150th Anniversary of Railways in Pakistan

Posted on May 13, 2011
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Railways, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Today, May 13, 2011, is the 150th anniversary of railways in Pakistan as the first track that became functional in areas which now comprise Pakistan was inaugurated on May 13, 1861 (this seems to be the season for 150th anniversaries!).

The photo above shows railway tunneling in Bolan Pass. The photo is credited to Agha Waseem.

The section that was inaugurated on this day 150 years ago was the 173 km long track between Karachi City and Kotri. At ATP we’ve already covered the inaugural event with a dedicated post (here) therefore I will not go in too much detail. I’ll rather delve into what Pakistan Railways could’ve been and what it could still be.

Following is an advertisement of Pakistan Railway which was published on the 1953-54 year book of PR by the Railway Division, Government of Pakistan.

I believe most of our readers know that Pakistan Railway is one department which has been in red for several years. Infrastucture at several places is literally 150 years old with a dire need of rehabilitation. Rolling stock has become a laughing stock with failing engines and aged coaches.

The photo below shows an all-steel French rake of 8-Down Tezgam on its maiden run at Lahore in 1953. Tezgam has a Karachi-Rawalpindi route.

What needs to happen in my opinion is the immediate rehabilitatation of track starting with Karachi-Peshawar and Sukkur-Quetta-Zahidan routes. Freight and cargo should be handled by railway instead of road transport because that is where the sustainable income for Railway can come from. I am sure it is easier said than done because over the years road and highway infrastructure in Pakistan has become pretty decent where as Railways in comparison has declined. Therefore why would a trader or a company move its freight business to railways unless Railways can better itself over road transport and provide a healthy competition. Since Railways is a Govt owned department therefore patronage from Government will be needed for its upgrade just like National Highway authority has successfully done for major highways in Pakistan.

Following is another historic photo showing an all steel coach from France getting unloaded at one of the new jetties of Karachi Port in 1952.

One more aspect that I want to talk about is the tremendous potential of tourism that Pakistan Railway has to offer. Several sections of Pakistan Railway especially those in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and Baluchistan are Engineering and architectural marvels that can bring tourism to Pakistan from far and away. Sounds like a far cry right now but with ample security and comfort for passengers it is indded a possibility. Up until few years ago Pakistan was also one of the last few destinations in the World with working steam engines. Tourists used to flock here from all over the world to take rides in last working steam trains. This tourism can be revived with some Government patronage – I would also go as far as to suggest something like Orient Express Pakistan on Zahidan-Quetta-Lahore-Peshawar route.

The photo above is a distant shot of a train between Sibi and Mach. The photo is credited to Agha Waseem.

On another related topic, couple of months ago there was news that the electrified rail section between Lahore and Khanewal is being torn down because there is not enough electricity and electric locomotives to run electric trains. This was a sad news that hit close to home. I know a cousin of mine who worked as an electrician on the construction of Lahore-Khanewal electrified section in the 1960s. So many people’s hardwork had gone in keeping this wonderful infrastructure built and kept. It feels sad to see it falling apart.

I want to request to our readers that whenever they take ride in Pakistani trains – take care of is rolling stock and infrastructure. No litter and no political graffity on trains. It is one heritage which is worth preserving and be proud of.

And another thing I am proud of is how over the years at ATP we have been able to build an encyclopedia of Pakistan Railways. Please see the list of our posts related to Pakistan Railways below and consult any of these for more information.

ATP’s Posts on Tramways and Railways in Pakistan:

1. Journeys to Remember: Quatta-Lahore by Rail in 1925.
2. Journeys to Remember: Karachi-Peshawar by Rail in 1950s
3. Ghora Tram: Historic Horse Tram Returns to Gangapur
4. Karachi Tramway of Yesteryears
5. Khyber Pass Railway
6. Bolan Pass Railway
7. The Trans-Balochistan Railway
8. Changa Manga Forest Railway
9. Lansdowne Bridge, Sukkur
10. Railway Bridge on Indus at Attock
11. Khojak Tunnel
12. Chappar Rift
13. Karachi Circular Railway (KCR)
14. Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR)
15. How the First Locomotive Reached Lahore
16. 3000hp Iron Horses of Pakistan
17. Lahore Rapid Mass Transit Rail Project
18. A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes of Bakhshapur
19. ek masla hai… A Railway Runs Through It
20. Ava Gardner in Lahore for Bhowani Junction
21. The Meter-Gauge of Sindh
22. Indus Flotilla Company
23. Karachi to Kotri: First Railways in Pakistan
24. Pakistan Railway on the West Bank of Indus
25. SPS#3157: Pakistan’s Gift to the People of Britain
26. List of Railway Stations of Pakistan

17 responses to “150th Anniversary of Railways in Pakistan”

  1. Shez says:


    If I remember correctly, an important railway man had the same name as yours. Are you the one? And what you did during your reign at PR, if you really are one, apart from basking in the glory of huge benefits?

  2. Owais Mughal says:

    Naan-Haleem. Thanks for sharing your travel experience and thoughts.

    Shez: Thanks for your comment. Agreed with you on the huge losses PR had to bear in the wake of riots that broke out after Benazir’s death. PR hasn’t recovered yet from those infrastructure losses.

    Prof Venu and Sridhar. Thanks. Sridhar you are right the road transport sector is much more influential and it does not like Railways as a competitor.

    Iqbal Saheb. Thanks and we are doing fine :)

  3. Iqbal Samad Khan says:

    Great article Owais!
    Any plans for Pakistan?
    haven’t heard from you in ages.
    A big hug to Ibrahim

  4. Sridhar says:


    Thanks for posting this and greetings to Pakistan Railways and Pakistan on an important milestone. Railways were my gateway to online interaction with people from Pakistan (it was our shared interest in railways that brought the two of us together for instance!). And it is wonderful to see posts from you, particularly relating to railways.

    You ask the question of freight shifting to railways. In general, railways can be cheaper for transportation, particularly for transportation of bulk commodities. Hence, economics can drive the shift towards railways provided there is reliable and efficient service. The drawback for railways is that it does not provide door to door service, but for bulk goods that is less of an issue. I think the bigger issue preventing shift from road to rail in Pakistan specifically is that there is a powerful and influential road transport sector that has prevented investments into PR and let much of its infrastructure go to seed. In a different way, this has been the case in the US as well. Unless those fundamental conflicts of interest are resolved, PR’s future is not rosy.

    The way forward for PR, in the absence of the structural changes that I have mentioned above, is to focus on the core network and find niches that can be profitable. These will generate resources that can then be ploughed back into further investments, which in turn can generate even more growth and so on. Perhaps focusing on certain inter-city routes, or in some cases even intra-city routes, and simultaneously focusing on certain areas of opportunity for freight traffic, a core business that is self-sustaining can be built.

  5. Naan Haleem says:

    Couple of weeks ago, I happened to travel Lahore-Karachi-Lahore in the economy class of Karakoram Express. Apart from a small family celebration, my other and perhaps main motive was to feast myself with the train ride which I used to enjoy very much as a child and which I was missing for past many years. But the experience was not so great rather pretty much disappointing.

    On the way to Karachi, the engine of Karakoram (perceived as the premier train of Pakistan Railways) failed just after an hour and a half at Sangla. After a 90 minute delay, a substitute engine from Faisalabad resumed the journey, again to be delayed at Khanewal for another two hours on account of some fault in hydraulic system.

    The incident was repeated on the return journey when engine had to be changed at Dhabeji (just 45 minutes from Karachi) and at Khanpur (midway between Rohri and Khanewal Junctions)

    On both legs of the travel, a striking observation was the scarcity of electric fixtures. Out of 20 lights, 16 have been removed from each bogie. Four lights, that are in working order, are placed in a way that none of the 10 compartments in the bogie can complaint complete darkness. Similarly, only 10 out of 20 fans are installed (and supposed to be working). Toilets and entry gates are totally dark at night and filthy in day time.

    Initially, I thought that it is the expected stealing and lack of security which made this smart Chinese train something like a scrapyard. But upon discussing with the train staff, I discovered that this is actually PR’s own tactical setup. The old bogies were installed with German batteries, which had much longer useful life and were regularly replaced when required. The Chinese batteries, that came with the substandard and largely dysfunctional coaches purchased by Gen. Qazi in Musharaf regime, have far shorter useful life. Now when the batteries are beginning to wear off, PR has no funds to replace them. In order to desperately enhance the useful life of these batteries, PR has decided to drastically reduce the load they bear by removing the electric installation from the coaches.

    Somewhat better situation was observed in lower AC class and much admirable in the business class coaches.

    One thing was truly commendable, security was truly up to the expectations and I observed regular police patrol through the train (and around it, in case of unscheduled stop).

    Apart from the travel coaches, other moveable and immoveable property of PR is also in jeopardy. Over staffing, unpaid for travelling, corruption, non-profitable spendings in least valuable projects, stealing, absence of competitive will & strategy, lack of marketing, and as Owais suggested, disappearance of railway as tourism channel of the country… are the prominent factors behind gradual but horrific decline of Pakistan Railway.

    One incident is representative of how railway is losing its travellers. A family beside my compartment preferred Karakoram over normal bus travel between Lahore and Faisalabad only because it saved much of their time. But engine failure at Sangla put them behind their schedule and they vowed to discontinue train travel for their regular commutation between the cities. There may be many similar examples. Alas!

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