Update: The line to the mysterious station of Pattabiram Military Siding

Update: In June 2018 the Southern Railway floated the idea of ending the through EMU services between  Chennai Central/Chennai Beach  and the branch to Pattabiram Military Siding E depot. This was a consequence of the accident on May 5, 2016 when the Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram Mail collided with the side of an EMU which was crossing the main line to go to the Pattabiram branch. A contemporary report:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Loco-pilot-to-face-action-for-Pattabiram-accident/articleshow/52159697.cms

A more recent report:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2018/jun/19/ptms-emu-trains-may-terminate-at-pattabiram-1830178.html

Here it is mentions that EMUs will shuttle between Pattabiram on the main line to the terminus at E depot, which means that passengers will have to get off there to change trains.

In situations where crossing on busy multiple lines is involved, overbridges may be used where the line crossing has heavy traffic. An example is the bridge carrying the harbour line over the WR main line north of Bandra. A few more can be seen on main lines. Examples are in the vicinity of Barddhaman and Mughal Sarai. But in this case the traffic on the trains to E depot is not so heavy, so the commuters will have to face the inconvenience of changing trains.

We look into the geography of this peculiar branch which is among the more obscure corners of the Chennai suburban system.

First, a map of the region surrounding Pattabiram on the Chennai-Arakkonam section:

Pattabiram1

From Chennai to Arakkonam (right to left) you will pass Hindu College, Pattabiram and Nemilichery in succession. Note the turnoffs towards the north from Pattabiram. There are several EMU locals a day from Chennai Central and Chennai Beach to Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot, where the E supposedly stands for Engineering. There are turnoffs from both sides of Pattabiram station, although no scheduled passenger service uses the the one on the east.

As you would have read, one of these locals was moving from one track to another when the Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram Mail collided with its side, probably after over-running signals. Or there may have been malfunctioning signals. Fortunately there were no fatalities although eight were injured.

Those familiar with this route would know the separate platforms for the branch which are to the north of the main line. After turning north and crossing the West cabin, the line passes the station called PTMS and then continues to another station called Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot (PRES) where the EMUs terminate. That would be clear from this map, which shows the area slightly north of the first map.

Pattabiram2

The strange thing is that the station marked PTMS is a stop for these locals but does not seem to have ever appeared in the suburban timetables-even in the 1960s when the BG suburban timetables for Madras were included in the SR timetable. I have not seen it in any timetable since the 1960s.

Here you can see the trains which run to the E depot terminus:

http://erail.in/?T=MAS::PRES

and return: http://erail.in/?T=PRES::MAS

These trains run both from the Chennai Central suburban terminus and Chennai Beach.

You can check the timings of these trains and find no reference to PTMS. Here is an example:

http://erail.in/?R=43109-MAS-PRES#

Of course, in this era of Google Maps blanketing the country it is impossible for any station to hide its existence unless it is in a restricted area. But 2005 was a long time ago. In March of that year I spent a few days exploring the unknown corners of Chennai including almost all of the suburban rail network existing at that time. I visited the now-vanished branch to Anna Nagar, and later took one of the locals bound for PRES.

After crossing Pattabiram West cabin the local came to a halt. The station sign said Pattabiram Military Siding, which I took to be the terminus. I found it odd that some passengers continued to sit in the coach. The train then zipped off towards the north to its ultimate destination.

It was then that I realized that this was a “ghost” station with no mention in timetables.

Fortunately a picture of the sign could be found on the net:

Pattabiram military siding

Not sure when this picture was taken, but clearly this was painted a long time ago compared to other signs in the Chennai area.

Here is a newer sign at the same station:

PTMS new sign

And here is a recent picture of the station at E Depot. Note the full name on the signboard:

Pattabiram E Depot

 

Some years later, when the RBS charts became available on the net, I found the Railways finally acknowledging the existence of the “orphan” station:

Pattabiram4

and if you approach from the west:

Pattabiram5

It is strange that this table does not acknowledge that the trains from the east do stop at Pattabiram station (though at a platform slightly away from the main station).

If you still doubt the existence of this station, it does have a ticket counter which issues tickets to all stations in the Chennai region, as you can see from this ticket I purchased on 24 March 2005:

PTMS ticket

It’s a long, long way to Gummidipundi (76 km at Rs 16 at that time), but only a railfan interested in studying the Chennai network in detail would make this journey.

 

Life on the border-Munabao (2)

Hope you have read the first part:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/life-on-the-border-munabao/

A bit of ancient history first, courtesy of a nice little book “Jodhpur Railway” by R.R. Bhandari, published by Northern Railway in 1982. Copies might still be available at the bookshop at the NRM in Delhi.

The start of this desert route came about by public demand in Sind province (which, unlike Jodhpur state, was ruled by the British). Thus a BG line was built from Hyderabad (Sind) to Shadipalli, a little east of Jamrao and Mirpur Khas. It was opened in 1892 and did not run at a profit.

Ultimately the British did some arm-twisting and persuaded the ruler of Jodhpur to extend the MG line from the then railhead at Balotra to Shadipalli. The line from Shadipalli to Hyderabad was then converted to MG, and the through MG connection was opened in 1901. The last section was transferred to the Jodhpur Railway. It was generally considered to be one of the best run mid-sized railways in India, and it was not surprising that they could run it at a profit.

