Braking trains on steep gradients

Normally, diesel and electric locomotives of today have methods of braking while going downhill.

In the days of steam, other methods were used. In the Indian subcontinent have the heavily trafficked ghat sections to the south-east and north-east of Mumbai. These were electrified in the mid-1920s.

Here is a picture of a downhill goods train on one of these routes before electrification:

Here it is mentioned that there are three “special weighted brake vans” after the two locos to comply with regulations. Perhaps the idea was to have higher adhesion on the tracks to prevent them from moving too quickly on the downgrade.

This line had a maximum gradient of 1 in 37. This picture seems to be taken from a catch siding.

Elsewhere in undivided India, there was a BG line with even steeper gradients of 1 in 25, on the line leading up the Bolan Pass to Quetta and beyond. Here, the regulations specified having “skeleton” brake vans of low tare weight and no cargo which were added to downwards goods trains to provide extra braking power but with less weight than regular brake vans.

Here is an example of these wagons, taken from a video from Pakistan shot in 1982:

This was supposed to be at a place between Quetta and Bostan. The gradients are not so severe here, but these must have been destined for a goods train going down the Bolan.

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:



Book on Industrial Locomotives of South Asia

The more determined railway fans from South Asia would appreciate this weighty book by Simon Darvill (2013):

It gives most details of industrial locomotives which ran in the countries between Afghanistan and Myanmar. A special feature is the lengthy section on the British Army’s military railways in what is now India and Pakistan, including the large amount of rolling stock and other material sent to other theaters of WW1 and WW2.

An interesting point (which one had not come across earlier) is that there was a serious plan to lay a 2’0″ Decauville track across the Khyber Pass from the then railhead at Jamrud, crossing the border and extending into Dakka Fort in Afghanistan during the 3rd Afghan War in 1919. This was some years before the “real” broad gauge line was built to Landi Kotal and Landi Khana.

However, there is no direct mention of this little line in accounts of the war. So there is some doubt if it was actually built. It would have probably been a little over 50 km long. Mr Darvill has found evidence that some equipment had been dispatched to the region. Details are on p.493.

While the stress is on steam, there are plenty of diesel locomotives listed as well. Profusely illustrated with b/w photographs.

This book may be available from amazon com and amazon in. Otherwise it is available from specialized bookshops in the UK. Sellers can be located by using Google for the book’s title or ISBN no 9781901 556827

International shipping charges will be high as the packed weight is over 1.5 Kg.

Footnote: Dakka is too obscure to be found on Google Maps, but you can take its location at 34.2222 N, 71.0347 E. It is on the road from Torkham to Jalalabad.




The longest railway tunnels in India-June 2018

The list of long railway tunnels in India have undergone frequent changes in recent years. Fortunately the Wikipedia article seems to have been kept up to date:

In undivided India the 3.92 km long Khojak tunnel in Baluchistan had been opened in 1892; for more details see :

This was in fact the longest rail tunnel in South Asia until the Konkan Railway opened in the late 1990s. As you can see from the above list, the majority of the long tunnels are on the Konkan route. The longest is the Karbude tunnel at 6.5 km.

Some other longer tunnels opened in recent years the Sangar tunnel (2.4 km) on the Jammu-Udhampur section and the slightly longer Khowai tunnel on the Karimganj-Agartala section which was recently converted from MG to BG. Other examples in the North-East included some old and new ones on the Lumding-Badarpur section, and some yet to come up in Manipur. One tunnel of 1.9 km length on the existing Lumding-Badarpur metre gauge alignment has been abandoned, although a longer one on 3.2 km has come up on the new BG alignment.

There are some older and shorter tunnels on the trunk lines, notably at Monkey Hill, Parsik, Saranda and Gurpa.

However, the longest tunnel on IR is the 11.2 km long Pir Panjal tunnel between Banihal and Qazigund which provides a link between Jammu and Srinagar. More details can be seen here:

Opened in 2013, it will be part of the main route into the Kashmir valley once the problem-ridden section between Katra and Banihal is completed in the next few years. At the moment it serves a number of DMU passenger trains between Banihal and Baramulla (though some run only upto Budgam just north of Srinagar). These trains seem to be popular with the local people at the Banihal end as they save a lot of time and distance compared to the road route between Banihal and Qazigund. And the rail route is far less likely to be disrupted by snow than the road route.

It is likely to be the longest rail tunnel in India for a long time to come. There is expected to be a 8-km long tunnel on the uncompleted Katra-Banihal section which would take over the second spot from the Karbude tunnel. It will still exceed the two long road tunnels under construction at the Rohtang Pass and Patnitop, although the latter would also result in a considerable saving in distance on the Udhampur-Banihal road route.

