Beyond the Mashriq Maghreb Express

UPDATE: In 2021 I received a message from a person in India who admitted to placing the article on this topic in Wikipedia as a sort of joke. This confirms my suspicion that there was something wrong with this entry as no other reliable reference could be found.

One of the persistent “urban legends” in South Asian railway history relates to train services between the two parts of Pakistan. This is what you will see in a Google search:

“Between 1950 and 1955, there used to be a train named the Mashriq–Maghreb Express which ran from the westernmost extremity of Pakistan (Koh-i-Taftan in Balochistan) to the easternmost rail extremity at Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh, stretching at total of 2000 km over the Indian Territory.”

This translates to “East-West Express”.

This even made it to Wikipedia. The problem is that there is no reference to such a train in any official documents of India and Pakistan. Not even in the Bradshaw of 1951.

There are several odd things here. Why start from Koh-i-Taftan, a small place near the Pakistan-Iran frontier which never had more than two trains a week? More importantly, how would it reach Chittagong directly when it was (and still is) metre gauge? Nothing is said about the ferry crossings in East Pakistan which were in use until the early 2000s.

Perhaps it was something which the government of Pakistan wanted to introduce, but was never implemented. Whatever reference you will see on the net essentially repeats the paragraph given above-but only in anonymous blogs or general articles about Pakistan.

It is just possible that some travel agency in West Pakistan had offered packages of combined railway tickets between West and East, including the intervening routes in India. And the advertising may have been fancy enough to give the impression that they could buy a single ticket for these journeys.

Now the references in Wikipedia have also gone. Someone must have pointed out the lack of supporting references.

However, there were a number of relatively short-distance trains connecting India and West Pakistan as well as India and East Pakistan running in the early 1960s before the 1965 war put an end to them. They include trains connecting

Amritsar and Lahore

Munabao and Hyderabad (Sind)

Sealdah and Khulna, Goalundo Ghat and Parbatipur

Various short trips across the border connecting places in Bengal and Assam with East Pakistan, such as one between Kulaura and Karimganj. These are all mentioned in Indian timetables of that period.

For the moment, it is interesting to look at the details of meetings between ministers and officials of the two countries in 1955 about the planned improvements of the train services. This largely consists of details of how goods trains would connect the Calcutta area with north Bengal via East Pakistan:

Note that the entire railway system of East Pakistan was then called the Eastern Bengal Railway. Similarly the entire system of West Pakistan was called the North Western Railway.

The document also lists out how this was to be implemented including transhipment between BG and MG at Santahar.

At that time the line from Haldibari to Siliguri was metre gauge, so BG trains coming from Calcutta side through Pakistan would be transhipped to MG wagons there.

Another document which may be of interest is a IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) report on transport in both parts of Pakistan, covering river, road and rail transport. Apart from a review of the systems at that time, it is interesting as it describes several projects which were implemented in later years:

This document may be of interest to those studying the history of transport in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Special thanks to Ash Nallawalla, Kamal Narang, Jishnu Mukerji, Harsh Vardhan and others.

Hidden stories of the Khyber Railway-4

Concluding the series with an attempt to answer the question “Where did the Khyber Railway end?”

Anyone familiar with this line would know that

The line up to Landi Kotal was opened on 3 Nov 1925,

and was extended up to Landi Khana on 3 Apr 1926

and the section from Landi Kotal to Landi Khana was closed on 15 Feb 1932.

There is no mention in the Annual Reports of IR of that period (up to 1931) about any further line being opened beyond Landi Khana

Now see this map (presumably prepared by Bayley and Hearn) which is part of the papers they read at the Institution of Engineers.

Beyond Landi Kotal there is the reversing station of Tora Tigga, and finally the “terminus” at Landi Khana. This too is a reversing station from where a line appears to proceed to a point on the Afghan border.

However, there does not seem to be any explicit mention of the tracks being laid beyond Landi Khana. In their paper it is mentioned that Landi Khana is a reversing station from where there is a short distance to the border.

Richard Wallace, who has studied this line in detail, says that tunnels were built beyond Landi Khana but rails were not laid.

Probably this brief writeup by Andrew Grantham sums it up:

In particular: “An alignment was cleared for a extension of the line from Landi Khana to the Afghan border post, although it is uncertain whether any tracks were ever laid on this final section of the route.”

One interesting thing I found was in this map which was part of the 1930 NWR timetable:

NWR-1930 map

This shows “Torra Tigga Nala” beyond Landi Khana. Perhaps this is where the tracks were supposed to end. I have not come across this name anywhere else. It may well be an error connected with Tora Tigga, or the place where the rails were expected to end.

This extract from the 1930 NWR timetable shows the trains running to Landi Khana.

Landi Khana 1
Landi Khana 2

It is a little hard to read the footnotes. But they mention that the trains ran 7 days a week (both ways) up to Landi Kotal and continued beyond to Landi Khana on 2 days. In the last days of the Khyber Railway there was one pair of trains a week to Landi Kotal.

Finally-it may not be too difficult to locate the mythical tracks beyond Landi Khana. See this video from 2017 where the visitors walk down to the station from the highway:

Even the water column still works!

Closing with old pictures of the station, which must be from before 1932:

Landi Khana camp
Landi Khana camp-2
Landi Khana station

The Jodhpur Railway from the Bradshaw of June 1944

The Jodhpur Railway of those days was one of the small but well-run railway systems in the first half of the 20th century. The network (as shown in the June 1944 Indian Bradshaw) is:


These are also in the IRFCA gallery’s Heritage section, though wrongly labelled as being from the 1943 Bradshaw.

It can be seen that after 1947 a part of this system (west of Munabao) became part of Pakistan’s railway system. Initially it was merged with the North Western Railway, then Pakistan Western Railway and finally Pakistan Railway.

Note the branches ending at Chilo and Sujangarh. These connected to the Bikaner State Railway.

The part remaining in India essentially became the Jodhpur Division of the Northern Railway and later the North Western Railway (which has nothing to do with the previous NWR).

The NWR and partition

This includes part of a book which was not published. It may be of interest to some who are interested in the NWR at the time of Partition and later.

It should be noted that (essentially) the present Delhi, Ambala and Firozpur divisions fell in India and the rest of the NWR fell in Pakistan.

This is the official map from the “History of Railways” in 1937.

NWR in 1937 001

I don’t think there was any significant change from this point to 1947, apart from realignment which shifted the junction point at Ruk to nearby Habib Kot.

Apart from this, part of the metre gauge Jodhpur Railway (one time Jodhpur State Railway) beyond Munabao to Hyderabad (Sind) fell in Pakistan.

A similar official map from 1937:

Jodhpur Railway 1937 001

The line from Mirpur Khas to Nawabshah via Khadro was completed later (in 1939).

Note the “frontier” stations at Phulad, Chilo, Sujangarh and Kuchaman Road.

Raniwara and Phalodi were terminuses then.

Initially the NWR name continued to be used in Pakistan until 1961 when it became PWR and later PR. The metre gauge lines of the ex JoR were included in the NWR.

In India, the ex-NWR portions initially were a separate system called the East Punjab Railway, which soon became part of the Northern Railway. The EPR had joined the old EIR at Saharanpur and Ghaziabad.

However, the Saharanpur-Shahdara NG line was part of neither but continued to be owned by Martin & Co (later Martin Burn) until it closed in 1970.

The remaining part of the Jodhpur State Railway in India soon became the Jodhpur division of NR, and still later in the new NWR (HQ Jaipur) which has no connection whatsoever with the old NWR.

(Partition in the East was also quite complicated, so we leave that for another day).

Here is the extract of the unpublished book by Ken Staynor who is no more:

Breakup of the North Western Railway and the Anglo-Indian community