Previous page: Kabul River railway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Chapter XI, Permanent Way Through the Khyber, Victor Bayley, Jarrolds (London), 1939 ↩
- 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 ↩
- Couplings to the Khyber, PSA Berridge, 1968 ↩
- Khyber Pass (Railway), Hansard, HC Deb 27 July 1925 vol 187 c25 ↩
- Khyber Railway Opened. Ceremony At Jamrud, The Times, 3 November 1925; p15; Issue 44109; col B ↩
- See for example Khyber Pass Railway, Owais Mughal, All Things Pakistan, 2006-09-26 ↩
- 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 ↩
- Khyber Steam Safari, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation ↩
- And on the left, the Tora Bora caves!, Daily Telegraph, 2002-04-05, quoted at The International Steam Pages ↩
- Khyber Steam Safari timetable at Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation website ↩
- Steam up the Khyber, The International Steam Pages ↩
- The best place to watch for updates on the situation is probably The International Steam Pages ↩