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.

Travels in Chennai-ancient signboards

Our first stop is at Basin Bridge Jn (BBQ), where we have examples of ancient and modern signboards:

The food-minded may wish to hold a BBQ here, though you may have to first find a military hotel nearby.

Nearby there is Washermanpet, though the sign painters have some doubts about the name:

The official name is Washermanpet in the timetables. Also note the mis-spelling of the Hindi name. No picture of any new signboard seems to be available on the net.

Some years ago I have seen signs with Chromepet and Cromepet co-existing. Another well-known case is Hafizpet/Hafizpeta in the Hyderabad area.

An example of a run-down signboard in a totally run-down station:


Again, no picture of a new signboard is seen on the net. Tragic, as this station has the oldest surviving station building in India.  It was the first terminus in Madras where trains started running to Arcot (now Walajah Road) in 1856. The old terminuses in Mumbai and Kolkata had opened before this but the station buildings do not exist now. However, it now boasts a new electric loco shed.

Another station which is particularly obscure, as it does not seem to be mentioned in timetables even though it has a booking office which issues tickets. No picture of any new signboard can be located.

Pattabiram military siding


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.


Hyderabad and Gujrat are not only in India

Have a look at these pictures and decide whether they are in India or somewhere else:

Note the Sindhi signboard in the right picture, which should help you to locate it. The first one is in Pakistan’s Punjab.

The “other” Hyderabad can be reached from India by the Thar Express, which you board at Zero Point after leaving India from Munabao.

Up to Partition, one had to refer to Hyderabad (Sind) and Hyderabad (Deccan) as both were important cities in undivided India.

Also this one:


While the river of this name flows through a part of India, this town is in Pakistan’s Punjab. One Indian Prime Minister (not Manmohan Singh) was born nearby.

The railways of Arunachal Pradesh

Updated with additional information in May 2018.

First, a sidetrack:


But is this in Arunachal Pradesh? The top script is in Bengali.

It is indeed adjacent to Silchar, in a part of Assam where Bengali and not Assamese is the official language. This picture was taken in metre gauge time. The large number of concrete sleepers strewn around indicates that broad gauge is on its way, and it has already been converted. This is the first station to the west of Silchar, on a BG line which now sees trains from Kolkata and Delhi. It is also the junction for the branch to Jiribam, presently one of the two stations in Manipur:


A limited passenger service served this station in metre gauge days, and broad gauge services are expected to start soon.

The line mentioned here is from Harmuti in Assam (on the Rangiya-Lakhimpur section) to Naharlagun (near the capital Itanagar) with an intermediate station at Gumto (which is also in AP). You can trace the route here (by expanding the map if needed). Note that the line to Naharlagun makes a U-turn from the main line at Harmuti.,93.8239808,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3746acd30fe01975:0x81330bfea204e39b!8m2!3d27.1191784!4d93.860541

The three stations:

And a quick look at the trains which serve Naharlagun today:

It includes a daily express from Guwahati and a (sort of) Rajdhani from New Delhi, which does not seem to have catering facilities. Also the average Indian citizen will not be allowed into the state without an inner-line permit or whatever it is called nowadays. More about this at the end.

Here is the timetable of the train from Guwahati to Naharlagun:

But what is forgotten is that there was a metre-gauge connection to Bhalukpong in the western corner of AP which was opened in the 1980s. In 1994 the timetable listed one pair of passenger trains between Rangapara North and Bhalukpong. The junction was at Balipara. They seem to have stopped running around 2000. More recently the line was converted to broad gauge.

The wayside stations are all in Assam except Bhalukpong station which appears to lie just inside the Arunachal border. Most of Bhalukpong town is in AP. You can see the map here and trace the path from Tezpur:,92.6426437,15z/data=!4m12!1m6!3m5!1s0x3744a509499d68a3:0xd49629361597570f!2sBhalukpong+Railway+Station!8m2!3d27.002155!4d92.6448324!3m4!1s0x3744a509499d68a3:0xd49629361597570f!8m2!3d27.002155!4d92.6448324

Also see the timetable of the present pair of trains, which run from Dekargaon which is now the station for Tezpur. The original station at Tezpur may have been abandoned as there was not enough space for a BG terminus there.

Passenger services on this line must have started in the last couple of years, but without the publicity that accompanied the line to Naharlagun which served the state capital. This line connects a town which may not be that important in AP.

These are some of the stations on this route:


Rangapara NorthBalipara

And finally Bhalukpong in metre gauge days and the present. Note that the sign has English and Hindi, but not Assamese. This appears to mean that it is located in Arunachal and not Assam.

