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.



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:


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.


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.

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 2007 at a convention of the IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club Association).

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.

Who or what is Amla?

If you ask this question to Wikipedia, you will be given various alternatives such as:

Hashim Amla


Amla fruit

or even

Amla station

The first probably needs no introduction.

The second (i.e. the fruit) deserves to be better known. In the West it would be known as the Indian gooseberry, though it has many other names as we will see below. It is a cheap source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants. For more about its benefits, see this: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/indian-gooseberry-amla.html and several other articles on the net.

It has many different names:

“Names for this plant in various languages include:

amalika (अमलिक) in Sanskrit
Dhatric (धात्रिक) in Sanskrit, Maithili
āmlā (आमला) in Hindi
āmla (આમળાં) in Gujarati
aavnlaa (amla or awla) in Urdu
āvaḷā (आवळा) (or awla) in Marathi
Bettada nellikaayi ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ (ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕ್ಕಾಯಿ) in Kannada
āvāḷo (आवाळो) in Konkani
Aula (ਔਲਾ) in Punjabi
amloki (আমলকী) in Bengali
amalā (अमला) in Nepali
ambare (अमबरे) in Garo language
amlakhi in Assamese
anlaa (ଅଁଳା) in Oriya
Suaklu in Paite
sunhlu in Mizo
nelli (നെല്ലി) in Malayalam
heikru in Manipuri
halïlaj or ihlïlaj (اهليلج هليلج) in Arabic
sohmylleng in Khasi
rasi usiri ( రాశి ఉసిరి కాయ) (or rasi usirikai ) in Telugu
nellikkai (நெல்லிக்காய்/ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಯಿ/ ಗುಡ್ದದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ) nellikkaai or nellikaayi in Tamil, Kannada and Tulu
nelli (නෙල්ලි) in Sinhala
mak kham bom in Lao
ma kham pom (มะขามป้อม) in Thai
anmole (庵摩勒) in Chinese
Kantout Prei (កន្ទួតព្រៃ) in Khmer
skyu ru ra (སྐྱུ་རུ་ར་) in Tibetan
melaka in Malay, A state in Malaysia, Malacca was named after this tree.”

As you can see, it is important enough to have a state in Malaysia named after it.

And that is not all. Its other uses include: “Popularly used in inks, shampoos and hair oils, the high tannin content of Indian gooseberry fruit serves as a mordant for fixing dyes in fabrics. Amla shampoos and hair oil are traditionally believed to nourish the hair and scalp and prevent premature grey hair.”

However, it is doubtful if our South African friend would feel the need to use Amla hair oil. But a smart marketer like Dabur should have found some way of tying up their hair oil with him, especially when he scored heavily in India in 2010-11.

One is reminded of the old joke when the bald man was presented with a comb; he said “I’ll never part with it.”

Finally, the town and railway station called Amla in Madhya Pradesh. It is a junction of some importance on the Delhi-Chennai route, but the town is little more than the station and an army base. Long ago the British decided that this was a sufficiently remote place to store ammunition for the army’s requirements in India and beyond. Thus the unknown place was named Amla after AMmunition LAnd.

This might be true, unlike the contrived acronym Military Headquarters Of War for Mhow elsewhere in Madhya Pradesh. This is probably the result of a bored soldier making a joke, since it sounds too contrived and in any case the original place was named Mhow long before the British arrived.

Amla might have lost some of its military importance as several other large ammunition depots came up, notably one at Pulgaon which is close to the centre of the country and a somewhat larger place. In the 1980s, Amla station had a base kitchen which was to provide meals to the numerous trains on the main North-South route. It closed after some years.

Whether Hashim Amla’s surname has anything to do with the fruit or the town is doubtful, as it does not seem to be a common surname in India. Not even in Gujarat where his ancestors came from.

There are a few other stations which cricket fans are fond of photographing. Here are some obvious ones:

Sachin is a little south of Surat in Gujarat. More recently another small station called Kohli near Nagpur may have started becoming famous. It is doubtful if there is any Punjabi connection here.

But one wonders at the incongruous names elsewhere on the Indian railway system. One could understand some relatively lesser known British officials having a small town or station being named after them. Special cases include Margherita in Assam’s Far East, which gets its name from the person who was Queen of Italy in the 1890s. That particular line was being built by the Assam Railways and Trading Company who had engaged a team of Italian engineers to construct it. Elsewhere in Assam, among names like Lumding, Langting and Haflong we come across the incongruous Kalachand. There must be some story behind this.

You will also find the names of Pataudi and Vizianagaram elsewhere on the railway map. But the places are indeed connected with the Indian cricket captains.