The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1943

We have all heard of the train to Darjeeling, but there was more to it than the single line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This should be apparent from these timetable extracts from 1943. These are not from the Bradshaw which had rather poor print quality, but from another source (more about that later).

DHR TT 001

First, this is an extract from the Bengal & Assam Railway. See its logo showing that it was founded in 1942. This was an emergency measure following the outbreak of World War 2 in Asia. The old stalwarts Eastern Bengal Railway (HQ in Calcutta, main station Sealdah) and the Assam Bengal Railway (HQ in Chittagong) were merged to form the B & A Railway to make it easier to manage rail transport east of Calcutta. Essentially the running of the railways was taken over by the US armed forces.

Of course, the B & AR was broken up after partition and its tracks are now spread over the present Sealdah  division of ER, the NFR, and Bangladesh Railways.

Now we look at the timetables of the DHR. These lines were not part of the B&AR, but it was the practice to include adjoining smaller railway systems in the timetables of larger systems.

DHR TT 002

There are several points here that many railfans may be unfamiliar with. To begin with, this system was the 2-foot narrow gauge unlike most other narrow gauge lines in India which were 2 ft 6 in. Only a handful of 2-foot gauge lines in India survive now, including the mountain railways to Darjeeling and Matheran.

The Siliguri station here was the BG terminus where long-distance trains such as the Darjeeling Mail used. It was located at the station now known as Siliguri Town. Note the connection between the Mail arriving at 06.44 and the NG train (also called the Mail) at 06.59, and in the reverse direction when the passengers presumably had their dinner at Siliguri.

The present Siliguri Jn was opened as part of the Assam Rail Link in the late 1940s. It is located at the former wayside station of Siliguri Road seen above.

When New Jalpaiguri station was opened in the early 1960s, the NG line was extended south from Siliguri Jn to there passing through Siliguri Town, which had gone from being a major terminus to an unimportant wayside station.

Panchanai Jn was the point where the DHR branch to Kishanganj turned towards the left. There is no sign of it now. There have been various other changes pertaining to loops and reverses. One result of this is that Chunabhati station is no longer on the route. This timetable does not show the numerous halt stations which have mostly vanished without a trace, though Batasia is now a stop for the joyride trains between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Now for the rest of the DHR:

DHR TT 003

The Siliguri-Kishanganj Extension and the Teesta Valley Extension were built later (dates given below). The Kishanganj line provided a connection to MG trains from Barsoi and Katihar side. Being in the plains, it did not need the special B class engines but used more conventional ones. Apart from the usual 4-6-2s, there was also a Garratt.

This line became the starting point of the Assam Rail Link, enabling MG trains from the Katihar side to enter northern Bengal. Note that many of the stations (including Naksalbari and Baghdogra) became part of the MG line though there were some changes in alignment. For instance, the new MG line went directly from Matigara to the new Siliguri Jn without crossing Panchanai (where the station was demolished).

The Teesta Valley Extension had an unfortunate end. Initially the Assam Rail Link followed it up to Sevoke. There was a mixed gauge line from the new Siliguri Jn to Sevoke. Here the TV line turned north while the new MG line crossed the Teesta just east of the station and continued eastward to join the existing MG system at a place which became known as New Mal Jn, and finally to Fakiragram and beyond.

The terminus at Gielle Khola seems to have been known as Kalimpong Road in the earlier days. A ropeway connected this station to Kalimpong.

But this line did not last long after Independence. Severe flooding damage occurred in early 1950 which resulted in the line being closed permanently. Though the tracks ran close to the highway towards Kalimpong and Gangtok, you are not likely to see any trace of the line now unless you take the help of local experts. And the NG line from Siliguri to Sivok was pulled up as it no longer had any purpose, leaving a pure MG line behind. In the  2000s the entire MG route in this area was converted to BG.

Some historical notes here:

DHR History 001

Note the stamp issued in 1982.

The above information is from a nice little booklet called “A guide to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway” by Richard Wallace, first edition in 2000. There is a more detailed second edition published in 2009.

There is another useful book by R.R. Bhandari which may be available at the bookstall at the National Rail Museum at Delhi.

Numerous other books (mainly of British origin) are also there. Some may be available from bookshops in Kolkata and the Darjeeling area.

Other useful links include:

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

and

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/railway-history-construction-of-the-assam-rail-link/

 

 

 

 

 

For whom the bell tolls

This has nothing to do with Hemingway’s novel, though it will appear again at the end.

There used to be a railway station called Ghanta, on the narrow gauge line from Champaner Road to Pani Mines in Gujarat:

Ghanta

This picture is probably from before the 1980s, before the bell tolled for this and many other narrow gauge lines (mainly in Gujarat). Many other lines such as the Satpura network had enough traffic to justify conversion.

The village of Ghanta appears to be in Vadodara district, but is too obscure to appear in Google Maps.

Here is an extract from the 1943 Bradshaw:

Champaner branch

As you can see, our station was served by only one pair of trains daily. The timetables of the 1970s were similar.

Champaner Road is on the Mumbai-Delhi main line, between Vadodara and Godhra. No important train stops there now.

It has nothing to do with the Champaner of Lagaan, which was shot at a place in Kutch district.

And the Ghanta has become symbolic of other things in India, such as this:

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

which may have been inspired by the Razzie awards of Hollywood.

Footnote: the title of Hemingway’s novel is from a poem by the 17th-century poet John Donne. Many of us would have come across this poem in school or college:

http://www.famousliteraryworks.com/donne_for_whom_the_bell_tolls.htm

The Satpura Railway still exists!

Note: This was written in December 2015 and has not been updated.

In the last few months, there have been a number of articles in the popular media and rail fan groups regarding the demise of the network of narrow-gauge lines in Central India known as the Satpura Railway, now coming under the South East Central Railway.

If you were to take these articles seriously, you would imagine that these lines were being permanently closed down leaving this area without rail communication. They are, of course, being converted to broad gauge and this network has been gradually converted over the last decade. You can expect the conversion to be over within a couple of years.

Here we have an 1964 map of the then SER which shows all the NG lines long before Project Unigauge was even thought of.

SER 1964 001

Note the numerous NG branches all over the zone. However, the Raipur branches and everything east were not part of the Satpura system.

For the moment, however, there still exists one functioning narrow gauge line between Nagpur and Nagbhir which has three pairs of trains a day. This will also face the conversion axe sooner or later, but you can certainly travel there now. Thanks to local expert Alok Patel for this tipoff.

Here you can see the overall list of trains (from an official website, but errors are not impossible):

Nagpur-Nagbhir:

Nagpur Nagbhir

Nagbhir-Nagpur:

Nagbhir Nagpur

Here are the timetables for the first trains in either direction:

Nagpur-Nagbhir:

Nagpur Nagbhir TT

Nagbhir-Nagpur:

Nagbhir Nagpur TT

Note that the station of Moti Bagh was known for its narrow-gauge loco shed and other workshops (besides a small railway museum) but was not used for regular passenger services. I do not think it appeared in passenger timetables until now.

For instance, it is not there in the printed timetable of 2014. That shows the first train leaving from Nagpur at 05.55. The second train given above is shown at Itwari at 10.10/10.15 and then at Nagpur at 10.45.

So the laments for the demise of the narrow gauge Satpura Railway were a little premature. Ride this 110-km route south of Nagpur while you can. There are also a few BG trains running through Nagbhir. These include an express between Chennai and Bilaspur (once weekly in each direction) and between Yesvantpur and Korba (twice weekly).

This map showing part of Nagpur may be helpful:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@21.1552413,79.1014885,15z

Incorporating a few comments received from my old friend Alok Patel:

“Conversion has been sanctioned for the NGP-NABN line but no serious allocations done yet. I suspect they will want to complete the main Satpura lines first since the Nagpur-Chhindwara-Jabalpur-Gondia network had surprisingly high traffic. Also note that the station code for Nagbhir Narrow Gauge has been changed to NABN to signify NG. The BG station must now be using the code NAB”

“I haven’t been to MIB for a long time now but the trains don’t start from MIB per se. They start from the MIB yard, go to NGP, reverse at NGP, go down the same route till the triangle at MIB where they stop to pick up passengers, bypass the MIB yard at the triangle and continue towards Itwari. I suspect the one kilometre or so long NGP-MIB stretch won’t stay operational for much more time, now that the key Chhindwara side traffic has ceased to exist.”

 

 

The Non-Government Railways of India in 1964, and what happened to them

Apart from the privately published Indian Bradshaw, there was the All-India Railway Timetable which, until 1976, provided information about all the zones of the Indian railway system. All the 9 zones (which existed from 1966) had individual timetables which were bound into a single volume, along with some other pages of general information.

I used to have a copy of the 1964 edition which had all the 8 zones existing then (as the SCR was yet to be created). There was a small section at the end titled “Non-Government Railways”. These lines were also covered in Bradshaw, but were scattered all over and not segregated into one section.

