Station signs then and now

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

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)

Lahore Jn, probably around 1940:


Lahore Jn today:

Lahore today





Station signs in undivided India

Here are some pictures of stations and signs as they were in the 1940s or earlier. It is interesting to see the languages used in some of  the signs, as these places are now in Pakistan

First, Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film shot by a British soldier):

Karachi Cantt-1

Lahore, probably 1940s:


Landi Khana. This is truly a rare picture, as it could have been taken only between 1926 and 1932. Note the Gurumukhi script.


Landi Kotal, probably 1930s:

Landi Kotal Railway Station during British Raj

Landi Kotal another old

Shelabagh, close to Chaman on the border with Afghanistan and not too far from Kandahar. Note the southern end of the Khojak tunnel:

Shelabagh (old)

And finally Tanduri, on the now-closed Sibi-Khost section. It appeared in the 1891 timetable and never again. Perhaps the extreme heat gave it its name and hastened its closure:


(This picture seems to have been taken in 2009). The sign does look to be a century old.

Finally, this is what you would see while entering British India from Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass border checkpoint in the 1930s:

Afghan border

Afghan border (4)

It is easy to guess that the milestone refers to Peshawar, Jamrud and Landi Kotal. The station of Landi Khana was still closer to the border. It appears that an embankment and maybe rails were laid from there to the border, but trains never ran on them.

And when you tried to cross into Afghanistan at other points on the border, you would see this:

Afghan border(3)

A close look at Pakistan’s railways and their weak points

As armchair warriors are now having a field day, it is time to take a good look at Pakistan’s railway system and how its major routes could be fairly easily disrupted in the event of a major war.

We first take a look at this system map of the late 1960s, from Berridge’s “Couplings to the Khyber” published in 1969.

PWR in 1969

Metre gauge lines are not shown separately. At that time they existed in a corner of Sind, from Mirpur Khas to Khokhropar, the Jamrao-Pithoro loop and Mirpur Khas-Nawabshah.

This map shows a line under construction from Kot Adu through Dera Ghazi Khan and Kashmor which connected at Jacobabad to Karachi and Quetta sides. This was opened in the 1970s.

Now take a look at the bridge over the Sutlej between Lodhran and Bahawalpur. If something were to happen to that bridge, there is no way ANY train between northern Pakistan and southern Pakistan could run. Try, for example, to travel from Karachi to Lahore if that bridge near Bahawalpur was disabled. Also note the portion of the main line from Rohri to Khanpur which is relatively close to the Indian border and vulnerable to air and land-based attacks.

Now let us look at a more recent map. I am not sure exactly who created it, but it seems to be relatively accurate in showing today’s system when cross-checked with the online timetables on


Note how the system has shrunk. No metre gauge left, one line to the Indian border being converted and the rest abandoned. All those narrow gauge lines to exotic places like Thal and Fort Sandeman (Zhob) have been pulled up by the 90s. Many BG branch lines (particularly in Sind) have closed. The ambitious project on linking Gwadar does not seem to have made much progress. And the branch from Sibi to Khost has been immobilized by sabotage by Baloch militants a decade ago, and is probably not going to reopen.

The only significant addition is the line from Kot Adu to Jacobabad mentioned earlier, which works as an alternative link between the north and the south and further away from the border.

Thus, if that bridge near Bahawalpur was disrupted, you could still route trains by this branch. Let us consider a trip from Rawalpindi to Karachi. Under normal conditions it would run from Rawalpindi to Gujranwala, Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Rohri and Hyderabad on the way to Karachi.This would be mostly on double line.

Minus the Bahawalpur bridge, you would have a long journey over single track most of the way through Kundian, Kot Adu, DG Khan, Jacobabad, Rohri and Hyderabad on the way to Karachi. The line from Kot Adu to Jacobabad happens to pass through a somewhat lawless area where express trains generally do not keep to timetables. Then the line crosses the Indus near Kot Adu on the Taunsa Barrage (not unlike our Farakka barrage) which is somewhat further from the Indian border but should not be impossible to disrupt-particularly if the intention was to disrupt river control over a significant part of central Pakistan.

So let us say there is disruption to our old friend the Sutlej bridge near Bahawalpur and our new friend the Taunsa Barrage near Kot Adu. Let us see if ANY train can travel from Peshawar/Rawalpindi/Lahore to Quetta/Karachi.

The Indian railway system, particularly with its dense network of BG lines in north-western India, are not so easy to disrupt. There are some fairly well-known choke points, but it would take a considerable effort to completely block traffic to the numerous railheads near the border.

The coming of unigauge may not be welcomed by everyone, but it has removed significant vulnerabilities in rail transport between Northern and Southern India. In 1991, it could be shown that disruption of the Krishna bridges near Vijayawada and near Raichur would result in complete blockage of BG traffic from the North, West and East to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, most of Karnataka and a good part of undivided AP. At that time there was no Konkan Railway, no Hubli-Bangalore BG line and no Secunderabad-Dronachellam-Guntakal BG line. Now there is some redundancy.

Coming back to Pakistan, you may like to know more about the bridges in question. First there is the Empress Bridge on the Sutlej, between Adamwahan and Bahawalpur stations. (BTW President Zia ran into trouble when something happened to his C-130 after it took off from Bahawalpur). Here is the location of the bridge:,71.6509437,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x393b9991ae721695:0x45f2cf0c82819072!8m2!3d29.4466254!4d71.6531324

And here is a  TV report about the bridge, which dates back to the 19th century when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress. It was in fact opened in 1878 soon after she had been proclaimed Empress.

The Taunsa barrage with its rail tracks is located here:,+Taunsa+Barrage+Rd,+Pakistan/@30.3649011,70.8420215,10z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x39253fb026194f83:0x16d64fce6e8c18bd!8m2!3d30.5128977!4d70.8497033

We also have a video of a train passing over it:


Similarities with the Farakka Barrage and its railway line and road can be seen.

Needless to say, there are probably heavy anti-aircraft defences around these bridges-but they wouldn’t help against something as basic as a land-based Prithvi missile or one of the numerous longer-range missiles in our inventory.

And remember that India does not have a suitable anti-missile system at present, unless one counts some kind of “jugaad” like using Patriot-type anti-aircraft missiles which might just work against primitive ballistic missiles such as Scuds. But those days are gone. But there are plenty of innovative things which our armed forces have done, such as using AN-12s as bombers or anti-aircraft guns to hit targets on the ground (which seems to be a common method of execution in North Korea).

Rail Quiz no 3

Today we move to the railways of Pakistan.


This station serves a small city in Khyber-Pakhtunwa (formerly NWFP). Today the city may be famous for a leading cricketer who was born there:

Also see this article:

The station has not seen any train traffic since 2007. But once it held an unusual record for the railways of South Asia. What was this record?

If you can’t think of the answer right away, read the above article again and also check its location on Google Maps etc. (No, this has nothing to do with Abbottabad and its most famous resident).

Souroshankha Maji got it right-Mardan was, for many years, the northern-most junction in South Asia. This will be apparent from the map of the “Pakistan Western Railway” which probably dates from the mid-60s, when the railway network was virtually at full strength. The closure of lines started some years ago, starting with the minor branch lines in Sind and the NG lines close to the Afghan borders.

PWR in 1969

(From “Couplings to the Khyber”, PSA Berridge, 1969)

(Note: the metre gauge lines are not shown distinctly in this map, though the narrow gauge lines are. At that time the MG lines ran from Hyderabad (or maybe Mirpur Khas) to Khokhropar, the Jamrao-Pithoro loop and Mirpur Khas to Nawabshah.)

As you can see, Durgai was then the northernmost station in South Asia. It did exist prior to partition, so it was the northernmost station in British India as well. The Mardan-Charsadda branch was built in the 1950s, making Mardan the northern-most junction in South Asia.

Since around 2000 the Nowshera-Durgai and Mardan-Charsadda branches have been closed-even though Mardan is the second largest town in Khyber-Pakhtunwa, ahead of better-known places such as Abbottabad. A study of the current Pakistan timetable shows that the branch from Attock City Jn to Basal Jn is still open, thus making Attock City Jn (formerly Campbellpur Jn) the northern-most junction in South Asia. Next would be Taxila Cantt Jn (formerly Taxila Jn) which still has a branch to Havelian.

Nowshera (formerly a junction) would appear to be the northern-most station in Pakistan today, considering that the Peshawar-Landi Kotal line has been closed for several years.

In the mean time Sopore (followed by the larger Baramulla) have become the northern-most stations in South Asia. However, the Kashmir valley line is not yet linked to the rest of the Indian Railways network, whose northernmost point remains at Katra, with the slightly larger town of Udhampur a little further south.