Bhalukpong old

Bhalukpong new

So you have now seen the full extent of the railway system in Arunachal Pradesh. Perhaps one day the rails will reach the borders of Tibet and Myanmar.

Footnote 1: Anyone from the rest of India wishing to enter Arunachal Pradesh needs a permit. This is apparently available online as well as from various offices of the AP government in Delhi, Kolkata and several cities in the Northeast.

It is not clear where the checking of the permit is done. Logically it should be at Harmuti (which is somewhat larger than Gumto, the first station in AP).

Footnote 2: see this map extract:,94.8153323,14z

It can be seen that the Rangiya-Murkong Selek railway line briefly enters AP between the small stations of Dimow and Dipa. This stretch may be around 500 metres long, and presumably the AP authorities do not bother about “outsiders” passing through their state this way.

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


Nagbhir Nagpur

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


Nagpur Nagbhir TT


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:,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.”



Spotlight on the Arakkonam airfield

Arakkonam (formerly Arkonam) is well known to railway followers because it is an important junction as well as electric loco shed, but has recently come into prominence because the inundation of Chennai airport caused some commercial flights to be operated from there. To be precise, this is the NAS (Naval Air Station) at Arakkonam which the Navy calls INS Rajali.

Most basic information can be seen here:

Although it started off as an IAF base in the 1940s, it was abandoned soon after WW2 and was reactivated for the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy during the late 1980s. The TU-142s and now the Poseidon P-8s have made good use of the 4.1 km runway which has been claimed to be the longest military runway in Asia.

Here you can see the locations of Chennai international airport (MAA), IAF Tambaram and INS Rajali marked with the small gold stars.

Chennai area

One can see that INS Rajali is about 50 km west of MAA, while IAF Tambaram is only 10 km away. At least there is no chance of a confused airline pilot landing his 747 at INS Rajali by mistake, though this has happened once at Tambaram in recent years.

Here is a closer view of INS Rajali:

INS Rajali

Though it is not very clearly shown, the railway line from Chengalpattu runs along the highway right by the boundary wall of the base. The Railways have been planning to electrify this section for a long time but the Navy have objected to the presence of the traction equipment being an obstacle to the flight path. Thus an alternative line is being built further from the airfield, but this seems to have dragged on for several years.

The diverted rail line was completed in mid-2019. EMU trains could now run all the way from Chengalpattu to Arakkonam. It was proposed to run circular EMU services on the Chennai-Chengalpattu-Arakkonam-Chennai in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

This new line is not shown in this map.

This is not the first time that military airfields have been used a a backup. Sulur for Coimbatore and Avantipur for Srinagar are other examples. The inaugural flight of Jet Airways to Coimbatore did land at Sulur by mistake. Apart from the Saudia 747 which wrongly landed at Tambaram, there have been several incidents including a mid-air collision and another which totalled a JAL DC-8 which were caused by the proximity of BOM to Juhu. More about these later.

With all these movements of heavy aircraft, it is fortunate that this airfield has not seen a major aviation accident yet. However, India’s experimental AWACS on an Avro frame did crash a few km away in 1999, apparently putting an end to DRDO’s efforts in that direction.

The rail tunnel in Baluchistan which appeared on a currency note

The Khojak tunnel on the way from Quetta to Chaman on the Afghan border was one of the earlier marvels of railway engineering in British India. Opened in 1892, it was 12,870 feet long (2.44 miles/3.92 km) and was the longest rail tunnel in South Asia until the Konkan Railway came along over a century later.

The location of most lines in Baluchistan can be seen here: (Kandahar is a little beyond the border at Chaman).


The story of the alternative routes to Quetta is a long and complicated one and will have to wait till another day. Suffice to say that that the Bolan route involved gradients of 1:25 for several miles which was far more severe than any BG or MG main line anywhere else in undivided India. And double tracks were also used because of the slow speeds although there was little passenger traffic north of Quetta.

You may note a station called Hindubagh on the NG line to Fort Sandeman. As you may guess, it became Muslimbagh while the terminus became Zhob before the line closed around 1990.

You can also see the long lonely line to Zahidan in Iran starting off from Spezand. With luck, it has been running passenger trains twice a month for the last few years.

The southern end of the Khojak tunnel started near Shelabagh station. Note the double line though the tunnel.


And this scene appeared on earlier Pakistani currency notes:

Pak note Khojak

(This note was in circulation from 1976 to 2005.)

A longer article about this tunnel can be seen here:

This site (which became inactive in 2011) contains a number of other articles about Pakistan’s railways by Owais Mughal.

Also see this video of Shelabagh station and the tunnel from 2021: