The Darjeeling Mail of 1943

This is from a much-copied Bradshaw from 1943. The exact date is not clear. However, by then the Eastern Bengal Railway and Assam Bengal Railway had been merged in a short-lived marriage resulting in the Bengal & Assam Railway in order to facilitate the war against Japan. The US armed forces had then taken over most of the train traffic going into Assam. For once, the British took a back seat in India.

It would be instructive to compare these timings with those of the pre-war period (say 1939) as wartime shortages and military traffic may have reduced speeds considerably. Wartime exigencies caused a number of branch lines in different parts of India to close by 1940, some never to reopen.

The timings of the up and down Mail:

Darj Mail 001

Note that the full details of stations and trains between Sealdah and Ranaghat are not given above. They are given below:

Ranaghat1 001Ranaghat2 001

Coming back to the main timetable above, the future border stations of Gede/Darsana and Chilhati/Haldibari can be seen. Not exactly, as Gede station was built after Partition. The last station on the Indian side in this timetable would be Banpur. On the Pakistani side, the existing Darsana station was felt to be too close to the enemy border so a new Darsana station was built a little further east, which lay on the new main line from Khulna to the north. Similarly New Gitaldaha was built somewhat further from the earlier Gitaldaha which was close to the border.

The old network of the EBR was so Calcutta-centric that important towns in the western half of East Pakistan had never been connected before. Even for that a new line had to be constructed between Jessore and new Darsana, somewhat like the far more complicated Assam Rail Link which India built in 1948-50.

The Hardinge Bridge is near Paksey station.

Also note the station of Hili which lies exactly on the border. The Radcliffe Commission stated that in that area the border was defined as the railway line is. Even till the 2000s  it was considered the easiest place to come and go between India and Bangladesh.

At the northern end, the terminus of Siliguri later became the unimportant station of Siliguri Town, between the newly built major stations of Siliguri Jn to its north and later New Jalpaiguri to the south. The NG line was later extended south to New Jalpaiguri to connect with the broad gauge.

You can also see the BG Assam Mail up to Parbatipur. The MG Assam Mail ran from there via Lalmonirhat, Gitaldaha and Golakganj to the Brahmaputra ferry which ran between Aminigaon and Pandu, with a shuttle connection to Gauhati. Wagons were connected to goods trains going further east. Much of the freight ended up on the Ledo Road to China and the numerous air bases from where US transport aircraft flew to China. The toll of men and machines on these flights over the Himalayas were huge, and many crashed aircraft have not been found even 70 years later. Others continue to be discovered by dedicated researchers: see http://www.miarecoveries.org/

There was the Surma Mail (from the first page) which had a rather tortuous route-Sealdah to Ishurdi and Sirajganj Ghat, connecting steamer to Jagannathganj Ghat, connecting MG train to Mymensingh, Akhaura and Chittagong.

The Calcutta/Ranaghat pages show trains which went to Goalundo Ghat with ferry connections to Narayanganj (for Dacca) and Chandpur (for Silchar). At some time there was also a connection from Chandpur to Chittagong.

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. It was named the King George VI bridge. Had it opened a year earlier, it may have been one of the few things to be named after King Edward VIII.

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.

BG link to Silchar is finally ready

In the last two days, the CRS has inspected the BG line from Lumding to Badarpur and Silchar. It is understood that this route will be opened for passenger traffic shortly. It has been a particularly tortuous conversion (even worse than that of Hassan-Mangalore) which has stretched on since 1997.

Various acts of terrorism (including attacks on trains as well as construction sites), heavy monsoon rains as well as apathy from various Central governments did not help either. Here we see the distance tables for the BG and MG lines. Note that there is a completely new alignment in the central portion, bypassing Haflong and its circle round the hill. A total of 16 km has been reduced. Some stations have been left out while new stations have been added. These are marked in bold.

Lumding Silchar route 001

Here you can see the beginning of the diversion from Migrendisa. Of course, if you follow the line right from Lumding you will see quite a difference in alignments. In some cases like Migrendisa the BG and MG stations are at different locations. You can follow the route down to Bandarkhal to see the different alignments clearly: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Haflong,+Assam+788819/@25.1799083,93.0555428,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x374fa3e329fdadf3:0xe2ff7a660d6272c8

Important note: As of May 2017 the old alignment is no longer shown on Google Maps. Only the new alignment is shown.

Jatinga is a sort of tourist spot because of the birds which are bent on ending their livesthere, though it is not really a mystery: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatinga

Another odd point is a station with the typical North Indian name of Kalachand, among exotic names more reminiscent of East Asia.

At the time of writing there is no service between Badarpur and Karimganj (which is still under conversion), while one pair of MG passenger trains are running between Karimganj and Agartala.

The Lumding-Badarpur route has a long and not very happy history. (However, the Badarpur-Silchar section is in the plains and does not have any particular problem with the terrain). The former was considered as a major operational bottleneck, with abut 18 km of 1:37 gradient which is now eliminated. It was a major supply route during World War 2, with supplies being shipped from Chittagong port to Upper Assam, where a number of airstrips in the Dibrugarh area were supplying China over the Himalayas. And there were the army operations in what is now Nagaland and Manipur. The Japanese came close to capturing Dimapur, which may have resulted in the fall of much of North-eastern India. Here are a couple of pictures from that time:

Garratt

The full caption reads: …crossing the Detokcherra Bridge on the Bengal Assam Railway. The pipeline on the near side of the bridge is the Chittagong-Lumding pipeline.

MAWD

These pictures are from a book “Line of Communication” by John Thomas (1947) which gives a comprehensive picture of railway operations east of Calcutta during the war, when most of the running was taken over by the US armed forces. At that time the old stalwarts the Eastern Bengal Railway and the Assam Bengal Railway had been merged into the Bengal & Assam Railway for the purpose of better coordination in wartime. There was plenty of reorganization again in 1947. I will cover more about the earlier history later.