The mysteries of HPS 32 at the Howrah railway museum

There are many mysteries about this locomotive. Is it really an HPS? Where did it come from? If it came from East Pakistan, how did it come?

Presuming that it was owned by the Pakistan Eastern Railway (the name used from 1961 to around 1972), the most logical answer to this is that it was operating a scheduled passenger service between East Pakistan and Calcutta (Sealdah). The normal practice is that the locomotive would be changed either at the last station in Pakistan or the first station in India. That is being followed even in 2022.

These services were abruptly stopped during the 1965 war. At some point during this war, this locomotive probably happened to enter India on its way to Gede or Bangaon or Petrapol and was “captured” by India. There was no land war in the east in 1965, although there were air attacks by both sides.

No scheduled passenger services ran between India and East Pakistan/Bangladesh until 2008. It is known that goods services had started some years before that. And military trains ran between India and East Pakistan/Bangladesh during and after the 1971 war.

There may be various other ways in which the locomotive came to be in India, but I am not going into them. It is just possible that it was brought into India in 1971-72 as some kind of “war trophy” as some Pakistani tanks were. But it was not displayed in public until recent years.

We now pick up the story in 1985, when a British railfan took this picture in 1985 at Bandel:

You can just make out the number 32 on the cab.

A few years ago this loco made its way to the Howrah Railway Museum. This is what you will see now:

Numerous other pictures can be found on the net. It has been painted in a nice shade of green. The tender is that of a different type of locomotive (but this is not so significant as there were many mismatched locos and tenders over the years).

What is significant is the inscription. It is clearly made by someone from the Howrah museum who thought it should be like this.

The questions are:

Bangla was one of the official languages of Pakistan from around 1954 to 1972 or a bit later. Pakistani postage stamps and other government documents did have Bangla as well as Urdu during this period. Station signs in East Pakistan then had inscriptions in both languages, as you can see in these pictures from the 1971 war:

But why would anything operating in East Pakistan at that time have Urdu and not Bangla?

Here is a rather bad picture of a PER coach:

One can just make out the Bangla inscription “Purbo Pakistan Railway”, followed by PE (the official abbreviation) followed by an Urdu inscription. (Perhaps some reader will be able to say what is written in Urdu).

A typical Pakistani stamp issued in 1971 or earlier, overprinted with Bangladesh:

Now come back to the present-day picture.

It says “East Pakistan Railway” but nothing of that name existed in the past. As mentioned above, it should be “Pakistan Eastern railway” or PE. Wagons and coaches were also marked PE.

The Urdu inscription has been checked by a couple of friends who know the language. It reads “Purvi Pakistan Railway”. That is not Urdu (as the first word would correctly have been something like “Mashriqi”). In fact, the Urdu inscription seems to be transliteration from Hindi “Purvi” rather than Bangla “Purba”. Please correct me if this is wrong.

Conclusion: It is interesting to speculate on various questions:

If it is not an HPS, why was this marked as one?

The records show that HPS 32 was listed under the PER. (p 38 of Hughes, Vol 1 (1990), also p.82 of Hughes, Vol 4 (1996)). However, the manufacturer and date of manufacture are not given.

How did it come to be in places far from the border, such as Bandel?

And whoever painted the inscriptions in English and Urdu was not instructed properly. (Why? There are certainly some people in West Bengal who know Urdu properly.)

While this probably isn’t something to worry about, it just shows the shoddiness which is associated with IR’s restoration works. There are many examples of garishly painted locos (Pink? Blue?) plinthed in different parts of the country.

Common names in India and Bangladesh

We have already looked at places in India and Pakistan with the same or very similar names.

A few such combinations can be found in India and Bangladesh.

The most well known would be Jamalpur in Bihar and Jamalpur Town in Bangladesh:

The different names date from before Partition. Perhaps the Railway Board was more strict about avoiding duplication of names.

Going to lesser-known places:

The latter was built recently on the line from the Bangabandhu Bridge to Joydebpur and Dhaka.

Nawabganj near Ayodhya in UP and the larger Chapai Nawabganj in Bangladesh.

This is in MP, between Itarsi and Bhopal

The one in Bangladesh is probably more important.

Similarly, this station in Assam is quite small. It is between Badarpur and Karimganj. The sign in in Bangla and not Assamese as the former is the local language here. This picture was taken some years ago before it was converted from MG to BG.

While this brand-new station, also called Bhanga, is set to become a major junction in Bangladesh. It is south of Faridpur and near the new Padma bridge.

Next we come to a new station in Tripura:

The town of Belonia, like Hili, spreads over India and Bangladesh.

Earlier there was a branch from Feni to Belonia on the Bangladesh side, but it closed a few decades ago.

Finally, the notorious station of Hili in Bangladesh which is right on the border with India:

It will be connected to Balurghat in the near future. The IR station will be different from the BR station shown above.

Daulatpur Chowk, recently opened in Himachal Pradesh:

Daulatpur near Khulna:

This station near Kolkata is now closed and will be replaced by a metro station:

While its counterpart in Dhaka is on the main line going east, and has many important trains stopping there:

The Bandhan Express to Khulna

As you know, there are three pairs of trains running between India and Bangladesh: The Bandhan Express between Kolkata and Khulna, the Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantt, and the Mitali Express between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka Cantt.

Of these, only the Bandhan Express has an exact counterpart from before Partition. This was known as the Barisal Express which ran between Sealdah and Khulna. The railway has not reached Barisal (now Barishal) yet, though this may happen in the near future.

The Barisal Express of 1944 is covered here;

That was running between 2017 and 2020, and has restarted in 2022. The main details are here:

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

Note that the rake has 4 AC-1 and 4 AC chair coaches and no other passenger coaches. In general, Indian rakes and Bangladeshi rakes are used on alternate days.

An IR diesel (normally a Howrah WDM-3D) hauls the train between Kolkata and Benapole, which is about 2 km beyond the border. A BR diesel (normally an Ishurdi WDM-3A) takes it onward to Khulna. The track is electrified up to Bangaon, so an electric loco could have been used up to there.

The timetables showing all intermediate stations:

13129 Kolkata-Khulna:

Note the stoppages at Petrapole, Benapol and Jessore

https://indiarailinfo.com/train/timetable/all/66521/7037/12313

13130 Khulna-Kolkata:

https://indiarailinfo.com/train/timetable/all/60169/12313/7037

The stoppages are the same.

A few pictures of stations on the Bangladesh side:

Nabharon

Joshore (Jessore) Jn

Khulna

It can be seen that even in large stations, most boards may be only in Bangla.

See Bangladesh’s trains from India

There are at least two places where one can watch Bangladeshi internal train services from India,

The best-known place is Hili, which features in a number of Youtube videos.

See this:

For more about Hili and its trains, you can see this: https://abn397.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/hili-revisited-2/

On the other side of Bangladesh, there is Quasba station:

The location can be seen here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@23.7430799,91.159405,15z

The peculiar border at Hili station came about because the Radcliffe Commission wanted to preserve the integrity of the main north-south BG line in East Pakistan.

At Quasba, it is a different story. The old Assam Bengal Railway did not wish that their lines entered the princely state of Tripura, so their main line going south to Chattogram ran within a few hundred metres of the border. The station was earlier known as Kamalasagar, a small town in Tripura. Its name was changed soon after it became part of East Pakistan.

One common attraction for Indian visitors to Agartala was to look into Bangladesh and see trains running through Quasba, which is a few hundred metres from the Indian border. In recent years this area has become a “soft border” where people from both countries can interact in a buffer zone. This seems to have benefited local businesses,

In these videos you can observe trains running in Bangladesh. All long distance trains from Chattogram to other parts of Bangladesh have to pass this way.

and:

Pictures of these trains taken from higher points in India:

Unusual languages on signboards in India

Dogri in Jammu:

Jammu Tawi (Dogri script)

Maithili in Darbhanga:

Darbhanga station Maithili

Also at Madhubani, although it does not seem to be on the platform signs:

Madhubani (Maithili)

These are in Manipur. While the residents of that state are called Manipuris, there is no language of that name. Experts from there will tell you that the signs are Meitei in Mayek script.

Jiribam-manipuriVangaichungpao-Dholakhal

Here is one language many of us would not have heard of:

Ghaghra (JH)

This is in Jharkhand, midway between Rourkela and Chakradharpur. This is the local script Ol’Chiki. Thanks to Pavel Ghosh.

In the neighborhood, here is a left-over Urdu sign in Bangladesh:

Boira (still trilingual)

And left-over signs in Gurumukhi script up in Khyber-Pakhtunwa province of Pakistan:

Landi Khana station todayShahgai (Khyber)

Remember that no train has been to Landi Khana since 1932, and not to Shahgai since around 2000.

Also see this:

Where English is the official language of a state

Hili Revisited-2

Hope that you have read Part 1:  https://abn397.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/hili-revisited-1/

If not, it will be helpful to read it first.

We now turn to another video of this station. The commentary (in Bengali) is not too useful, but keep your eyes open.

Especially this clip at 1:56

Hili timetable board

This gives the full picture of passenger services running through. These include (mainly) BG expresses, while there are a few MG expresses as well. These are to connect Dhaka to places in the North (such as Dinajpur and Rangpur) which were (as of 2017) only on metre gauge. This timetable is valid from 01 March 2017.

Another quirk of Bangladesh Railways is that Intercity Expresses are considered to the best services while the Mail/Expresses are slower and less preferred. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the Local passenger, which also exist on this section.

I am transliterating the train names and place names here:

hili-tt-english-1

The train you see at 2.25 onwards is a northbound MG train. It can only be the 750 Dhaka – Dinajpur Ekota Express. Or the 757 Drutajan Express with very abnormal rescheduling.

A typical sleepy rural station, which is not what you would expect to see on an international border. You can see that there are long-distance trains stopping there throughout the night, so there are likely to be major security issues as we see (from the previous video from the Indian group) that it is not difficult to cross between he countries without being noticed.

The border stone is slightly to the west of the level crossing. As you may recall, the Radcliffe Award mentioned that the railway line itself was to be the border. So both sides try to manage the best they can.

In the next few years, an extension from Balurghat will bring the Indian Railways up to India’s Hili.

(In the other side of Bangladesh, the MG branch line from Feni to Belonia was closed long ago. Meanwhile the BG line of IR has extended from Agartala down to India’s Belonia and further down.)

Note: Bangladesh Railways has stopped issuing printed timetables many years ago. Individual stations will have displays like this (and remember, outside the larger cities it is often Bengali or nothing). You can see the overall timetables on this site:

http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c/All-Train-Schedule

Note the separate sections for MG and BG, also for West and East Zone which refers to the Jamuna (or Brahmaputra in India) as the dividing line.

Hili revisited-1

Hope that you have read this: https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/more-from-the-border-from-hell-1/

An update which shows a group from West Bengal visiting this area. This was uploaded earlier in 2019.

Commentary is in Bengali with English subtitles.

The narrator was not quite correct about the pre-partition Darjeeling Mail. In fact it took over 13 hours from Sealdah to the old Siliguri Jn (now Siliguri Town). And it did not go anywhere near Bangaon and Jessore. Here you can see its timetable in 1944:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/the-darjeeling-mail-of-1943/

In the next post, you will see more about current passenger services on the BR trains through Hili. Remember that it is dual BG/MG. More precisely, it was BG since the 1920s and MG has been added after 2000, to  facilitate MG services from Dhaka across the Bangabandhu Bridge to destinations such as Dinajpur, Rangpur and Lalmonirhat which are (or were until recently) on MG lines from Parbatipur.

 

Rail Quiz-Oct 2019 with answers

  1. What is the significance of this pair of stations in the history of IR? The line between these stations was opened in 1926, completing the Delhi-Madras line (as well as the Golden Quadrilateral with diagonals).
  2. Nowadays all passenger trains have at least a technical halt at Balharshah. But in 1963-64 the Southern Express (then the best train between New Delhi and Madras) ran through Balharshah without stopping. How was this possible?  They stop at Balharshah as it is the “junction” between CR and SCR where train crews change. Up to 1966, the Central Railway ran straight to Vijayawada and to Hyderabad and beyond. As Balharshah was not so important then, the Southern Express ran through without stopping. In 1963-64 it ran on some days as the AC Express and some days as the Southern Express (like the Paschim and Poorva which survived longer).
  3. What is the historical significance of this station in Bangladesh? Dohazari                                                                                    The end of a branch line from Chittagong. It was completed in the mid-1920s as the first part of a proposed line to Burma (which was still governed from India). The Great Depression, the delinking of Burma from India in 1937 and then World War 2 put an end to that.
  4. And of this station in Pakistan? The western-most station of Pakistan Railways. The line continues across the border to Zahidan in Iran, though that portion of the track was transferred to the Iranian railways in the 1960s. The trains are still operated by PR.Koh i Taftan (2)
  5. Why was this small station’s name well known to Allied military personnel?  Drigh RoadA major RAF base existed there since the 1920s, which was very active during World War 2. For some reason it was known as Drigh Road airfield and was not named after Karachi. Later, an offshoot of this became the main airport of Karachi.
  6. And what was the significance of this station’s name to British soldiers? Deolali was a British Army camp 100 miles north-east of Mumbai . It is also the source of the British slang noun doolally tap, loosely meaning “camp fever”, and referring to the apparent madness of men waiting for ships back to Britain after finishing their tour of duty. By the 1940s this had been widely shortened to just “doolally“, an adjective meaning “mad (insane).Devlali
  7. What is unusual about this station in Bangladesh? And what was it called before partition? Like Hili, it lies right on the border and from India one can easily see trains running here on the Chittagong-Akhaura section. It was called Kamalasagar as it used to serve this place which is now across the border.        Quasba
  8. Until recently, what was (wrongly) claimed to be the first station in Arunachal Pradesh? Bhalukpong, reached from Balipara around 1980. The town spreads over Assam and Arunachal, and the station is just within Assam’s border. The picture below shows it during MG days.Bhalukpong old
  9. Identify the time span when this picture was taken.   This place is in Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. From 1954 to 1971 Urdu and Bengali were the official languages of Pakistan, and thus signboards in East Pakistan had English and these two languages. Once Bangladesh came into being, there was no need for Urdu signs and they are a rarity now. This picture dates from the 1971 war.Rajshahi station-old
  10. Where in India would you have seen steam locos in green livery marked “PAK”? The locos of SCR had tenders in red and green. There used to be a MG loco shed at Pakala (code PAK) and this was marked on the tender. (This was not an usual practice, but has been mentioned by Bill Aitken in one of his books).
  11. Name one station in Kerala which had steam sheds for BG and MG. Quilon, now Kollam. The MG shed was first, and the BG facilities started once BG came in 1975.
  12. Name one major rail-connected howler in the film “Julie”. This is set in Shoranur, an important junction but not even a divisional HQ. Utpal Dutt’s character is mentioned as the Chief Engineer, whereas the station would have had an Assistant Engineer (and AME) as the local heads.
  13. Which was the only section of IR which had 4-foot gauge? Azimganj-Nalhati, soon converted to BG and now on the ER. See details here: https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Nalhati-Azimganj_Railway You can also see this loco at the NRM: 
  14. And 3’6″ gauge? The Arconum-Conjeevarum Tramway, as it was then called. It soon became BG, soon after MG and finally BG in recent years. More details: https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Arakkonam-Conjeevaram_Tramway . No information about the 3’6″ locos could be found.
  15. What was the northern-most MG station on IR? Ignore the short-lived MG lines north of Lahore. Kot Kapura. The MG line from Bhatinda then turned south-west towards Fazilka, so Kot Kapura was the northern-most MG station.
  16. Bonus: Which important station most closely matches the description of the title of the novel “Bhowani Junction”? Note these points-it is on the Delhi-Bombay line, with a branch going towards Allahabad (though not directly). It is a district HQ and an important cantonment. This fits Jhansi perfectly (but not Itarsi and Bhusaval).

 

(The best effort was by my old friend Harsh Vardhan.)

 

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

 

Reviving the Darjeeling Mail route?

Here are extracts showing the timetable of the Calcutta-Siliguri route in 1944:

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.