bhagat-ki-Kothi. Not bad for a place which used to have only shuttles to Nidamangalam.

Presumably the local population is happy with its new-found connectivity to different corners of the country.

In contrast, the broad gauge line from Salem to Mettur Dam had no passenger services for several years (although goods services continued). These passenger services were also revived in recent years but still has rather limited services:

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/mettur-dam-mtdm/6593