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.

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.

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The southernmost railways in India

There are some questions which can be answered easily by a layman. But if you ask a more knowledgeable person you may get a more complicated answer.

Q: Which is the southernmost point of railways in India?

A: Kanniyakumari station is the simple answer:

Kanniyakumari

A plaque at this station says that it was inaugurated by the then PM Morarji Desai on 15 April 1979. Its latitude is 8.0864 N from Google Maps.

Its code is CAPE. But the station never had this name. This is because the place was also known as Cape Comorin earlier on. To be more precise, the southernmost point of the Indian mainland is still called Cape Comorin.

Footnote: For a long time before the mid-50s, Kanniyakumari was part of Travancore state before the reorganization of states placed in the then Madras state as a majority of people in the taluk were Tamil-speaking. But as Travancore state was predominantly Malayalam-speaking, some station signboards had Malayalam inscriptions until a few years ago. Maybe they still exist.

Q: Before that, which was the southernmost point?

A: If one looks at earlier timetables, the southernmost stations as of 1975 were Trivandrum Central (TVC) and Tiruchendur (TCN). It was difficult to make out which was southernmost from ordinary atlases. With the aid of Google Maps, we see that TVC is at 8.4870 N and Tiruchendur is at 8.4986 N. So we see that TVC was the southernmost station until the opening of the lines from TVC and Tirunelveli to Kanniyakumari.

However, if you take the distance between the parallels of latitude then TVC was a little over 1.2 km south of TCN. A narrow win indeed!

Trivandrum

Though the city was traditionally known as Thiruvananthapuram, it was not until 2007 that this and many other stations in Kerala were renamed to fit the Malayalam versions.

A recent picture of the former runner-up:

Tiruchendur

You can see an overview here: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Nagercoil,+Tamil+Nadu/@8.6366475,77.5674675,10z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3b04f0dfc0ddc7b7:0x809a9e32a95d3ed1!8m2!3d8.1832857!4d77.4118996

By enlarging this map you can see the two BG lines from TVC and Tirunelveli meeting at Nagercoil Jn, from where a short branch goes to Kanniyakumari.

In 1975, TVC and TCN were both MG. By 1976 the BG line from Ernakulam was extended via Quilon to TVC, and continued to Kanniyakumari after that. TCN got broad gauge much later in the 2000s.

Q: Did any other railway exist in the deep south before that?

A: Yes, the privately owned KPN Light railway existed (with its main station at Tiruchendur) until it was closed (due to economic reasons, perhaps connected to World War 2) in about 1940. It was 2’0″ narrow gauge. It was duly mentioned in Bradshaws before then, as you can see here:

Kulasekarapatnam line TT

This was owned by the Madras-based Parry’s group of industries to facilitate their activities in that area-in particular, a sugar factory at Kulashekarapatnam. Passenger services were probably more of an afterthought.

If one looks at the map carefully one can see that the southernmost station was Tissianvillai which was indeed the southernmost station in India, as its latitude was 8.3353 N, somewhat south of TVC. The route of this tiny railway system can be seen here.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Thisayanvilai,+Tamil+Nadu/@8.4062791,77.9075378,12z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x3b04f0dfc0ddc7b7:0x809a9e32a95d3ed1!2sNagercoil,+Tamil+Nadu!3b1!8m2!3d8.1832857!4d77.4118996!3m4!1s0x3b047e50930e95e5:0x1d70ec9eff576a24!8m2!3d8.3349894!4d77.8652573

Whatever little is known about this system is here: https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Kulasekharapatnam_Tissainvillai_Light_Railway

The station was probably at a different location from the “real” station on metre gauge.

A few years ago a determined rail-fan friend of mine tried to find some existing physical remnants of the track but was unsuccessful. As many years had passed most of the local people did not know much about the track, and no former employee could be found in the vicinity. But there were some who vaguely remembered their grandfathers working on the line.

Q: OK, so that is true of the mainland (though this last line was not really a part of the Indian Railways). What about the island territories?

A: A good question, but you won’t catch me here. There is no record of any industrial railway in Lakshwadeep, but in any case the southernmost point of this territory is on Minicoy which is around the same latitude as Trivandrum.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands look more promising. Indeed, some industrial railways have existed in the vicinity of Port Blair. But this has around the same latitude as Puducheri.

If there were any such lines in the Nicobar islands, they would be the southernmost railways ever to have existed in India. But there is no record of these, as the Nicobar region remains largely undeveloped even today.

