The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1943

We have all heard of the train to Darjeeling, but there was more to it than the single line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This should be apparent from these timetable extracts from 1943. These are not from the Bradshaw which had rather poor print quality, but from another source (more about that later).

DHR TT 001

First, this is an extract from the Bengal & Assam Railway. See its logo showing that it was founded in 1942. This was an emergency measure following the outbreak of World War 2 in Asia. The old stalwarts Eastern Bengal Railway (HQ in Calcutta, main station Sealdah) and the Assam Bengal Railway (HQ in Chittagong) were merged to form the B & A Railway to make it easier to manage rail transport east of Calcutta. Essentially the running of the railways was taken over by the US armed forces.

Of course, the B & AR was broken up after partition and its tracks are now spread over the present Sealdah  division of ER, the NFR, and Bangladesh Railways.

Now we look at the timetables of the DHR. These lines were not part of the B&AR, but it was the practice to include adjoining smaller railway systems in the timetables of larger systems.

DHR TT 002

There are several points here that many railfans may be unfamiliar with. To begin with, this system was the 2-foot narrow gauge unlike most other narrow gauge lines in India which were 2 ft 6 in. Only a handful of 2-foot gauge lines in India survive now, including the mountain railways to Darjeeling and Matheran.

The Siliguri station here was the BG terminus where long-distance trains such as the Darjeeling Mail used. It was located at the station now known as Siliguri Town. Note the connection between the Mail arriving at 06.44 and the NG train (also called the Mail) at 06.59, and in the reverse direction when the passengers presumably had their dinner at Siliguri.

The present Siliguri Jn was opened as part of the Assam Rail Link in the late 1940s. It is located at the former wayside station of Siliguri Road seen above.

When New Jalpaiguri station was opened in the early 1960s, the NG line was extended south from Siliguri Jn to there passing through Siliguri Town, which had gone from being a major terminus to an unimportant wayside station.

Panchanai Jn was the point where the DHR branch to Kishanganj turned towards the left. There is no sign of it now. There have been various other changes pertaining to loops and reverses. One result of this is that Chunabhati station is no longer on the route. This timetable does not show the numerous halt stations which have mostly vanished without a trace, though Batasia is now a stop for the joyride trains between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Now for the rest of the DHR:

DHR TT 003

The Siliguri-Kishanganj Extension and the Teesta Valley Extension were built later (dates given below). The Kishanganj line provided a connection to MG trains from Barsoi and Katihar side. Being in the plains, it did not need the special B class engines but used more conventional ones. Apart from the usual 4-6-2s, there was also a Garratt.

This line became the starting point of the Assam Rail Link, enabling MG trains from the Katihar side to enter northern Bengal. Note that many of the stations (including Naksalbari and Baghdogra) became part of the MG line though there were some changes in alignment. For instance, the new MG line went directly from Matigara to the new Siliguri Jn without crossing Panchanai (where the station was demolished).

The Teesta Valley Extension had an unfortunate end. Initially the Assam Rail Link followed it up to Sevoke. There was a mixed gauge line from the new Siliguri Jn to Sevoke. Here the TV line turned north while the new MG line crossed the Teesta just east of the station and continued eastward to join the existing MG system at a place which became known as New Mal Jn, and finally to Fakiragram and beyond.

The terminus at Gielle Khola seems to have been known as Kalimpong Road in the earlier days. A ropeway connected this station to Kalimpong.

But this line did not last long after Independence. Severe flooding damage occurred in early 1950 which resulted in the line being closed permanently. Though the tracks ran close to the highway towards Kalimpong and Gangtok, you are not likely to see any trace of the line now unless you take the help of local experts. And the NG line from Siliguri to Sivok was pulled up as it no longer had any purpose, leaving a pure MG line behind. In the  2000s the entire MG route in this area was converted to BG.

Some historical notes here:

DHR History 001

Note the stamp issued in 1982.

The above information is from a nice little booklet called “A guide to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway” by Richard Wallace, first edition in 2000. There is a more detailed second edition published in 2009.

There is another useful book by R.R. Bhandari which may be available at the bookstall at the National Rail Museum at Delhi.

Numerous other books (mainly of British origin) are also there. Some may be available from bookshops in Kolkata and the Darjeeling area.

Other useful links include:







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 railways of Arunachal Pradesh

Updated with additional information in January 2017.

First, a sidetrack:


But is this in Arunachal Pradesh? The top script is in Bengali.

It is indeed adjacent to Silchar, in a part of Assam where Bengali and not Assamese is the official language. This picture was taken in metre gauge time. The large number of concrete sleepers strewn around indicates that broad gauge is on its way, and it has already been converted. This is the first station to the west of Silchar, on a BG line which now sees trains from Kolkata and Delhi. It is also the junction for the branch to Jiribam, presently the only station in Manipur:


A limited passenger service served this station in metre gauge days, and broad gauge services are expected to start soon.

The line mentioned here is from Harmuti in Assam (on the Rangiya-Lakhimpur section) to Naharlagun (near the capital Itanagar) with an intermediate station at Gumto (which is also in AP). You can trace the route here (by expanding the map if needed). Note that the line to Naharlagun makes a U-turn from the main line at Harmuti.,93.8239808,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3746acd30fe01975:0x81330bfea204e39b!8m2!3d27.1191784!4d93.860541

The three stations:

And a quick look at the trains which serve Naharlagun today:

It includes a daily express from Guwahati and a (sort of) Rajdhani from New Delhi, which does not seem to have catering facilities. Also the average Indian citizen will not be allowed into the state without an inner-line permit or whatever it is called nowadays. More about this at the end.

Here is the timetable of the train from Guwahati to Naharlagun:

But what is forgotten is that there was a metre-gauge connection to Bhalukpong in the western corner of AP which was opened in the 1980s. In 1994 the timetable listed one pair of passenger trains between Rangapara North and Bhalukpong.The junction was at Balipara. They seem to have stopped running around 2000. More recently the line was converted to broad gauge.

The wayside stations are all in Assam including Bhalukpong which appears to lie just inside the border. You can see the map here and trace the path from Tezpur:,92.6426437,15z/data=!4m12!1m6!3m5!1s0x3744a509499d68a3:0xd49629361597570f!2sBhalukpong+Railway+Station!8m2!3d27.002155!4d92.6448324!3m4!1s0x3744a509499d68a3:0xd49629361597570f!8m2!3d27.002155!4d92.6448324

Also see the timetable of the present pair of trains, which run from Dekargaon which is now the station for Tezpur. The original station at Tezpur may have been abandoned as there was not enough space for a BG terminus there.

Passenger services on this line must have started in the last couple of years, but without the publicity that accompanied the line to Naharlagun which served the state capital. This line connects a town which may not be that important in AP.

These are some of the stations on this route:


Rangapara NorthBalipara

And finally Bhalukpong in metre gauge days and the present.

Bhalukpong old

Bhalukpong new

So you have now seen the full extent of the railway system in Arunachal Pradesh. Perhaps one day the rails will reach the borders of Tibet and Myanmar.

Footnote 1: Anyone from the rest of India wishing to enter Arunachal Pradesh needs a permit. This is apparently available online as well as from various offices of the AP government in Delhi, Kolkata and several cities in the Northeast.

It is not clear where the checking of the permit is done. Logically it should be at Harmuti (which is somewhat larger than Gumto, the first station in AP).

In the case of the Bhalukpong line, there seems to be a road checkpoint a little beyond the station and presumably you cannot proceed beyond this without a permit. It is also mentioned that you can get a permit at this point after a few hours wait.

Footnote 2: see this map extract:,94.8153323,14z

It can be seen that the Rangiya-Murkong Selek railway line briefly enters AP between the small stations of Dimow and Dipa. This stretch may be around 500 metres long, and presumably the AP authorities do not bother about “outsiders” passing through their state this way.

DC traction on India’s railways-sidelights

Much has been written about the final days of DC traction in Mumbai, more specifically on the Harbour line from CSTM to Vashi which was the last holdout of this form of electrification on the Indian railways. This is not exactly true – the Kolkata metro will continue to be on 750 V DC indefinitely, and it is officially a part of the Indian Railways (unlike the metro systems in Delhi and elsewhere).

At its peak, the 1500 V DC system in Mumbai covered these sections:

WR: Colaba to Churchgate to Virar

CR: CST Mumbai to Pune and Igatpuri via Kalyan

CST Mumbai to Mahim and then in parallel to WR up to Andheri

CST Mumbai to Kurla via Harbour branch and then to Mankhurd,Vashi and Panvel.

(Mankhurd was the terminus until the 1990s).

Diva-Vasai Road

A typical news item about the conversion of the last route:

What most railfans may forget is that 3000 V DC existed on some routes out of Howrah for about a decade and 1500 V DC on one metre gauge route out of Chennai for several decades.

From an official IR publication of 1964, we can get the early history. It makes things simpler if we use the names of places which were prevalent at that time

The years of completion were:

Bombay VT to Poona and Igatpuri: 1930 (299 route km) on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, predecessor of the CR

Churchgate to Virar: 1936 (60 route km) on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, predecessor of the WR.

Madras Beach to Tambaram: 1931 (29 route km, metre gauge) on the South Indian Railway, predecessor of the SR.


and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar: 1958 (142 route km) on ER.

Coming back to Bombay, the VT-Reay Road section was opened in 1925 with electrification, as the 1 in 34 gradient at Sandhurst Road was felt to be an insurmountable obstacle to any other means of traction. Reay Road to Kurla had been running on steam since it was opened in 1910.The extension from Kurla to Mankhurd was completed by 1927 although it was electrified in 1936.

The Karjat-Khopoli branch was one of the first lines opened in India (in 1856, when it became the railhead for Poona for some years). It seems to have been electrified only in the mid-90s and timetables of 1994 show diesel-hauled passenger trains on the CR main timetable (not the suburban timetable).

The Diva-Vasai Road line was built in the 1980s and was electrified with DC soon after it was opened.

On what is now the WR, electrification was completed to Borivli in 1928 and to Virar in 1936. Colaba was the terminus for long distance and local trains until Bombay Central was opened in 1930, and the lines between Colaba and Churchgate were electrified but this line itself was closed at the end of 1930. Churchgate has been the terminus for local trains since then.

The short stretch from Madras Beach to Tambaram was electrified at 1500 V DC in 1931. Apart from the EMUs on this route, long distance trains continued to run on steam from Madras Egmore. By 1967 the Tambaram-Villupuram section was electrified at the then standard voltage of 25 KV AC and the Beach-Tambaram section was converted to AC to enable through running up to Villupuram.

After independence, the first steps towards electrification of ER lines out of Howrah were taken with Howrah-Bandel-Burdwan and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar being completed by 1958. These too were converted to AC in the mid-60s, and all subsequent electrification in India was at 25 KV AC. The only exceptions were the extensions from Mankhurd to Vashi and then Panvel, Thane to Vashi and extensions,  and electrification of Karjat-Khopoli in the 90s which had to match the existing DC system.

More about DC locos, AC/DC locos and operational aspects to follow.

Update to the Lumding-Silchar line

This is an update to my earlier post of June 25-you may like to have a look at it first:

As things turned out, our optimism was misplaced and the Commissioner of Railway Safety felt that the line was not fit for passenger traffic, although goods trains continued to run.

After all approvals, regular passenger services were formally inaugurated on Nov 21. The only passenger train on this section is a passenger train from Guwahati, which has  SL and unreserved class at the moment. It can be called a fast passenger as it has only one stop between Guwahati and Lumding.

Here are the timetables for these trains:





This also marked the resumption of direct trains between these cities, which had stopped since the early 1990s when the broad gauge reached Lumding. Prior to that there were two express trains, the 11/12 Barak Valley Express and the 201/202 Cachar Express running on this route. In Nov 1983 there were two other passenger trains on this route, one between Lumding and Badarpur and another called the Tripura Passenger, between Lumding and the then railhead at Dharmanagar.

It will be instructive to compare the timings of these trains from the Nov 1983 Bradshaw with the present timings.

Barak Valley TT

The broad gauge conversion and associated realignment (which shortened the route by about 16 km) has resulted in considerable speeding up-13 hours as compared to 17-19 hours in the past. Presumably these trains were hauled by YDM-4s at that time.

More trains can be expected on this route in the near future. Once the connecting lines to Agartala and elsewhere are completed, we can look forward to Rajdhani and Sampark Kranti Expresses as well.



The tortured past of metros in Kolkata

We begin with what appears to be the best map of the existing Kolkata Metro which one can find from regular websites:

Even this has some errors in station names, but at least it shows all the stations existing today and their connections with the regular railway system.

This is the corrected list of stations along with distances:

Kolkata Metro

The rate of progress was painfully slow even by the standards of infrastructure projects in India. This will be apparent from this table:

Extension date Terminals Length
24 October 1984 Esplanade Bhowanipore 3.40 kilometers (2.11 mi)
12 November 1984 Dum Dum Belgachhia 2.15 kilometers (1.34 mi)
29 April 1986 Bhowanipur (now Netaji Bhaban) Tollygunge (now Mahanayak Uttam Kumar) 4.24 kilometers (2.63 mi)
13 August 1994 Belgachhia Shyambazar 1.63 kilometers (1.01 mi)
2 October 1994 Esplanade Chandni Chowk 0.71 kilometers (0.44 mi)
19 February 1995 Shyambazar Girish Park 1.92 kilometers (1.19 mi)
19 February 1995 Chandni Chowk Central 0.60 kilometers (0.37 mi)
27 September 1995 Central Girish Park 1.80 kilometers (1.12 mi)
22 August 2009 Tollygunge (Mahanayak Uttam Kumar) Garia Bazar (now Kavi Nazrul) 5.85 kilometers (3.64 mi)
7 October 2010 Garia Bazar (now Kavi Nazrul) New Garia (now Kavi Subhash) 3.00 kilometers (1.86 mi)
10 July 2013 Dum Dum Noapara 2.09 kilometers (1.30 mi)
Total Noapara New Garia (now Kavi Subhash) 27.39 kilometers (17.02 mi)

Construction started in earnest in 1978 and the short section from Esplanade to Bhowanipore / Netaji Bhawan was opened in 1984. It was another 11 years before the familiar Dum Dum- Tollygunge route was fully opened. Extensions started again in the 2000s and the line extended downwards to Kavi Subhash (New Garia) and upwards to Noapara by 2013.

The line has the usual IR broad gauge and the 750 V third rail system which the suicidal may find convenient, while the Delhi Metro has overhead 25 KV lines (which become overhead third rails in tunnels). One famous victim was former tennis champion Premjit Lal who jumped before a train in 1992 and ended up a cripple who survived another 15 years or so.

Once the route was fully open in 1995, it did make a significant difference to the traffic jams and vehicular pollution on the main north-south axis in Central Kolkata, while not making a difference to the rest of the city. Much later air-conditioned rakes added to passenger comfort.

The Kolkata Metro was recently formally declared the 17th zone of the Indian Railways, while the Konkan Railway remains a corporation which is nominally not under IR but is part of it for operational purposes.

The story of Line 1 is not over yet. Construction of the northward extension to Baranagar and Dakhineswar is in full swing. As for Lines 2 to 6….well, that is another story.

A popular grouse is the mass renaming of stations in the Trinamool era. There had some renamings earlier such as Bhowanipore to Netaji Bhawan. The southward extension from Tollygunge (sorry, Mahanayak Uttam Kumar) had stations with logical names such as Kudghat, Bansdroni etc. which corresponded to the actual names of the localities. Now see what happened in Kolkata Metro . The station now known as Shahid Khudiram was initially planned as Pranab Nagar and became Birji before getting its present name. All the stations south of Tollygunge now have names which have no obvious connection with the names of the localities. That is why announcements and display boards have to clearly specify “Netaji station serving Kudghat”. Locals and visitors alike will get confused with two stations named after Netaji and two more after Rabindranath Tagore.

The terminus of Kavi Subhash is adjacent to the New Garia station on the regular railway. There is a similar arrangement at Dum Dum (which has thankfully not been renamed). A sort of connection exists between Rabindra Sarovar metro station and the obscure station of Tollygunge on the railway, which is a few hundred metres away, though that station is itself not as well connected as the other two.

So much for Line 1. There are now big plans for lines 2 to 6, which deserve a post by themselves.

Railway History: Construction of the Assam Rail Link

One of the important chapters of post-Independence Indian Railways was the somewhat complicated task of building a new rail connection with Assam (and the rest of North-Eastern India) which had been broken when East Pakistan was formed. Here is the story pieced together and originally created as a ppt presentation in early 2011 at a convention of the IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club Association).

See what suits you best:

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction (Ppt)

Or you may prefer to see the presentation as a series of images: (Read left to right, row by row)

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-001 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-002 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-003 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-004 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-005 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-006 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-007 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-008 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-009 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-010 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-011 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-012 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-013 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-014 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-015 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-016 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-017 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-018 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-019 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-020 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-021 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-022 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-023 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-024 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-025 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-026 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-027 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-028 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-029 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-030 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-031

The stress is on what happened in 1947-50. Some mention has been made of subsequent developments but this is not to be regarded as a full account of railway construction in the Northeast after independence.