An interesting sidelight from this book relates to the station now known as Marwar Jn. Marwar is the name of a region but not a town. This station came into being when the first connection from Pali (then an important town in Jodhpur state) was to be connected to the Ahmedabad-Delhi line. As it often happens, the optimum connection happened to be at a place with little local population. But it was chosen as the water supply there was more abundant than the other possible points. This station went through various names such as Kharchi, Jaswantganj, Jodhpur (which was OK until the line to the real Jodhpur was opened), Bitoora, Marwar Railway Jn and finally Marwar Jn. It is still essentially a railway town with few other activities.

By the 2000s, the MG system in Pakistan was on its last legs. Hyderabad to Mirpur Khas had been converted back to BG in the mid-1960s and the latter town had two expresses from Karachi. The pathetic state of the MG network can be seen from these extracts from a PR timetable of 2001:

PR-47

The BG connection up to Hyderabad is shown above.

PR-48

Here you can see the pair of trains which ran once a week between Mirpur Khas and Khokhrophar. They ran with ancient steam locos, as did the other MG lines.

PR-49

The line from Mirpur Khas to Nawabshah appeared to have only two trains a month, and only two intermediate stations functioning on the 129-km route.

PR-50

And this loop line from Mirpur Khas to Pithoro had one train a week, which ran only in the anti-clockwise direction and returned via the “main line” as you can see from page 48 above.

There were a few BG routes such as Quetta – Zahidan which had a similar pattern of service.

A recent picture of Hyderabad Sind station, which is a junction unlike its larger Indian counterpart:

Hyderabad Sind

By 2006 the Indian BG conversion had reached up to Munabao and was then extended up to the border. Similarly Pakistan converted the line up to the border. As Khokhropar was a few km away from the border, they decided to build a new station “Zero Point” just inside the border. There is a general understanding between the two countries that no new structures will be erected within a few hundred metres of the border, but India seems to have let this pass.

The geography of the border stations can be seen here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@25.7274878,70.2551959,14z

Also Gadra Road station, which saw some action in 1965:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Gadra+Road,+Rajasthan+344501/@25.7417899,70.607637,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3945e4a2e3cae09f:0xa906cf73f5ba9fd!8m2!3d25.742726!4d70.6424989

The service began in 2006 with the Indian train running from Jodhpur to Munabao, the trans-border train running between Munabao and Zero Point, and the Pakistani train running from there to Karachi Cantt with commercial halts at Mirpur Khas and Hyderabad. The Indian train apparently runs non-stop. After a couple of years the terminus was shifted from Jodhpur to the suburb of Bhagat-ki-Kothi (BGKT) Apparently it was easier to handle security from the smaller station, which is more known for its diesel locomotive shed.

Bhagat ki Kothi

There are full immigration and customs checks at both border stations. The trans-border train is the true Thar Express, while the train from BGKT is correctly called the Thar Link Express. The trans-border train is supposed to be run by India and Pakistan alternately for 6 months. When it is the Indian train, everyone gets on to the same train they came by once the border formalities are over. It takes them to Zero Point, where everyone gets down and the passengers from Pakistan board for their trip across the border. Similarly, the Pakistani train from Karachi takes their passengers across their border up to Munabao and returns to Zero Point. Everyone gets down for the formalities before they board again for Karachi.

The formalities may take several hours on each side and frequent seizures of smuggled goods and counterfeit currency are made. Expired visas and other irregularities are also commonly found, although visas are supposed to be checked before boarding at BGKT.

These are the timings of the Thar Link Express:TharLink

And on the Pakistani side:

Thar Pak TT

Note that this website can be seen only in some countries, so you may have to make some adjustments.

The timetables are more of a work of fiction as delays for checking often take longer than expected.

When the new service started, India already had a daily passenger train between Barmer and Munabao. But on the Pakistani side there was only the 405/406 running between Mirpur Khas and Zero Point with no intermediate stops. Khokhropar, the only place of some importance in that remote area, found itself totally cut off as roads were in a poor condition. More recently a daily passenger train has been introduced on this route:

Pak Pass TT

The current timetable does not show any services on the MG lines on the Pithoro loop or the Nawabshah branch, so we presume they are now closed. Thus Pakistan is now an unigauge country like Sri Lanka, but unlike India and Bangladesh where the metre gauge and narrow gauge will be around for a long time to come.

Pictures of Munabao station:

Presumably the sign on the left is a new one set up when the trans-border services started.

Pictures of Zero Point:

This station was newly constructed when the trans-border route was opened in 2006. Note the Sindhi inscription.

The old border station of Khokhrophar:

Khokrophar

Here are a few videos of this train:

Arrival from Pakistan at Munabao:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvOiF6iGO0U

Leaving Zero Point for India:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dRtTjsqxI4

And passing through Chanesar, a suburb of Karachi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SimkBa8ScQY 

Note the curious spelling of Mona Bahu.

It needs to be mentioned that it is a long and uncomfortable journey and not particularly worthwhile for Indian railfans. This is in contrast to the Samjhauta route where Lahore and Amritsar are both within an hour of the border.

They could, of course, travel from Barmer to Munabao by the local train. With luck, you might see some action between 12 noon and 2 pm on Saturday though the cross-border train is more likely to arrive late. Even if one could find a place to stay there, there is supposed to be a curfew between 7 pm and 6 am.