Thanks to Bharath Moro for his account of his search for remnants of the KPN line.

Chrome in Chromepet, Power in Powerpet

While travelling by train in the past, one would have often come across stations with strange-sounding names and wondered about the origin of the names. Now the internet has made it easy to answer these questions. To begin with, there is this suburban station between Chennai Beach and Tambaram:

Chrompet

It was listed in earlier maps and timetables as Chromepet. Now what is its connection with chrome?

The answer lies in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromepet#Etymology

The name came from the Chrome Leather Works which used to have a large factory there.

Note the mismatch between the English and Hindi inscriptions.

Also in Chennai is this station with this antique signboard:

Washermanpet

As you would guess, the place gets its name from the humble dhobi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washermanpet#History

Also note the misspelling of the Hindi inscription.

And this is its counterpart on the Singapore metro:

Dhoby Ghaut

The signboard reflects the run-down condition of Washermanpet and Royapuram, the latter being the oldest functioning station building on IR. It was the main terminus at Madras when trains started running in 1856. This signboard reflects the condition of the station which has somehow escaped demolition till now:

Royapuram

Finally, we visit this station next to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh:

Powerpet

Does it perhaps have something to do with the Marathas such as Sharad Pawar? Some of them spell their name as Powar*

However, Wikipedia has this to say:

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

in which the name is said to be in honour of Sir Power, a railway engineer. I could not find anything else about him. But it is wrong usage, as the correct form is Sir Ravindra Jadeja and not Sir Jadeja.

*The Powar clan, however does seem to be connected to this station near Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh:

Powarkheda

Indian railway stations with matching names

There are some names which you will find in many Indian towns, such as Mahatma Gandhi Road. And there are many places with similar names, such as Rampur which must be the name of dozens of villages and small towns. Ironically, the largest place with this name was once part of a princely state ruled by Muslims.

Most of us have heard of the large cities of Hyderabad (capital of undivided Andhra Pradesh) and Hyderabad in Sind. Pre-1947 timetables listed the two as Hyderabad (Deccan) and Hyderabad (Sind). I could not locate any old pictures of these stations and their signs, though this is what they look like today:

There never was any train between these cities, and anyone traveling between them by train would have had to change at several places. One possibility would include a sea journey between Bombay and Karachi.

This also illustrates a general rule which the Indian Railways have tried to follow-that no two stations should have exactly the same name. Of course, the station code will be different.

One example is Madhupur in Jharjhand and Madhopur in Punjab:

You cannot travel by a direct train between these stations. The Howrah/Jammu Tawi Himgiri Express does run through both, but stops only at the one on the left. The one in Punjab is a smaller station, but for some years in the 1960s it was the northern-most station in India before the line was extended to Kathua, Jammu and beyond.

Then there are the three Katras:

The first two are in UP. The first is an ex-MG terminus near Gonda which is across the river from Ayodhya. It was connected to the BG network in recent times when a bridge was built across the Saryu.

The second is between Shahjahanpur and Bareilly. The third is the new showpiece station (SVDK) which is the railhead for Vaishno Devi.It is the northern-most station on the main IR network (though not on IR; that is Sopore near Baramulla). It is likely to hold this status for a few years until the connection to Banihal is completed.

There is one train which runs through Miranpur Katra on its way to SVDK, but does not stop there. This is the once-weekly Kamakhya/SVDK Express. The Himgiri Express and Kolkata/Jammu Express also run through it, though they still terminate at Jammu.

Then we have two places with similar names in Maharashtra and Jharkhand:

The one on the left was called Chandrapur (Maharashtra) until recently. There is another station called Chanda Fort nearby. There are no direct or nearly-direct trains between these stations.

And now to Rajendranagar in MP and Bihar:

The former is on the southern outskirts of Indore and is presently served by a number of DEMUs between Indore and Mhow. The latter is east of Patna Jn and is an important secondary terminus for Patna, while Danapur and the new Pataliputra station also fulfill this role.

There are two weekly trains between Indore and Rajendranagar Terminal (one of which was involved in a serious accident near Kanpur last November). So it is a reasonably simple task to travel between the two Rajendranagars. It is possible that the MG conversion south of Mhow may see some long-distance trains connecting these stations, though they are unlikely to stop at the one in MP.

Now these two in Rajasthan and Tripura. The latter has just seen the start of passenger services from Agartala:

It is theoretically possible that one day there may be a direct train between these two stations. There may not be much logic behind this routing.

The station on the left was opened in the mid-60s as part of the Udaipur-Himatnagar new line. The existing terminus of Udaipur was renamed Ranapratap Sagar, and still hosts most of the railway offices of this region. For some years Udaipur City was one of the few stations which were pseudo-junctions where a line of one gauge ended and line of another gauge started. It has now lost this status as the Udaipur City-Ahmedabad MG line is now under conversion. Other examples of pseudo-junctions are Kalka and Mettupalaiyam (but not Neral, Pathankot, NJP and Siliguri Jn which are junctions in the regular sense). Other pseudo-junctions have existed in the relatively recent past (e.g. Parli Vaijnath)

The station on the right is presently a terminus, but the line will soon extend downwards to Belonia and Sabrum at the southern tip of Tripura. It will not touch the now-closed terminus of Belonia which lies a short distance within the Bangladesh border. Also note that Bengali is the official language (at least for station signs) in Tripura and three districts of southern Assam.

Now, you may ask, is there any case of two widely separated stations with similar names having a direct train connection. There are some trivial cases like those of Merta Road/Merta City and Latur Road/Latur (but not Ranchi Road/Ranchi). But there is one more. I traveled between them recently. More on this later.

Note: Copyrights of the pictures here belong to the original photographers.

The US Presidential elections and Indian place names

As the saturation coverage of the US elections will continue for a while, we may as well try to match their leader’s names to place names in India.

While the incumbent President Barack Obama came to India more than once, he does not seem to have visited this place:

barrackpore

His predecessor Jimmy Carter did indeed have a village near Gurgaon named after him. Supposedly his mother had been there with the Peace Corps at one time:

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

A halt station called Carterpuri (between Bijwasan and Gurgaon) was listed in the timetable for a few years, though it seems to have closed down long ago and no trace of it can be seen now. A new station called Palam Vihar Halt was built some years later in the same general area, though no trains appear to stop there now.

When Bill Clinton was President, the combination of him and the First Lady was referred to as Billary. Therefore, a logical place for them to visit is:

bellary-map

although it has now been renamed to:

ballari-new

If (somehow) Donald Trump wins, he could visit the small town of McDonald’s Choultry in Tamil Nadu, though the station (between Salem and Erode) was long ago renamed to:

magudan-chavadi

This name change in the 1970s was perhaps the first step against the McDonaldization of India.

We close with this one currently making the rounds on social media, presumably taken in around 1970:

bill-and-hillary

Also read this one: https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/present-and-past-us-presidents/

Rail Quiz No 2

Here is a fairly simple one for those who are familiar with timetables of the 1970s:

What was common between these four stations as of the mid-70s (but not today):

 

Answer: These stations had three gauges of lines.

The first to get it right was Abhirup Sarkar.

Notes for those who are interested:

Remember, all this applies to the 1970s and not now.

BG, MG and NG are mentioned in order for each case.

NJP: The main line to New Bongaigaon, branch line from Siliguri, 2’0″ DHR to Darjeeling.

Bangalore City: Main line from Madras, various lines to Mysore, Hubli etc, 2’6″ line¬† to Bangarapet via Yelahanka, Chikballapur and Kolar. The NG terminus moved to Yelahanka in the 80s. Now that line is also BG. Possibly Yelahanka had all 3 gauges for some time.

Miraj: Main line from Bombay and Poona, main line from Bangalore, branch line to Kurduwadi. (Up to around 1970 it was on the MG line from Poona to Bangalore. BG conversion got up to Miraj and Kolhapur and then stopped for many years).

Ujjain: Major branch line from Bhopal to Nagda and Indore, minor branch line from Indore via Fatehabad Chandrawatiganj, 2’0″ branch to Agar which probably closed in the 80s. This was originally part of the Scindia State Railway which also ran three similar branches out of Gwalior, one of which still runs on NG.

 

Rail Quiz No 1

What connects these four stations?

 

A related one: What connects these 4 stations?:

 

The answers will be put up in about 24 hours. Be precise!

Statutory disclaimer: These pictures have been taken from various websites. The copyrights of these pictures rest with their creators.

ANSWERS:

  1. These are the northernmost, westernmost, easternmost and southernmost junctions in India. (Ravi Swamy S was the first to get it).
  2. These are the northernmost, westernmost, easternmost and southernmost divisional headquarters in India. (Debatra Mazumdar and Aditya S. Nivarthi were the first to get it).