Khyber Pass railway

Previous page: Kabul River railway

It has made India impregnable from land attack for one quarter of the cost of a single battleship12

SGS 2386 Shahgai Water stop 10.3.78

Pakistan Railways SGS locomotive 2386 at Shahgai water stop 10 March 1978 (George Woods)

The Third Afghan War in 1919 highlighted to the British authorities the desirability of being able to rapidly concentrate military force at strategic locations on the Indian border in times of trouble. The Khyber Pass had a road suitable for motor transport, and an aerial ropeway was constructed using surplus parts from World War I, but something better was needed. As a result, the famous railway was built through the Khyber Pass.

Construction

Indian State Railways poster advertising the Khyber Pass

The 1 676 mm gauge line planned by Colonel Gordon R Hearn started at the North Western Railway terminus near the fort at Jamrud, and ran though the Pass towards the Afghan frontier.3

The line was built to the newest loading gauge standards for Indian broad gauge railways, and featured extensive sidings and signalling to ensure it would be able to play a major role in carrying troops and supplies to the Khyber Pass and Afghan border in the event of war.

The Afghan government objected to Britain’s plans to build the railway,4 the Afghans being concerned that the scheme was purely strategic, and was unlikely to ever become part of a commercial link to Afghanistan.

Khyber Station (India WW2, Bill Saunders's Photos)

The line as far as Landi Kotal was formally opened with a ceremony on 2 November 1925.5 A 2 km continuation to Landi Khana, with a downward ruling gradient of 1 in 25, was completed on 23 April 1926.

An alignment was cleaned 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.

The railway never crossed the border into Afghanistan, and following requests from the Afghan authorities the section of the line to Landi Khana closed on 15 December 1932.

The Khyber Pass railway is justifiably famous, and its history has been documented by others.6 The book Permanent Way Through the Khyber by engineer Victor Bayley is a fantastic read.

Pakistan Railways steam train in the Khyber Pass in 1978

Khyber Steam Safari

The train service was always fairly sparse, but continued to run until 1982 when it was deemed not to be commercially viable.

In the 1990s a tourist charter train service branded the “Khyber Steam Safari” was launched through a collaboration between Pakistan Railways and tourism company Sehrai Travels.78

Operations were suspended in 2001 and 2002 during the US-led war in Afghanistan. Steam-hauled services had restarted by April 2002,910 but (perhaps unsurprisingly) suffered from a lack of tourists.11

The future

Remains of the Khyber Rail Line, NWFP

The infrastructure was damaged by flooding in 2006, 2007 and most seriously in 2008, and by 2009 operations were again suspended because of damage to the track.12

The Khyber Pass railway was purely a strategic line, with little if any commercial traffic, so repairing the damage is unlikely to be economically justified unless it could be incorporated into a wider scheme to serve Afghanistan.

Updates

Updates on the Khyber Pass railway.
Khyber Pass Flickr group

Steam train in Khyber Pass

Charter train about to depart from Shahgai for Jamrud, with Pakistan Railways HGS 2-8-0 locos front and rear, 23 December 1993. Photo: MaltaGC (licence)

Next page: The Kabul to Darulaman railway

References

  1. Chapter XI, Permanent Way Through the Khyber, Victor Bayley, Jarrolds (London), 1939
  2. In December 1925 the capital cost of the Khyber Railway was estimated at about £1,897,000. Annual working expenses, including maintenance, were expected to be about £33,150. The battlecruiser HMS Hood completed in March 1920 cost £6,025,000
  3. Couplings to the Khyber, PSA Berridge, 1968
  4. Khyber Pass (Railway), Hansard, HC Deb 27 July 1925 vol 187 c25
  5. Khyber Railway Opened. Ceremony At Jamrud, The Times, 3 November 1925; p15; Issue 44109; col B
  6. See for example Khyber Pass Railway, Owais Mughal, All Things Pakistan, 2006-09-26
  7. The derailed safari train. One of the five celebrated trains of Asia calls for immediate attention. Syed Inayat Ali Shah, The News on Sunday, 2008-04-20
  8. Khyber Steam Safari, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation
  9. And on the left, the Tora Bora caves!, Daily Telegraph, 2002-04-05, quoted at The International Steam Pages
  10. Khyber Steam Safari timetable at Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation website
  11. Steam up the Khyber, The International Steam Pages
  12. The best place to watch for updates on the situation is probably The International Steam Pages

2 thoughts on “Khyber Pass railway

  1. d, sir please inform me the existing rail road-transport to Russia, /Ukraine- Uzbek via- Khyber pass. mountain /hilly road to Russia. even i am interested to visit Russia by rail / or / road from India to Russia. my mission will be world peace and finding n visiting new places like a adventurist tourist. thanks please mail me a details info /websites / road maps / and along with-the details of train tickets / visa cost etc. by multiple-country entry visa . b.banrjee. 07208717750.

  2. One can only hope, that one day, these journeys are more accessible to greater numbers of people, who’d like to experience them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *