ER Museum

Atlantics were built expressly for passenger service in the evolvement from the unstable mainline express 2-4-2 engines.   A number of railways had moderate fleets of 4-4-2’s for use in express, local and commuter service.   In Britain one of the best-known series was the ‘Great Northern Atlantic’ fleet, incorporated into the fleet of the London & North Eastern Railway at the inter-war grouping of companies.   4-4-2’s had high-diameter driving wheels; in some cases exceeding 6 feet (1.8 m) which were adequate for 70 to 100 mph. (113 to 161 km/h.) trains, although they tended to “chop” on higher speeds. Climbing any railway grade required a lower drive wheel diameter for better traction or more driving wheels for better adhesion.

Ivatt C2 'Klondike' Atlantic No. 3258 (M.Peirson)


Ivatt C2 ‘Klondike’ 4-4-2 Atlantics – London & North Eastern Railway


Ivatt C1 No. 1439 (M.Morant)



Between 1906 and 1908 these three-cylindered locomotives were converted to two-cylindered ‘simple’ engines.





C1 No. 3277 (M.Peirson)





C1 No. 1419 with booster on trailing pony truck, Kings Cross in July 1923


In 1911 Nigel Gresley (ex-Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and later Sir Nigel) the new Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway initiated many improvements to the Gresley-designed C2-class Atlantics.   In 1914, Gresley rebuilt No. 279 (LNER No. 3279) with four 15” diameter cylinders using simple expansion.   A new front end was fitted and all four cylinders drove the rear coupled axle.




C1 No. 4419 using its booster to climb Holloway Bank, 1926

L&NER No: 4419 – an Atlantic in its final form.




GWR 22xx-class 4-4-2 “County Tank”-class Locomotive No: 2234

The Great Western Railway built an Atlantic tank-engine version of their County-class 4-4-0 tender-locomotives, but it was not one of their better models being a notoriously rough rider.   A number of smaller Atlantics, mainly tank engines, proliferated around the London and southern railway routes servicing suburban traffic.




Following British success with large Atlantic (4-4-2) locomotives on fast, timed trains the East Indian Railway, the largest railway company in India at the time, ordered 12 large Atlantic engines in 1908 for their Express and Mail trains from Vulcan Foundry, Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire, England (Works Nos: 2330-2357).   Sixteen AP-class engines were also ordered from the North British Locomotive Co., Glasgow (Works Nos: 18200-18209 in 1908 and i11

18809–18816 in 1909).   These were initially classified as “AP-class” (A= Atlantic and P=Passenger).   With the onset of the 1920’s, the AP-class engines were progressively replaced by the newer, incoming Indian Railways Standard ‘X-class’ locomotives.   It was decided to retain fourteen AP-class engines and, in 1929, the fitting of superheaters to these engines began.   Locomotives so modernised were re-classified “APC-class” (Atlantic – Passenger – Converted).  Eight of these engines (EIR Nos: 24471-24478) were allocated to the north-western division of the East Indian Railway and engines numbered 24155-24160 were retained in the Howrah (HWH) Division..   An excellent photograph of an APC  engine, taken at Howrah in January, 1945, appears in Page 43 of “Indian Locomotives – Part 1 – Broad Gauge, 1851-1940” by Hugh Hughes (pub: The Continental Railway Circle, U.K., 1990).



1907 – E1- class 4-4-2 (Atlantic) locomotive No. 917 “Dufferin” was built by

North British Locomotive Works for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.


In the early days of the East Indian Railway locomotives were painted in the company’s livery of dark-green.   At the century’s end this practice had changed to a dark red-oxide colour, gaining the worldwide railway-industry soubriquet “Indian Red”.  Indian Railways’ coaches are still painted this colour to date


An APC-class 4-4-2 (heavy Atlantic) locomotive of the East Indian Railway – c.1910


Class Wheel Arr. Driv.



Dia. x Str.









Gauge Tractive


APC 4-4-2 78” 19”x26” 180p2” 35t 67t 322’. 19902’. none Broad 18,411lbs.



The APC-class ‘heavy’ Atlantics displayed all the clean-lined elegance of this classical British Edwardian type of locomotive and had a sound reputation for free-steaming and general mechanical reliability.   They steamed on into the 1960’s being increasingly relegated to local passenger traffic in the Sealdah (SDAH) Division of the Eastern Railway serving the commuter traffic of Calcutta and its southern suburbs until electrification and it’s Electric Multiple Unit car-sets made them redundant forever.








The Imperial Mail pulling into Nagpur Junction. This undated photograph is reproduced from a glass plate negative, however the shining 4-4-2 (Atlantic) E1-class locomotive suggests that this was circa 1910



NWR 4-4-2 E_M Class Harbanspur 1946

NWR 4-4-2 (Atlantic) E/M-class taken at Harbanspur, Punjab, in January 1946




Derailment at Bihta on the East Indian Railway, 17 July 1937

by Ken Staynor, August 2009


Ken Staynor grew enamoured of the railways as young boy living in Dhanbad in 1932 where his step-grandfather was the Yardmaster, followed by stays with his uncles who worked on the East Indian and Bengal Nagpur Railways at Asansol and other places.   After much travel and involvement with railways in India he moved to the UK in 1951 after which he worked in radar and computers. He is now retired and living in Newport, South Wales where he is still an avid railfan.


