The best trains of Pakistan and Bangladesh

Here you can see the start of the inaugural run of Pakistan Railway’s new premier service, the Sir Syed* Express between Rawalpindi and Karachi via Faisalabad:

And here is one of the leading expresses of Bangladesh Railways, the Sonar Bangla* * Express leaving Dhaka for Chattogram (the new official name for Chittagong):

See if you can pick out the different types of coaches. The locomotive seems to be considerably older than the coaches.

This is, of course, metre gauge and only a short portion of this major route has been improved to dual gauge with BG.

*Sir Syed refers to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), noted reformer and educationist. He is considered to be the founder of Aligarh Muslim University.

** The Bangladeshi national anthem begins with “Amar Sonar Bangla”, i.e. “My golden Bengal”. This, like the Indian national anthem “Jana Gana Mana”, was composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

Also see:

https://www.seat61.com/Pakistan.htm

and

https://www.seat61.com/Bangladesh.htm

 

Stations in different countries with the same name

(Pictures are copyright of the respective photographers):

Here we limit ourselves to South Asia, but we still find a number of examples:

The most well-known pair is:

HyderabadHyderabad Sind

(Possibly the signs would have read Hyderabad (Deccan) and Hyderabad (Sind) in the past.)

Followed by the Indo-Bangladesh pair of:

Jamalpur station

Jamalpur Town (new)

This is near Mymensingh.

Another very similar pair:

Biman BandarDhaka Biman Bandar

The first one is adjacent to Dum Dum airport in Kolkata.

Then we have a small station in Karimganj district of Assam, and a large junction being built near Faridpur in Bangladesh

Bhanga AssamBhanga (BD)-1Bhanga (BD)-2

The station is not fully functional yet, but you can see the nearby police station which has the sign “Bhanga thana, Faridpur”.

Then we have this station in the Indian side of the Thar desert, which once served a town which is a few km away but in Pakistan:

Gadra Road

This town in Pakistan’s Punjab has nothing to do with the state in India:

Gujrat (Pakistan)

There was also a long-closed Kachh station in Baluchistan, on the Chappar Rift line.

This station in Bangladesh will soon get an Indian counterpart nearby:

Hili

Hili on the Indian side will be connected to Balurghat.

There is also a long-closed Belonia station in Bangladesh which served the town of that name in Tripura. In Tripura, the line through Agartala is gradually creeping towards Belonia and beyond. It has already crossed Udaipur, not to be confused with the better-known Udaipur City in Rajasthan.

Going beyond South Asia, there will be a few more matches in the Commonwealth countries and the US. Wellington in the Nilgiris and Wellington in New Zealand comes to mind. Then there is Salem in Tamil Nadu and Salem in Oregon which does have Amtrak service, while the better known Salem in Massachusetts has local commuter service.

 

 

 

Reviving the Darjeeling Mail route?

Here are extracts showing the timetable of the Calcutta-Siliguri route in 1943:

Darj Mail 001

As you can see, the border line crossed the tracks between Chilhati and Haldibari stations.

Recent pictures of these stations:

Further south, the Radcliffe line crossed the tracks between Banpur and Darsana. Later Gede station was built closer to the border. (Similarly Petrapol station was built close to the border).

As we well know, the Maitri Express and some goods trains cross the Gede-Darsana border. Probably the Haldibari-Chilhati border will  be used for goods trains only. In case you are wondering, there have been many attempts by Indian governments over the years to get Bangladesh to allow transit for Indian road vehicles and trains to cross Bangladesh to reach North Bengal and the Northeast. They do not seem to like the idea. In fact, tourist visas issued to Indians invariably mention that you must enter and leave from the same point if traveling by land e.g. if you enter at Benapole you have to leave at Benapole.

The US and Western countries do not have such restrictions on the entry and exit points. It is understood that the Bangladesh government has made these restrictions as it does not want visitors to use their country as a means of traveling from one part of India to another.

Anyway, there are some interesting stories connected with the Haldibari-Siliguri section, which I will take up next.

 

Station signs then and now (Bangladesh and Pakistan)

Rajshahi, Bangladesh in late 1971:

Rajshahi station-old

Rajshahi today:

Rajshahi station-new

Dinajpur, Bangladesh also in late 1971. The two pictures from 1971 appear to have been taken by Indian military personnel:

Dinajpur old

Dinajpur today:

Dinajpur new

The Urdu signs have disappeared, while there are also less English signs than before.

Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film taken by a British soldier): Possibly young L. K. Advani appears in it somewhere.

Karachi Cantt-1

Karachi Cantt today:

Karachi Cantt new (2)

Note the variety of languages used in the pictures from Pakistan.

Lahore Jn, probably around 1940:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

 

Lahore Jn today:

Lahore today

Finally, to what used to be the end of the line up the Khyber Pass:

In the 1930s:

Landi Kotal another old

And during its last years of operation (probably early 2000s):

Landi Kotal-new

 

 

Railway maps of Bangladesh

Getting information about the railway network in Bangladesh is difficult, especially as detailed timetables for the public have not been issued since around 1980. (Sri Lanka also seems to have stopped issuing timetables long ago). Anyway, one reference which gives the list of stations based on timetables up to 1978 is: http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf

For general timings of long-distance trains there are various official and non-official websites, like: http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c?lang=en

The Indian Bradshaw used to publish timetables of East Pakistan and Bangladesh up to the mid-1970s although I have grave doubts as to whether the data for India’s neighboring countries was regularly updated.

Anyway, I have collected a few maps from various sources which some may find useful.

This one is from the “Railway Map of India” published by the Survey of India in 1991. Data for neighboring countries may not be fully up to date.

Bangladesh 1991 (SOI) 001

Note that the border stations on the Indian side are marked in red. There were probably limited cross-border goods services on a few routes at that time, though details are unclear. Note the Rupsa East-Bagerhat line being shown as NG, though from other reliable sources we know that it was converted to BG in around 1970 and closed after a few years.

Also note that there was no bridge connecting the western and eastern halves of the country. This purpose was served by the ferries between Sirajganj Ghat and Jagannathganj Ghat, and between Tistamukh Ghat and Bahadurabad Ghat. The Bangabandhu Bridge came up near the Sirajganj-Jagannathganj ferry.

Now we have this amateur effort from 2002. It was created by Y. Sakai, who appears to have been a Japanese who spent some time in Bangladesh. He tried to show every station which was then functioning. It does not show the link between the Bangabandhu bridge and Dhaka, which had not opened then.

BangladeshRouteMap

Also in pdf, which is easier to zoom and read:

BangladeshRouteMap

This mapmaker seems to have done his own transliteration from Bengali to English, so the names may not exactly tally with earlier English maps and timetables. I found it useful while traveling in 2008, before the age of smartphones where one could follow Google Maps and the like.

Finally we have this map dated 2013 taken from the official website. This can be considered to be the latest official version, though it does not show every station.

BD Rly Off Map-2013 001

It does have some information about the little-known bypasses of Ishurdi and Akhaura which avoid reversals for numerous long-distance trains. Note the newer developments such as the links from Bangabandhu bridge to Joydebpur (for Dhaka) and Jamalpur Town (for the Mymensingh area).

Some lines like Feni-Belonia are shown to be closed, but the Kulaura-Shahbazpur (ex Latu) line is shown to be open while other sources say that no train has run there since around 2002.

Other points of interest are at least two stations where Bangladeshi trains run within a few metres of the Indian border, at Hili in the west and Kasba in the east.

Someone who was really interested could create a more detailed atlas using this as a basis and supplementing it with Google Maps. To show sufficient detail, it would have to be in book form like the well-known Great Indian Railway Atlas. See http://indianrailstuff.com/gira3/

But would it be commercially viable? Perhaps only a handful of railfans (and that too mainly from outside Bangladesh) would want to buy it. The print-on-demand self-publishing sites could provide a way out.

For railfans-the Fergusson papers

This is primarily for railfans interested in lists of stations on railway systems across the world. Some explanation is necessary.

The Fergusson papers on the link given below are compiled by an Englishman named Jim Fergusson, who has been collecting timetables from all over the world since around 1950. He has got hold of timetables from different time periods ranging from the 19th to the 21st century.

Most of those reading this will be interested in the Indian railway system. That is not covered, but the systems of all our neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar) are covered. He seems to have drawn largely from the Indian Bradshaw which has been published since the 19th century but seems to have vanished a few years ago.

Have a look at it here:

http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/