Udhampur was the terminus for several years, but the  station has rather primitive facilities compared to Katra’s showpiece station.

And this is the southern end of the Kashmir valley railway, close to the 11 km long Pir Panjal tunnel.




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:

More unusual Indian steam locomotives

The history of steam locomotives of the Indian Railways is a vast subject which perhaps may not be of interest to most younger people interested in the railways as a whole. And some unusual locos of the past have been scrapped without leaving any specimen. Fortunately the history has been well documented by writers such as Hugh Hughes, though his books may now be out of print. Here I have referred to his “Indian Locomotives Part 1-Broad Gauge 1851-1940”.

Today we pick up a set of pictures from “Couplings to the Khyber” by P. S. A. Berridge which has some pictures of not-so-common steam locos which were used on the pre-partition NWR.

NWR Locos

  1. We are familiar with the Garratts used on the BNR (later SER) until about 1980, besides the MG Garratts on the ABR (later NFR). There was only one other example of a Garratt used on BG in India, which is pictured here. This is No 480 of GAS class built by Beyer Peacock (Manchester) in 1925.It had the arrangement 2-6-2 +2-6-2 It, like the Mallet in the lowest panel, was purchased as a trial for the Sibi-Quetta section with its fearsome 1:25 gradients. It was found that the regular HG/S  2-8-0 performed better than both of them. So no further Garratts or Mallets were tried on the NWR.
  2. The 2-6-6-2 Mallet shown here is No 460 of MAS class which was built by Baldwin (Philadelphia) in 1923. It may be the only Mallet which  ran anywhere on the Indian Railways. Both the Garrett and the Mallet did well on the less steeply graded section between Lala Musa and Rawalpindi and ran until the late 1930s.
  3. In the middle we see one of the N1 class 2-10-0 which started their working life on the GIPR’s ghat sections, 30 of them being built by North British (Glasgow) in 1920. They may be the only 10-coupled locos which worked on the Indian Railways. Once the ghat sections of the GIPR were electrified in the mid-1920s, these were moved to the NWR and did well on the moderately graded systems. An interesting point is that they were originally oil-fired. Due to wartime shortages of oil, they were converted to coal-firing in 1942. (On the other hand, practically all steam locos running in Pakistan were converted to oil-firing soon after partition as the supply of coal became limited).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Finally, here is one of the HG/S 2-8-0s which handled the Bolan Pass and ran whatever little traffic there was on the Khyber line up to the 1980s. This picture shows it in the desert between Jacobabad and Sibi:        HG-S              And here is another one on the Khyber line in 1968. Note how its appearance has changed from the British days.
  4.                  HG-S Khyber

The forgotten electric locomotives of Pakistan

The railways of Pakistan have been going through a decline in the last few years for a variety of reasons, mainly government apathy and the lack of funds for modernization. One result of this has been the abandoning of whatever little electrified track it had.

By 1966, the 290-km route between Lahore and Khanewal had been electrified on 25 KVAC. 29 locomotives of 3000 hp rating were acquired from what was then known as British Rail Traction (including the conglomerate AEI and English Electric). These were classified as BCU30E and were numbered 7001-29. Here is one which is currently lodged at the museum at Golra Sharif (north of Rawalpindi):

And one of the few which were still running in 1996:

In the initial years it was planned to extend electrification towards Rawalpindi and Peshawar but the presence of a few tunnels caused second thoughts. Another place where electrification would have been useful was the Bolan Pass route up to Quetta with its 1:25 gradient, the steepest main line in South Asia. Power shortages put an end to any further plans for electrification.

By the 2000s the traction lines on only one of the two  tracks were functioning. By 2009 the locos were showing their age and had been taken off passenger duties. The few which were functional were used on short goods trains. Here you can see one of these at Sahiwal (formerly Montgomery); one of the few videos of these locos available on the net.

By 2011, it was decided to stop electric services:

But even in 2013 the media felt that extending electrification would be a good idea even with the limited locos and infrastructure. The theft of overhead wire was cited as one reason for abandoning electrification. On the other hand India and numerous other countries are extending electrification, which is well known to the media there. As in India, there is alleged to be a diesel lobby plotting against electrification.

This TV report (in Urdu) is critical of the government’s decision, and also shows the railway worker’s reactions.

But it looks as if it will be a long time (if ever) when we can see electric locos running in Pakistan.

Reference: a good general description of most locos presently seen in Pakistan can be seen here: