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 BB & CIR from 1937 (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.

Advertisements

The southernmost railways in India

There are some questions which can be answered easily by a layman. But if you ask a more knowledgeable person you may get a more complicated answer.

Q: Which is the southernmost point of railways in India?

A: Kanniyakumari station is the simple answer:

Kanniyakumari

A plaque at this station says that it was inaugurated by the then PM Morarji Desai on 15 April 1979. Its latitude is 8.0864 N from Google Maps.

Its code is CAPE. But the station never had this name. This is because the place was also known as Cape Comorin earlier on. To be more precise, the southernmost point of the Indian mainland is still called Cape Comorin.

Footnote: For a long time before the mid-50s, Kanniyakumari was part of Travancore state before the reorganization of states placed in the then Madras state as a majority of people in the taluk were Tamil-speaking. But as Travancore state was predominantly Malayalam-speaking, some station signboards had Malayalam inscriptions until a few years ago. Maybe they still exist.

Q: Before that, which was the southernmost point?

A: If one looks at earlier timetables, the southernmost stations as of 1975 were Trivandrum Central (TVC) and Tiruchendur (TCN). It was difficult to make out which was southernmost from ordinary atlases. With the aid of Google Maps, we see that TVC is at 8.4870 N and Tiruchendur is at 8.4986 N. So we see that TVC was the southernmost station until the opening of the lines from TVC and Tirunelveli to Kanniyakumari.

However, if you take the distance between the parallels of latitude then TVC was a little over 1.2 km south of TCN. A narrow win indeed!

Trivandrum

Though the city was traditionally known as Thiruvananthapuram, it was not until 2007 that this and many other stations in Kerala were renamed to fit the Malayalam versions.

A recent picture of the former runner-up:

Tiruchendur

You can see an overview here: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Nagercoil,+Tamil+Nadu/@8.6366475,77.5674675,10z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3b04f0dfc0ddc7b7:0x809a9e32a95d3ed1!8m2!3d8.1832857!4d77.4118996

By enlarging this map you can see the two BG lines from TVC and Tirunelveli meeting at Nagercoil Jn, from where a short branch goes to Kanniyakumari.

In 1975, TVC and TCN were both MG. By 1976 the BG line from Ernakulam was extended via Quilon to TVC, and continued to Kanniyakumari after that. TCN got broad gauge much later in the 2000s.

Q: Did any other railway exist in the deep south before that?

A: Yes, the privately owned KPN Light railway existed (with its main station at Tiruchendur) until it was closed (due to economic reasons, perhaps connected to World War 2) in about 1940. It was 2’0″ narrow gauge. It was duly mentioned in Bradshaws before then, as you can see here:

Kulasekarapatnam line TT

This was owned by the Madras-based Parry’s group of industries to facilitate their activities in that area-in particular, a sugar factory at Kulashekarapatnam. Passenger services were probably more of an afterthought.

If one looks at the map carefully one can see that the southernmost station was Tissianvillai which was indeed the southernmost station in India, as its latitude was 8.3353 N, somewhat south of TVC. The route of this tiny railway system can be seen here.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Thisayanvilai,+Tamil+Nadu/@8.4062791,77.9075378,12z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3b04f0dfc0ddc7b7:0x809a9e32a95d3ed1!2sNagercoil,+Tamil+Nadu!3b1!8m2!3d8.1832857!4d77.4118996!3m4!1s0x3b047e50930e95e5:0x1d70ec9eff576a24!8m2!3d8.3349894!4d77.8652573

Whatever little is known about this system is here: https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Kulasekharapatnam_Tissainvillai_Light_Railway

The station was probably at a different location from the “real” station on metre gauge.

A few years ago a determined rail-fan friend of mine tried to find some existing physical remnants of the track but was unsuccessful. As many years had passed most of the local people did not know much about the track, and no former employee could be found in the vicinity. But there were some who vaguely remembered their grandfathers working on the line.

Q: OK, so that is true of the mainland (though this last line was not really a part of the Indian Railways). What about the island territories?

A: A good question, but you won’t catch me here. There is no record of any industrial railway in Lakshwadeep, but in any case the southernmost point of this territory is on Minicoy which is around the same latitude as Trivandrum.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands look more promising. Indeed, some industrial railways have existed in the vicinity of Port Blair. But this has around the same latitude as Puducheri.

If there were any such lines in the Nicobar islands, they would be the southernmost railways ever to have existed in India. But there is no record of these, as the Nicobar region remains largely undeveloped even today.

Thanks to Bharath Moro for his account of his search for remnants of the KPN line.

Where trains do not run any more

Copyrights of the pictures rest with the respective photographers.

Some stations to which no passenger train runs now.

First, one in Gujarat where the railway line does not exist now:

Ghanta

The picture was taken in around 1980. The station was on the long-closed NG line from Champaner Road to Pani Mines, near Vadodara.

From the Chennai area, where EMUs used to run until a few years ago. Departmental trains still run there, since the furnishing division of ICF is situated near Anna Nagar.

In Tamil Nadu, there are numerous abandoned branch lines which closed between the 1960s and 1980s. Some branches, such as the one to Mannargudi, have been rebuilt in recent years. Perhaps the most well-known abandoned terminus is Dhanushkodi. This is all that you will see now:

Dhanushkodi

The cyclone of December 1964 resulted in the closure of the Pamban-Dhanushkodi section, which was listed as the “main line” in timetables of that period. Damage to the line was extensive enough to result in it being abandoned and the branch to Dhanushkodi now became the main line with ferries to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka.

The disturbances in Sri Lanka from 1983 put an end to the ferry services. Though the civil war is now over and the connecting lines in Sri Lanka are functioning again, it is unlikely that the ferries will run in the foreseeable future. But Rameswaram, unlike Dhanushkodi, has enough traffic to justify train services to all parts of India.

This was once the easternmost point of IR, though the extension from Ledo was built only in the late 1950s. It was closed after the BG was extended to Ledo, and it was not felt worthwhile to convert the remaining line to Ledo.

Lekhapani_station

However, one can see signs of economic activity here.

This was once the terminus at Ernakulam, once metre gauge and then broad gauge. It lost its importance in around 1940 when it was bypassed in a new alignment going to Ernakulam Town, Ernakulam Jn and Cochin Harbour Terminus. In its last years it was used only by departmental goods trains, and probably the last of them ran in 2001.

Ernakulam Goods

Another station which had passenger services up to the 2000s was Singareni Collieries, though I could not get a picture of it. It still has goods traffic. It is marked on Google Maps as Yellandu, although railway documents still mention the former station with code SYI.

And there are these recently orphaned stations on the Lumding-Silchar section: (Bagetar is the one on the top left).

 

Here is the station at Lower Haflong after it was abandoned:

Lower Haflong closed

Elsewhere in Assam, here is a current picture of Tezpur station. It is not likely to see trains again as there is insufficient space for broad gauge. Trains now terminate at the BG station at Dekargaon a few km to the north.

tezpur

In North Bengal, we have this former junction very close to the Bangladesh border:

Gitaldaha (abandoned)

It was closed soon after Partition as through trains ceased to run across the border. A newer station was built some distance away from the border and was called New Gitaldaha Jn. Oddly enough, no picture of this station is available on the net though it has a fair amount of passenger traffic now.

Our last stop is also in West Bengal, but on a more optimistic note:

Petrapole-2

This lies on the east of Bangaon, close to the border with Bangladesh. It saw some passenger traffic with the Sealdah/Khulna Barisal Express for some years up to the 1965 war. After that no traffic crossed the border for 25 years or more. Later goods trains from India started using the track-in 2008 many IR wagons could be seen at sidings on stations between Khulna and Jessore. Finally a weekly express between Kolkata and Khulna is likely to start running in mid-November 2017. Trial runs have been held in recent months.

 

 

 

Travels in Chennai-ancient signboards

Our first stop is at Basin Bridge Jn (BBQ), where we have examples of ancient and modern signboards:

The food-minded may wish to hold a BBQ here, though you may have to first find a military hotel nearby.

Nearby there is Washermanpet, though the sign painters have some doubts about the name:

The official name is Washermanpet in the timetables. Also note the mis-spelling of the Hindi name. No picture of any new signboard seems to be available on the net.

Some years ago I have seen signs with Chromepet and Cromepet co-existing. Another well-known case is Hafizpet/Hafizpeta in the Hyderabad area.

An example of a run-down signboard in a totally run-down station:

Royapuram

Again, no picture of a new signboard is seen on the net. Tragic, as this station has the oldest surviving station building in India.  It was the first terminus in Madras where trains started running to Arcot (now Walajah Road) in 1856. The old terminuses in Mumbai and Kolkata had opened before this but the station buildings do not exist now. However, it now boasts a new electric loco shed.

Another station which is particularly obscure, as it does not seem to be mentioned in timetables even though it has a booking office which issues tickets. No picture of any new signboard can be located.

Pattabiram military siding

 

Chrome in Chromepet, Power in Powerpet

While travelling by train in the past, one would have often come across stations with strange-sounding names and wondered about the origin of the names. Now the internet has made it easy to answer these questions. To begin with, there is this suburban station between Chennai Beach and Tambaram:

Chrompet

It was listed in earlier maps and timetables as Chromepet. Now what is its connection with chrome?

The answer lies in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromepet#Etymology

The name came from the Chrome Leather Works which used to have a large factory there.

Note the mismatch between the English and Hindi inscriptions.

Also in Chennai is this station with this antique signboard:

Washermanpet

As you would guess, the place gets its name from the humble dhobi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washermanpet#History

Also note the misspelling of the Hindi inscription.

And this is its counterpart on the Singapore metro:

Dhoby Ghaut

The signboard reflects the run-down condition of Washermanpet and Royapuram, the latter being the oldest functioning station building on IR. It was the main terminus at Madras when trains started running in 1856. This signboard reflects the condition of the station which has somehow escaped demolition till now:

Royapuram

Finally, we visit this station next to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh:

Powerpet

Does it perhaps have something to do with the Marathas such as Sharad Pawar? Some of them spell their name as Powar*

However, Wikipedia has this to say:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powerpet

in which the name is said to be in honour of Sir Power, a railway engineer. I could not find anything else about him. But it is wrong usage, as the correct form is Sir Ravindra Jadeja and not Sir Jadeja.

*The Powar clan, however does seem to be connected to this station near Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh:

Powarkheda

Long and short names of stations in India

Most readers will know the identity of the stations with the longest and shortest names in India.

Copyrights of all these pictures rest with their creators.

We take a look at some other long names, after the undisputed leader;

Venkat

Here are some others. They are from both North and South:

periyanaikanpalayamCheruvu MadhavaramOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATondalagopavaramOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiani Zail...Romana Albel SinghFatehabad C'watiganj

KolhapurNP MurailNPA Shivrampally

This category involves initials, which would make a long name if spelt in full:

BEML NagarVOC

This one is not that long, but may be the most difficult to pronounce by non locals:

Shrungavarapukota

As for the shortest names, there are two with two letters. One is well known, the other is not so well known though it is odd:

IbOd

The person seen in the “odd” sign is Vimlesh Chandra, a railway engineer who has collected a vast number of pictures of stations and other items of railway interest.

There are several other stations with 3-letter names:

AitAraBapBarDETOrrPen

 

And this one used to have 3 letters, which was changed to 4 letters for obvious reasons:

Baad

This listing is not intended to be comprehensive, but does include the longest name (Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta) and the shortest names (Ib and Od).

Also see this for a global viewpoint:

http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/information/trivia.pdf

 

 

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.