These were the non-government railways mentioned in 1964:

1) Dehri-Rohtas Light Railway

The Martin Burn lines:

2) Howrah-Amta Light Railway
3) Howrah-Sheakhala Light Railway
4) Arrah-Sasaram Light Railway
5) Futwah-Islampur Light Railway
6) Shahdara-Saharanpur Light Railway

The McLeod & Co lines

7) Burdwan-Katwa Light Railway
8) Ahmadpur-Katwa Light Railway
9) Bankura-Damodar River Railway

The Amta and Sheakhala lines were 2’0”, and all the others were 2’6”

Here is some information from a talk I had given in 2007. Some further developments have occurred since then which I have updated, but this information may not be fully accurate.

1) The Dehri-Rohtas Light Railway ran south from Dehri-on-Sone to Rohtas and later Tiura Pipardih; the last extension was in 1958. It was built by Octavius Steel, and later became part of the Sahu Jain group which also owned Rohtas Industries in Dehri-on-Sone.

It had considerable passenger and goods traffic, mainly stone and marble.

It closed in 1984 due to problems with the parent company, which went into liquidation. There is no apparent plan for revival or conversion.

Tail piece: In 2007, the Railways acquired the land of Rohtas Industries at Dehri-on-Sone which would be used for the Eastern Freight Corridor.

The Martin Burn Light Railways

2) & 3) The Howrah-Amta and Howrah-Sheakhala Light Railways were amongst the very few 2’0” lines in the plains. They carried an extensive suburban traffic for commuters into Calcutta-and may well have been the most heavily used narrow gauge lines in the world.

These lines originally ran from Telkul Ghat, but were running from Howrah Maidan in 1964. They were closed due to losses (and labour trouble) on 01-06-71.

The Howrah-Amta line was gradually converted to an electrified BG line over the years. It remains a single-track section. It can now be found in the SE suburban timetable, with several pairs of trains daily. It also included the branch from Bargachia to Champadanga which remains closed.

The Howrah-Sheakhala line was supposed to be converted, but there is not much progress even though the Railway Ministry was controlled by the Trinamul Congress for several years. This also includes a short branch from Chanditala to Janai, near Janai Road on the Howrah-Barddhaman chord.

4) The Arrah-Sasaram Light Railway, like the Dehri-Rohtas line, passed through rather backward areas. It connected the Patna main line with the Grand Chord.

It was closed on 15-02-78. Conversion to BG was started and has been completed by the late 2000s. It is now on the East Central Railway. Local services run between Ara (formerly Arrah) and Sasaram, including an intercity express between Patna and Bhabua Road.

5) The Futwah-Islampur Light Railway ran south from a point near Patna on the main line. It was closed on 01-02-86, and was converted to BG around 2000. It now sees a few passenger trains and even the superfast Magadh Express from New Delhi. This is also part of the East Central Railway. Futwah is now known as Fatuha.

6) The Shahdara-Saharanpur Light Railway was the only such line in North India. It had considerable commuter traffic into Delhi as well as goods traffic. It had a separate station at Shahdara which could be seen till the mid-80s.

This also fell victim to losses and closed on 01-09-70. However it was converted to BG in the late 1970s, probably due to the influence of one-time PM Charan Singh whose constituency Baghpat was on the route. It now forms part of the Northern Railway. After this the trains terminated at Delhi Jn rather than Shahdara. A small diversion was made at the northern end where the line now branches off at Tapri rather than Saharanpur itself.

It now carries several crowded passenger trains including DMUs and a Saharanpur-Delhi express (since extended to Farukhnagar off Garhi Harsaru). There is also a tri-weekly express between Haridwar and Ajmer. Although the line is not suitable for high speeds, it has sometimes been used as an emergency backup for trains like the Kalka Shatabdi.

The McLeod & Co Light Railways

7), 8) The Burdwan-Katwa and Ahmadpur-Katwa Light Railways continue to run as part of the ER. They were transferred on 01-07-67 and 01-04-66 respectively.

Ahmadpur features in the famous “jackfruit letter”.

NG services with railcars and diesels continued until recently, The former line had 5 pairs of trains daily. The Barddhaman-Balgona section was converted to BG a few years ago and was even electrified, with a few EMU services per day. NG services continue between Katwa and Balgona.

The Ahmadpur-Katwa line was closed for conversion to BG in the past year. BG conversion was completed by early 2018, although full services have not been restored.

9) The Bankura Damodar River Railway ran from Bankura to Rainagar. It was handed over to the SER on 01-07-67.Conversion to BG was completed in the late 2000s and two pairs of DEMUs now run between Bankura and Mathnashipur, 15 km beyond the former terminus of Rainagar. The line is to be extended to the Howrah-Barddhaman chord at a point near Masagram, and is likely to see more traffic then.

Other “Non-Government lines” which existed after 1947:

The Port Trust BG lines in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Visakhapatnam were extensive but not part of the IR network. They never appeared in the timetables as they had no passenger traffic.

The NG lines around Murtazapur and Pulgaon are still owned by the Central Provinces Railway Company, but have been operated by the GIPR and then CR for many years. They appear in the main timetables, as they have done during the GIPR days.

Martin Burn had two lines which were not mentioned in the 1964 timetable:

The Barasat-Basirhat Light Railway closed on 01-07-55. It later became part of the Barasat-Hasnabad BG line of the ER which now has EMU services from Sealdah.

The Bukhtiyarpur-Bihar Light Railway was replaced by a BG line in 1962, which ran beyond Bihar Sharif to Rajgir. It now has several long-distance services including a section of the Shramjeevi Express from New Delhi and a passenger train from Howrah. The line has been extended south of Rajgir to Gaya via Tilaiya and Manpur, though only one pair of DMUs presently run on this route. It was part of the ER and is now in the ECR.

McLeod & Co had the Kalighat-Falta Light Railway which closed on 01-04-57. There is apparently no chance of revival.

References:

All-India Timetable of 1964 and current timetables.
The Great Railway Atlas by Samit Roychoudhury (2005 and 2010 editions)
Information about locomotives can be found in Indian Locomotives (Parts 3 and 4) by Hugh Hughes.

Odd Indian locomotives-battery electric locomotives

Small electric locomotives run on batteries have been used in mines and similar environments for a long time. As batteries are heavy, you would not find them on a full-sized locomotive unless there was a good reason for it. One example would be for running maintenance trains in underground railways when power is switched off.

Thus we have the battery tender attached to the YCG-1 metre gauge locomotives which ran between Madras Beach and Tambaram from the 1930s. As some of the stations had unwired turnouts, the locomotives had a battery tender to run on if the overhead wires were absent.

sirelectwithtender

By the mid-1960s this section was converted to 25 KV AC and electrification was extended to Villupuram (which remained the only electrified metre gauge section in India). These DC locos were retired and a fleet of AC locos took over. The top half of the picture below shows one at the NRM in Delhi, minus the battery tender.

There were also two battery DC locos (this time on broad gauge) delivered to the old BBCI in 1927. They were to be used for shunting where steam locos were considered undesirable for some reason. There is a picture of it hauling a goods train in Carnac Bunder (under the Bombay Port Trust lines) in an old annual report of IR.

Old elec locos 001

In this case (in the lower picture) the batteries appear to be inside the main body of the loco. In the upper picture we see a YCG1 which is preserved at the National Rail Museum in Delhi.

Stranger is the case of the NBM-1 narrow gauge (2-foot) locos, 3 of which were built by BHEL in 1987 for the Gwalior branch lines. No pictures of these seem to be available. But one wonders what purpose they served. Perhaps there was an urgent requirement for replacement of steam locos when no suitable diesels were available. However, these routes have been served by the NDM-5 class diesels which were also built at the same time. But I wonder if there is any example anywhere else in the world where battery locos were used for regular service where there was no electrified line to start with.

Famous Indian trains of the past-and what happened to them (Part 2)

Continuing our study on the famous trains numbered 1 and 2 on the Indian Railways in the past.

In 1976, the newcomer  was the 1/2 Golconda Express between Guntur and Secunderabad. This appears to have started running in the late 1960s, probably soon after the new South Central zone came into existence. It still runs on the same route with slightly slower timings, and is ranked as superfast. The only difference you will see is that it now has two rakes instead of one.

Golconda

The story of the 1/2 Gujarat Mail is different in that it has been around for a long time, but like the Golconda Express it runs on the same route and similar timings. In the 1970s it was said to be having more first class coaches than any other Indian train. (At that time there were only two pairs of Rajdhanis and no Shatabdis). It has the classic late night-early morning pattern of the old Mails. Over the years its timings have improved only marginally.

Gujmail

The 1/2 Delhi/Ahmedabad Mail even lost its number one status on the Northern railway between Rewari and Delhi, where it became 201/202 (presumably to distinguish it from the 1/2 Kalka Mail on broad gauge)

It has a sad story. It remained a Mail until renamed the Yoga Express a few months ago, and never got superfast status. It was earlier considered the best train on the MG route between Ahmedabad and Delhi, but got competition from the Ashram Express since the 70s. Once this route was converted to BG in the 90s, it was extended to Haridwar thus becoming the Ahmedabad-Haridwar Mail and finally the Yoga Express of today. In the mean time a Rajdhani as well as the Ashram Express became more popular on the Ahmedabad-Delhi route. Anyway, gauge conversion has reduced its running time between Ahmedabad and Delhi from 22 hours to 19 hours. It now takes a small detour to stop at Gandhinagar in Gujarat. In case you were wondering, this was before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. But the change to Yoga Express did occur during his tenure.

ADI Mail

Finally there is the fastest (?) narrow gauge train which used to run between Gondia and Jabalpur which had its number 1/2 though the SER had the 1/2 Calcutta Mail on the broad gauge as well. It was sometimes listed as the Satpura Express. Today conversion has taken away the first quarter of the route and it runs between Balaghat and Jabalpur. This is likely to be converted to broad gauge by 2016, although the 10001/10002 Express still runs as of date.

Satpura

Thus ends our sample study of the trains numbered 1 and 2 in 1976 and how they were faring in 2014. Sometime later I plan to go back further to compare the 1/2 of the 1930s with their counterparts of today. This would add a few more such as the Darjeeling Mail, once the pride of the Eastern Bengal Railway.

The Kalka-Shimla Railway-a brief account

The Kalka-Shimla mountain railway is one of the best-known railway lines in India and has featured in a number of literary works and at least one BBC documentary in recent years. This is intended to summarize the main points about the line as it is today. The route was opened as a whole (95.68 Km) on 9 Nov 1903. A further 0.77 Km to the “Old bullock train station” was opened on 27 Jun 1909. Possibly the present line (length 95.57 as per current railway database) includes a small portion of the extension. Here we have a list of stations (in both directions). This information is taken from the site http://rbs.indianrail.gov.in/ShortPath/ShortPath.jsp which is useful for the dedicated railfan. I have added the altitude data from passenger timetables. The distances shown below are actual distances, and I am not getting into the complexities of chargeable distance here.

KS Stations1 KS Stations2

The main technical point is that the ruling gradient is 1 in 33 uncompensated. Those who are really fond of number crunching can find the gradients between intermediate stations. Here are the summary of trains running in both directions in May 2015.

KS1 KS2

As you can see, trains are listed as having AC chair car, First Class and Second Class seating. The railcars have only first class. The Shivalik Express and the Himalayan Queen have non-AC seats which are somewhat better than the second class seats, but are charged using the fare tables for AC chair car. The three trains other than the railcar and Shivalik Express have unreserved second class seats, though reserved seats are available only on one train as you can see above.

It is common for the average person or media source to refer to the trains on this line as a toy train. This appears to be unjustified as the trains are as long and as heavy as their narrow gauge counterparts on the plains. And the volume of passenger traffic (at least 5 pairs of daily trains) would be more than that on many broad gauge and metre gauge branch lines.

Additional railcars and trains may run at short notice during the summer. These are generally not given in the printed timetables. However, most knowledgeable travellers have now shifted to the online timetables. The most user-friendly is probably http://erail.in/  from where the above tables are taken. One can also use this website to get timetables for individual trains, such as this one for the downward Himalayan Queen:

KS3

As you can see, this train stops at about half the stations. It seems to have a rake of 5 reserved coaches and two brake cum unreserved coaches. Barog appears to be a mandatory stop for all trains for catering purposes. In fact there is not much of a local population and this station seems to exist only for catering purposes. The station is named after a British construction engineer named Barog (though this does not sound like a typical British surname).

This train connects with a BG express train to New Delhi in both directions. That is also called the Himalayan Queen, though it starts from Kalka with a number of coaches which are removed at Panipat and proceed to Bhiwani as the Ekta Express. There are also two Shatabdi Expresses to New Delhi and the long-standing Kalka Mail to Old Delhi and Howrah, which is probably one of the oldest long-distance trains on IR. There is also a link train which connects Kalka to the Paschim Express to and from Mumbai.

There are many videos about this line available on Youtube; as a sample here are some taken by my family in 2010:

Shivalik Express: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO0NifZGk9w

And from Shimla to Kalka by the Himalayan Queen, plus a bit of Chandigarh:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMr-rg1WUAs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I02rQUo_ggY