The derailment of the down Punjab Mail, (6-Down in those days) on the East Indian Railway at about 1.20am of 17th July 1937 at Bihta, was a talking point for several railway and no-railway people alike, for a number of years.   I was only nine years of age at the time, but being interested in trains and steam engines from a very young age, I used to listen to the “accounts” and explanations offered about the accident by so many people, each one differing in a number of details, that even at my young age, I never knew which one was the factual one.   For years I believed that the main cause of the accident was the ‘XB’ locomotive (No.1910 of Jhajha [JAJ] Loco. Shed) which, I was told, was a very rough rider at high speeds.   From time to time I heard it said that the Mail was not headed by an ‘XB’ but, a passenger train ahead of it was and that locomotive was to blame for the track damage which derailed the Punjab Mail.


It was in 1956 however, while talking to one of my uncles who was at the time, in the Traffic

Department, Asansol [ASN] Division of the EIR and had retired to Hertfordshire, England, that I finally got as close to the truth as anyone could get about the cause of the accident and even after hearing what he had to say, I was none the wiser than apparently, even the investigating team were.   My uncle enthused about the accident and told me he was one of the EIR team set up to examine the likely causes of the accident.   He confirmed that the train was not headed by an XB, as was generally put about and then went on to say he had taken photographs during this inspection and disappeared for about ten minutes, returning with a photo-album full of railway photographs.   Apart from being a keen photographer he was a meticulous man and went straight to the pages where he had placed the photographs.


As soon as I saw them, I was able to see that the engine was not an 4-6-2 ‘XB’ (As you will see from the photographs accompanying this article) but a 4-4-2 Atlantic-class ‘AP’ which were often used for express duty on the EIR, NWR and BAR (EBR at the time of the accident) and were very fast running locomotives.   This cleared up the point about the engine, and in a way exempted the ‘XB’ for this particular accident. (Unless the XB heading the preceding train, had in fact, damaged the track; but this MAY not be the case as you read on.)


Having cleared up the engine problem, I asked him what caused the accident.   He was unable to offer any cut and dried answer; the track was so badly damaged as a result of the accident, it could not be ruled in or out.   It could have been due to damage to the track bedding (the “Permanent Way”) because the weather was very bad at the time.   It was the height of the monsoon and there was very heavy rain which could have caused what he referred to as “loose or subsiding bedding” and since there was so much damage due to the wreckage itself, and other contributing factors, it could not be said which one or all were to blame.   In truth they never came to any really satisfactory explanation for accident.


I mentioned that I was once told the driver of the preceding train had reported a “nudge” at the place of the disaster, when he brought his train into Patna [PNBR], but nothing was done about it.   His reply was that this was never authenticated.   After hours of talking about his days on the EIR neither he nor I were any wiser as to what was the real cause of the accident and far as he was concerned it was an “Open” verdict.   No doubt railway enthusiasts will talk about Bihta Accident for years to come.


With regard to the speed of the train at the time of the derailment, my uncle’s words were, “The train had stopped at Arrah [ARA] and its next stop was to have been Dinapore Cantonment [DNR], but as Bihta [BTA] was about ten miles from Arrah (the eastern approach to the Sone River Bridge), the train had plenty of time to pick up speed and must have been doing about sixty miles per hour, as this train often did once it got going, when it  went off the rails.”    Looking at the carnage in the photograph, I quite believe it!





Bihta Accident – A general view of the carnage at Bihta, the Howrah bound Punjab Mail was close to 60 mph

when it derailed. Photo provided by Ken Staynor.


Bihta Accident 5 – A view of the accident clearly showing that the capsized locomotive was a 4-4-2 Atlantic Class

‘AP’ and not a 4-6-2 XB Pacific as was generally believed to have been responsible for the accident.

Photo provided by Ken Staynor.


Hic Iacet Servus Humanum

Requiescat In Pace


A Classic Engine – India’s ‘WP-class’


Due to the satisfactory experience with American locomotives supplied to India during the war (“AWD’s” and “CWD’s”) a decision to buy American was made.   Indian engineers found the bar-frame construction attractive due to its ease of manufacture and maintenance.   The WP design (W=Broad Gauge and P=Passenger) incorporated many features as a result of ten years of research.   The main aim was to design a locomotive that was 10% more powerful than the ‘XC’ class locomotive, yet had a lighter axle load to allow for wider traffic availability.   Following tentative enquiries by the Indian Government, US authorities referred them to one of America’s largest and best-known locomotive manufacturers – the Baldwin Locomotive Company of Philadelphia.


The M W Baldwin Company began its life in 1831 as a jewellery firm, founded in Philadelphia by Matthias W Baldwin (inset).   Over the years the company moved on to manufacture book-binders tools and steam-driven cylinders and in 1883 the Philadelphia Museum commissioned a miniature locomotive for an in-house exhibition.   This proved to be an enormous success, leading to the subsequent construction of a full-scale locomotive for the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad. As could be expected, further requests were made, and Baldwin made its reputation

building steam locomotives for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and many other prolific railroads in North America.   In addition to this, Baldwin constructed numerous engines for Brazil, Mexico, Australia, India and England, as well as many other railways of the world.   In the later stages of the steam era, Baldwin was at the forefront of locomotive construction, annually building thousands of locomotives.   The Company also became involved with developing new and improved locomotive designs for its existing customers.   By the late 1940ís it was apparent that the days of steam locomotives were over and the 3 main engine builders of the U.S. gradually merged in an effort to get a foot hold in the progressive diesel market.   They made little progress, and by 1956 the merged Baldwin Company ceased production of common carrier size locomotives, having built more steam locomotives than any other manufacturer in the world.


In the 1930’s, Baldwin’s had designed and built a heavy Pacific (4-6-2) locomotive for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.   In the post-WW2 race to retain passenger traffic a new fast service was scheduled “The Cincinnatian” – the first postwar streamlined passenger train.   It was heralded as a deluxe all-coach, steam powered, daylight streamliner to operate between Baltimore, Maryland and Cincinnati, Ohio.   Ms. Olive Dennis, a B&O engineer, designed the new train.  The locomotives were painted in Bando Blue and had glossy black parallelograms trimmed with aluminum and chrome.

Four “President Class” Heavy Pacific, P-7D locomotives #5301-5304 were rebuilt and had streamlined cowls added at B&O’s Mt. Clair Shops in Baltimore.   The tenders were rebuilt at the old BR&P Shops in Dubois, Pennsylvania.


“The Cincinnatian” operated from January 1947 to June 1950.   It was then transferred to the Detroit-Cincinnati corridor.   “The Cincinnatian’s” schedule called for a 12½ hour trip from Baltimore’s Mt. Royal Station to Cincinnati’s Union Terminal.   This fast schedule with an average speed of 36.6 mph permitted only five cars since the schedule didn’t provide the necessary time to use a

‘helper’ (bank pilot) on the grades in West Virginia.   In addition, stops were made only at Washington D.C., Martinsburg, Keyser, Grafton, Clarksburg, Parkersburg (West Virginia), Athens and Chillicothe in Ohio.   Water was added at Martinsburg, Keyser, and Athens.   The locomotives were changed in both directions at Grafton, West Virginia.

A Baltimore & Ohio 4-6-2 (Pacific) Class P-7D powers the prestigous “The Cincinnatian”


This was the model that caught the Indian engineers’ eye.   Subject to a number of modifications which saw some of the engine’s novel features discarded in favour of weight reduction and simplicity of manufacture and maintenance, the P-7D became the parent of the new Indian Government Railways “WP” class.   One of the losses was the reduction of Tractive Effort down from the P-7D’s 51,000 lbs. to the WP’s eventual 30,600lbs.

A Baltimore & Ohio Railroad 4-6-2 Class ‘P-7d’ designed and built by Baldwin Locomotive works, Philadelphia, U.S.A., who also designed and manufacured the first Indian railways ‘WP’-class locomotive believed to be derived from this model.


A brand-new ‘WP ’locomotive on its way to India.


The prototypes were a batch of 16 locomotives ordered from Baldwin, Philadelphia in 1946.   The large grate of the US-built locos was particularly useful for India, as they made best use of the very poor quality of Indian coal with its high ash content.   Naturally, the locomotives supplied were built to the usual rugged US standards, while being simple and basic.   The provision of vacuum brakes made the engines even simpler, as vacuum ejectors are far less complicated devices than steam or air pumps.   The air smoothed exterior was provided for aesthetic rather than for aerodynamic reasons.


A ‘WP/P’ engine soon after delivery in 1949.



Despite the higher boiler pressure and a heavier engine weight than the UK designed ‘XC’, the design aims were achieved.   The diameter of the driving wheels was reduced to 5′ 7″ from the previous 6′ 2” standard and they were set back as far as possible from the bogie to reduce the axle-load.   The smaller wheels also allowed the maximum horsepower to be produced at 45mph rather than at the track speed limit of 60mph.   The grate was high pitched to deepen the firebox and ashpan and allow hand firing of the large 46 sq. ft. grate.   A thermic syphon and two arch tubes were fitted into the welded steel firebox; but weight limitations meant that a Belpaire box could not be used.   The boiler pressure was 210lb/psi.   The locomotives were built upon bar frames.   A modern steam-chest, with Walschaert’s Valve Gear driven by large 12in diameter piston valves, with 7.5 inch travel (0.25 in. lead and 111/16 in. lap) resulted in a fast and powerful locomotive.   A handful of WP’s were modified and classified as WP/1, adding 5 tons to the overall weight   (see Hughes’ “Indian Steam Locomotives, Pt3Broad Gauge” p.28)

Basically, they were:

  • ‘WP/P’: Baldwin manufactured, 1947;
  • ‘WP’ slightly modified from ‘WP/P’; various manufacturers1949-1959;
  • WP/1 slightly modified from WP to make construction at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works easier.   Road numbers 7060-7199 and 7636-7754 were all WP/1’s built at Chittaranjan from 1963 to 1967.   In total 754 locomotives of this class were built:-
USA:      Baldwin Locomotive Works, Broad Street, Philadelphia 100
Canada: Canadian Locomotive Works., Kingston, Ontario 100
              Montreal Locomotive Works, Montreal, Quebec 120
Poland:   Fabryka Lokomotywim, Chrzanów 30
Austria:  Wiener Lokomotivfabrik, Floridsdorf 30
India:     Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, West Bengal 374

O/all height: 14’ 0”   O/all length: 77’ 53/8”   O/all weight (tare): 123.6 t.   O/all weight (gross): 173.5 t.


Grate area: 46   Boiler pressure: 210lbs/   Wheel arrangement: 4-6-2 (Pacific)   Class: WP


Cylinders:   2 (20¼dia. X 28” stroke)   Tractive effort: 30,600lbs (2,680hp)     Gauge: Broad (5’6”)


The prototype locomotives were extensively tested; they rode well at up to 74 mph on oscillation tests and a 2,680 drawbar horsepower capacity was measured when the lever ran out at speed (but the boiler emptied in 5 minutes).   A speed of 74mph was once recorded on a dynamometer car showing oscillation results, but it was not on a speed test.






Mail Driver Nat Spencer of Jhajha Loco. (JAJ)and wife Barbara stand proudly in front of his ‘own’ engine decorated for working an “Imperial Special” for the King of Afghanistan’s visit.




Mail Driver Ken Abbotsford OF THE Eastern Railway’s Jhajha Loco. Shed (JAJ) and his American –built “WP” No: 7247 (Baldwin Locomotive Works No: 74235) prior to heading an “8-Down” express to Howrah (HWH), Calcutta.   In the background are the coaling-stage, station water-reservoir and the region’s prominent geographical feature, Jhajha Hill.   Of note is the painted 16-point maroon/silver star embellishing the central headlight – an identifier particular to Jhajha Loco. Shed – devised by Fireman Raymond Moreno.   Throughout Indian Railways, every Loco. Shed devised their own individual identifying pattern of smokebox-door embellishment.





Firing days



Mail Driver Eugene D’Cruz of Arkonam Shed (AJJ) and the all-Anglo-Indian crew (including relief crews and Traffic staff) of a mid-1960’s WP-drawn

 “President of India Special”.


Mail Driver Tennant of Arkonam Shed (AJJ) and his immaculately turned-out WP engine

inaugurating the Southern Railways “Link Express




a passenger’s view





[East India Company, 1801]



 Indian office records

Arms of the United Company of Merchants Trading to the East Indies






By Peter R. Moore




The Honourable East India Company (trading from 1600 to 1874) wielded significant influence and political power in British India, not least because it exercised quasi-governmental authority on behalf of the British Crown for all but its last sixteen years.   Having recognised the commercial and communication value of railways in England in the first half of the 19th century, the Company commissioned the development of a rail network in India.   What followed was a surge of development, first financed in part by a guarantee system (benefiting the embryonic English companies) and later financed more directly by government.   The enabling Acts followed a similar pattern as they –

    • put the various railway companies on a statutory footing, giving them powers to raise capital moneys (by borrowing and by share issue), to enter into contracts, and to undertake construction works;
    • allowed the companies to operate services on their own and other companies’ lines;
    • provided for company mergers and for sales of the undertakings to the government (often with deferred payment arrangements); and
    • made arrangements for the creation of annuities and sinking funds to facilitate company dissolution and the transition from private to public ownership.


They centred on the individual railway companies (which originated in England) and on the projects they were created to deliver within the Indian sub-continent.   The first regular train service (between Mumbai and Thane) was established by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company in 1854 following the passing of an 1849 Act – which incorporated the company and gave it power to enter into contracts with the East India Company.


Protracted negotiations continued between the Hon. East India Company and the Government of India and finally an agreement was signed between the two parties on 19th August 1849.   Under the agreement, the Government of India had committed to underwriting a guaranteed profit of 5% on actual railway investment of the Company.   The Government also authorised the Company to acquire necessary land with compensation for the construction of the railway tracks and railway establishments.


The successful transplanting of British, Victorian railway technology in East India was a unique outcome of the synergies of British capital and Indian labour.   Millions of workers were mobilised in constructing thousands of miles of railway tracks and building thousands of railway-related establishments; British engineers, skilled workmen and overseers came to manage the Indian labour in the fields; building materials were procured from the world’s markets; embankments, bridges and culverts were built over rivers and channels, marshlands were forded; tunnels were bored through rocky hills and mountains; the works of tens of thousands of contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers were allotted, controlled and coordinated; tens of thousands of rail-related deaths were dealt with; labour unrest and local resistance was faced with fortitude and managed towards positive outcomes.


The social dividend for India was that nearly a million native Indians were recruited and trained in maintaining the railway’s tracks (the Permanent Way) and establishments, maintaining and, later, building motive power and rolling-stock; managing railway traffic and every logistical aspect of operating and maintaining large, commercial, public transportation enterprises.   On a wider scale the railway started the next phase of human evolution.   It shrank distances, improving the conditions of long-distance travel, accelerating the social integration and/or migration of complex, diverse and remote communities, the portability of labour and the inexorable evolution from parochialism to nationhood which continues universally, today as globalisation pointing to the future and obvious corollary – space travel and interplanetary expansion.   Back to Indian railways, the quid pro quo for British investors was the economical dividend of a return of their money back plus 5% guaranteed by the Government of India – whether or not the railway made any money.   Many economic historians argue that such a guaranteed profit – an unknown feature in Europe – was really a free gift made by the colonial rulers to the railway capitalists of Britain for political considerations The British view is that it was an incentive to attract finance (which could not be raised locally) for a commercial initiative intended to market British commodities to the remotest parts of India, reciprocally transporting India’s products and natural resources for export to the world’s markets and, simultaneously, gaining state support by facilitating military mobility for the purposes of external defence and the maintenance of internal stability (so essential to foreign occupation and settlement).   The provision of a travel system for the populace was, and is, seen as an essential social service as passenger-traffic revenue has rarely been profitable.


In 1774, Suetonius Grant Heatly and John Summer of the East India Company, claimed discovery of coal and organised mining in the Ranigunj-Asansol area of Bengal.   Early exploration and mining operations were carried out in a haphazard manner and the demand for coal was limited.   Regular mining operations started in 1820 lead by an agency house, Alexander & Company.   In 1835, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, of the Burdwan family and a leading Indian entrepreneur of the age, purchased the collieries and Carr, Tagore & Company lead the field.   For the entire 19th century and a major part of the 20th century, the Ranigunj coalfields in the Asansol region were the major producers of coal in the country.   As demand grew, many new companies entered coal mining operations.   There was stiff competition and rivalry amongst them often leading to litigation.   At the behest of William Prinsep, Carr, Tagore &Co. amalgamated with Gilmore Hombray & Co. in 1843 to form the Bengal Coal Co., with headquarters in Sanctoria, which expanded their coal mining activities prodigiously.   Other competitors at the time included the Birbhum Coal Co.; the Equitable Coal Co.; Madhu Roy & Prasanna Dutta Co.; Bird & Co.; the South Barakar Coal Co.; Andrew Yule & Co. Ltd. and Balmer Lawrie & Co., to cite but a few.


Overall, the construction of the railway presented incredible obstacles which had to be overcome, initially by the Company, and yet the challenges were successfully met.   The early Indian railways developed into an industry with the capacity for employing tens of thousands of people, transporting millions of passengers, more or less safely, and shipping goods at a, hitherto, unimaginable scale, bringing with them an unprecedented expansion in internal and external trade and commerce and, resultantly, prosperity.


Whatever the original intentions of the railway concepts, it is historically undeniable that the far-sightedness of early railway entrepreneurs has conferred innumerable benefits – economic, social, cultural and political on the peoples and lands where they progressed.   Across the decades the railway endeavours of Imperial India stretched in its furthest reach from today’s Pakistan in the west, through the modern republics of India and Bangladesh, into Myanmar (Burma) in the east, and down to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south and were significant contributors to the emergence and development of these nations.


A railway map of India, c. 1895








The Eastern Bengal Railway Company was established in 1855, and had proposed the introduction of railway transport through eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) and into Burma (now Myanmar).    In 1855, the Eastern Bengal Railway Company had been formed, by a number of individuals, as an unincorporated entity with the aim of constructing and maintaining a railway which was to run from Calcutta (on the left bank of the River Hooghly) to Kooshtee (on the right bank of the River Ganges), via Krishnaghur, Jessore, and Pubna (now Pabna) and eventually, by an extension, on to Dacca.   In addition, the company was to raise capital funding for the project (the interest payments on which, at least for the first construction phase, were to be guaranteed by the East India Company).   The proposal was successful and the company was incorporated by a British Act of Parliament in August 1857.


The company contracted with the Government of India to build and maintain a railway line starting in Calcutta (now Kolkata), running to Kooshtee (Kushtia) and then on to Dacca (Dhaka).   The Government India granted a guarantee of a 5% return on the capital invested in the project.   Construction work commenced in October 1859 and the first train ran along the line from Sealdah, Calcutta’s eastern terminus, to Ranaghat in September 1862.   The line was extended considerably over the following years, and a number of additional stations were built along the way.


Construction of railways in the territory of East Bengal (today’s Bangladesh) was first conceived by a military civil engineer, Col. J. P. Kennedy.   In 1852, he proposed to construct a railway line from Calcutta across the sunderbans to the east bank of the ganges and then to dacca.   The annexation of Burma to the Indian Empire in 1854 made the idea all the more urgent from the political point of view.   In 1855, Major Abercrombie and Lieutenant Gerald Head of the Bengal Engineers undertook a field survey and submitted a report detailing the prospects of a new company proposed to be named the “eastern bengal railway”.   Detailed plans and estimates were prepared under the supervision of a senior railway engineer, a Mr. Purdon.


The terminus, Sealdah, was a site originally identified for the railhead of the East Indian Railway if it had originated in Calcutta proper.   The 141-acre site had to be raised and several tanks filled in.   Due to the marshy nature of the terrain, the brick foundations were from 8 to 10 feet wide and as deep as 45 feet in places.   The amount of brick work below-ground exceeded that laid above-ground.   The main station building was larger than the East Indian Railway’s terminus at Howrah and was modeled on the principal halls of the palaces of Nineveh and Khorasabad.



Sealdah Station – Calcutta’s eastern terminus.


Sealdah was Calcutta’s first terminal station. Set up in 1862, it had the world’s longest covered platform of 1000 feet.


In 1861, the Calcutta & South-Eastern Railway opened a line (construction of which had begun in 1859) from Beliaghata Station in eastern Calcutta to Champahati, 16m/26k away.   This was extended in a southerly direction to Port Canning, the line being opened for traffic on May 15th 1862.   As it was not a profitable railway, the company sold it to the state on April 1st 1861.   While the government retained ownership of this railway, its operation was conducted by the Eastern Bengal Railway under a financial arrangement.


The Calcutta-Ranaghat section of the Eastern Bengal Railway was commissioned on 29th September 1862.   Its continuation, the Darsana-Jagati section, a distance of 33m/54k, was opened to traffic on 15th November 1862 as a broad gauge (5’6”/1676mm) line.   Kushtia was the terminal but in 1867 it was transferred to Gorai due to a breach in the River Padma and the original Kushtia station was abandoned in the following year.   The 47m/75k-long railway line from Kushtia to Goalundo, an inland river port on the bank of Padma (below the confluence of the Padma and Jamuna – the downstream course of the Brahmaputra River), was opened on 1st January 1871.  The company operated a busy ferry-service at Goalundo Ghat, where the trains from Calcutta (Sealdah) bound for Assam – and vice versa – , were shunted on to huge barges (called “flats”) and ferried over the enormous confluence of the rivers (the opposite bank could not be seen from either side) to continue their journeys.


The Kanchrapara Workshops came into existence in 1863.   It was set up by the then Assam Bengal Railway (later the Bengal Assam Railway) and subsequently acquired by the Eastern Bengal State Railway Company as the combined Locomotive, Carriage & Wagon Shops on the present site of locomotive shops.   On July 1st 1884, the management of the Workshops was taken over by the State (during the material period of the Hon. East India Company).   On October 12th 1914, the Carriage & Wagon Shops were shifted to their present site and started functioning separately as an independent unit.   The workshop had the distinction of serving India’s defence during World War II, by providing repairs to aircraft and manufacturing armoured cars and grenade casings.


By 1866, the railway company had built the line from Calcutta to Kooshtee (on the Ganges) and was operating a regular rail service.   It had also, with the government’s sanction, acquired and commenced working a steam vessel service between Kooshtee and Dacca (with intermediate boarding points).   Following an arrangement between the railway company and the Government of India, the company was now in the process of constructing the continuation of the line from Kooshtee to Goalundo, en route to Dacca.   The Company was responsible for twelve “works and conveniences and things”, including: building, hiring and operating “steam and other ships and vessels, and craft of every description” for use on rivers; carrying in those vessels “passengers, animals, coals, to Naraingunge (now Narayanganj), Sylhet and neighbouring districts and intermediate places; levying tolls and charges on vessel use; repairing other company’s vessels where used “in connexion with the company’s railway”; chartering vessels for work on the Rivers Ganges, Burhampootra (now Brahmaputra), and the Megna (now Meghna) and tributaries; and establishing and operating provident and savings organisations for the company employees in India.


As the Eastern Bengal Railway Company existed and functioned in India with its head office in London, the 1884 Act related only to the affairs of the company and its relationship with the then Government of India.   The railway undertaking having been transferred to the Government of India in 1884, the purpose underpinning the 1884 Act ceased to apply.   The railway company itself was probably dissolved in or about 1887, ownership and operation being taken over by the state.


A new 155m/250k-long, metre-gauge (1000mm) railway line, the Northern Bengal State Railway was constructed between 1874 and 1879 from Sara (on the left bank of River Padma) to Chilahati (extended up to Silliguri of India, at the foot of the Himalayas).   The line branched off from Parbatipur Junction to Kaunia in the east and from Parbatipur to Dinajpur in the west.   At the same time, a broad-gauge extension of the Eastern Bengal Railway from Poradaho to Damukdia, on the right bank of Padma opposite Sara, branched off and extended eastward.   Passengers crossed the River Padma by railway-operated steamer ferry.   As a result, journeys from Calcutta to Silliguri became possible without a break.   On 1st July 1884 the Government of India took over the Eastern Bengal Railway and renamed it the Eastern Bengal State Railway.


In 1881 the Bengal Central Railway was formed to link Calcutta with Khulna via Barasat, Bongaon and Jessore with a branch line to the Eastern Bengal Railway at Ranaghat Junction.   The branch line from Ranaghat to Bongaon (20½m/33k) was completed first by October 16th 1882.   The main line from Dum Dum Junction to Khulna was completed by February 16th 1884.   While actual ownership of the railway was retained by the Bengal Central Railway Company, actual operation in traffic was carried out by the Eastern Bengal Railway and later, when renamed, by the Eastern Bengal State Railway.   The broad gauge Bongaon-Jessore-Khulna line opened in 1882-84 and the 58m/94k metre-gauge railway from Santahar to Fulchhari (now Tistamukhghat) opened between 1899-1900, was also absorbed by the Eastern Bengal State Railway on April 1st and July 1st1904 respectively.   The extended 27m/44k Kaunia-Bonarpara metre-gauge line was opened in 1905.   The 50m/80k-long Ishurdi-Surajganj section was commissioned in 1916.   The railway network now covered a substantial part of the Rajshahi and Dacca Divisions.   The Bengal Central Railway Company resumed the operation of its own trains from January 1st 1897 with arranged access to Sealdah and the railway yards at Chitpore and Kidderpore Docks (Kantapukur).   It was purchased by the State and merged with the Eastern Bengal State Railway on June 30th 1905.


The Assam Behar Railway was formed to link Manihari, on the River Ganges, with Kasba five miles north of Purnea.   In one of the briefest of corporate lives, it was opened on March 4th 1887 and merged, twenty-seven days later, with the Eastern Bengal State Railway on April 1st 1887.


The line from Kasba was extended northwards to Forbesganj and later, Debiganj.   The line from Katihar Junction was extended eastwards to Dinajpur in July 1889, making the connection with the North Western Railway.   A river-ferry service linked Manihari to Sahibganj across the River Ganges connecting with the East Indian Railway’s Sahibganj Loop.


In 1885, the 89m/144k-long Narayanganj-Dacca-Mymensingh metre-gauge (1000mm) railway line began operations as the Dacca State Railway mainly carrying raw jute up to the inland port of Narayanganj and then onwards by river to Calcutta.   In 1887, to ensure better management, the Northern Bengal State Railway along with Dacca State Railway and the narrow gauge (762mm) railway line from Kaunia to Kurigram (Dharla) were amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal State Railway.   For similar reasons, the company-built as the Bengal Central Railway was also absorbed.


The construction of the Assam Bengal Railway was started by the State in 1891 in response to the demands of the tea planting and exporting industry.   Tea export at minimum cost necessitated the development of the port at Chittagong and its link to the Assam Bengal Railway.   On July 1st 1895, a 150km. metre-gauge track between Chittagong and Comilla along with a 61km. track between Laksham and Chandpur were opened to traffic.   In 1896 Comilla-Akhaura-Kulaura-Shahbajpur section was commissioned.   Construction of the missing links between different railways continued.   The Assam Bengal Railway operated a private company venture, the Laksham-Noakhali branch line, which was opened in 1903.   The government purchased the line in 1905 and merged it with the Assam Bengal Railway on January 1st 1906.   The Tongi branch line between Tongi and Akhaura was opened between 1910 and 1914; the Sylhet branch between Sylhet and Kulaura between 1912 and 1915; the Shaistagang-Habigang branch in 1928; the Shaistaganj-Balla and Feni-Belonia branches in 1929; the Chittagong-Sholoshahar branch in 1929; the Sholoshahar-Nazirhat line in 1930, and the Sholoshahar- Dohazari line in 1931.


The Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Jagannatganj Branch Railway was built under a concession granted in 1896 and constructed between 1897-98.   While the concession was operated by the India General Steam Navigation & Railway Company (a subsidiary of Macneil & Barry Ltd.) it was built and operated by the Eastern Bengal State Railway as part of the Dacca division.   A second concession, the Brahmaputra, Sultanpur Branch Railway also sanctioned in 1896 was also built and operated by the Eastern Bengal State Railway, the first section – Santahar to Bogra (24½m/39k) – being completed by April 1st 1899.   Both concessions were purchased by the State and amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal State Railway on April 1st 1904.



Eastern Bengal State Railway 2-6-0 locomotive





In order to provide a continuous link between Calcutta and North Bengal and Assam, construction of a bridge over the River Padma was essential.   With the imminent completion of construction of the Hardinge Bridge over the River Padma, the metre-gauge section from Sara to Santahar was converted to broad gauge in 1914 to integrate with the main trunk railway lines from Calcutta and beyond to Delhi, Madras and Bombay.   The Hardinge Bridge was designed for double-lane broad gauge was opened for traffic on March 4th 1915.   In July 1924, the 59 mile (95km.) long Santahar to Parbatipur section and by September 1926 and the 35 mile (67km.) long Parbatipur to Chilahati section were converted from metre to broad-gauge.   As such direct movement of goods and passengers from the foot of the Himalayas over North Bengal to Calcutta and beyond to other places in India became possible eliminating the expensive inconvenience of transshipment.   In 1915, the word “State” was officially dropped from the title “Eastern Bengal State Railway”.


As a matter of principle, the Government of India adopted three types of railway gauges; these were broad (1767 mm), metre (1000 mm) and narrow (762 mm), their employment dependant upon the commercial factors of capital cost and rate of return.   Short distance railway lines were constructed to connect with the nearest river port or to bridge gaps between main railway routes.   Railway lines were extended to service new important areas.   Where necessary, conversions were carried out to provide compatibility of railway gauges in order to eliminate break-of-gauge transshipments.


All private railway companies operated under specific contracts containing provisions about land, government aid, terms of profits, rates and fares, special obligations about conveyance of postal mails, troops, police, government officials, government bullion and coin, government stores and the power of the government to determine the contract.   The Tista-Kaunia narrow gauge line was converted to metre-gauge in 1928-29.   The Bahadurabad-Singjhani (Jamalpur town) metre-gauge line was opened in 1912.   The Abdulpur-Amnura broad-gauge branch line was opened in 1930 mainly to cater to the transportation needs of the mango and sugarcane industries and to make a further link with the West from Central Bengal via Rohanpur.   In keeping with the growth of traffic, a double line broad gauge track between Darsana and Poradaha was constructed in August 1897.   It was further extended by the Poradaha-Bheramra, Bheramara-Ishurdi, and Ishurdi-Abdulpur broad-gauge lines.   These were doubled in 1909, 1915 and 1932 respectively.


In order to transport tea from the Assam valley, the Bengal-Dooars, a narrow-gauge railway line stretching northwards from Kaunia and circling Cooch Behar in north Bengal by 1902.   It amalgamated later with the Eastern Bengal Railway in 1941.   Its southern portion now falls within the railway system of today’s Bangladesh.   The whole of the Eastern Bengal Railway was situated on the west side of the Brahmaputra River, except for the Bahadurabad-Dacca-Narayanganj line.   The Eastern Bengal railway catered to the industrial and suburban needs of eastern and southern Calcutta and as such the alignment of the railway track was Calcutta-oriented.


In order to improve management, the 55m/88k-long privately-owned Mymensingh-Jagannathganj Branch Railway, which was operated by Eastern Bengal State Railway, was acquired by the State in the 1920’s.   On October 1st 1944, the government also purchased the 50m/80k Ishurdi-Surajganj section which had been operating since 1915 as a private venture.  In 1916, the Bheramara-Raita line was opened as a broad-gauge line.   Another privately-owned and operated line, the 20m/32k-long Khulna-Bagerhat narrow-gauge line, constructed by the Eastern Bengal State Railway in June 1918, was acquired by the State in 1948.   By 1919, a total of 1,122m/1806k of tracks owned by the Company or the government were in traffic.


The Mymensingh-Bhairab Bazar Railway Company constructed the railway sections of Mymensing-Gouripur, Gouripur-Netrokona-Mohanganj, Shyamganj-Jaria Janjail, and Gouripur-Bhairab Bazar sections between 1912 and 1918.   These sections were acquired by the State in 1948-49.   The Assam Bengal Railway Company was in charge of the management of the Mymensingh-Gouripur-Bhairab Bazar railway line.   The bridge over River Meghna opened on December 6th 1937 enabling through communication between Dacca and Chittagong.


On January 1st 1942, the Assam Bengal Railway was acquired by the government and amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal Railway under the title of the Bengal & Assam Railway.   After Partition when East Bengal became East Pakistan in August 1947, the Bengal & Assam Railway was divided between Pakistan and India.   East Pakistan inherited the 1,619m/2607k Eastern Bengal Railway (EBR) system.   On February 1st 1961, it was renamed the Pakistan Eastern Railway.   The Pakistan Eastern Railway received about 311m/500k of broad-gauge tracks and 1,304m/2100k metre-gauge tracks, but no workshops to repair broad gauge locomotives and rolling stock.   East Pakistan, however, inherited a metre gauge workshop atSaidpur. The Pakistan Eastern Railway suffered from operational draw-backs and physical obstacles in the movement of traffic such as missing railway links, discontinued tracks and transshipment points; shifting ghat stations on both banks of the Jamuna and wagon ferry services between the banks of Jamuna river with the perpetual problem of shifting railheads, both inter and intra-seasonal.   Moreover, the entire railway system had undergone severe stresses and damage during World War II.   These damages were not repaired until after Partition.


Soon after Partition, broad gauge locomotive-repair facilities were installed at the Saidpur Workshop.   The missing broad-gauge railway link of 43m/69k between Darsana and Jessore was constructed quickly and it was opened on April 21st 1951.   On October 15th 1954, the 21m/33k Sylhet-Chatak Bazar section was commissioned, mainly to connect the sources of collection of the stone ballast required for laying railway tracks.   From April 1970, a newly installed mono-rail ropeway became operational over a 12m/19k distance from the river bed of Bholaganj to the rail head at Chatack Bazar for the same purpose.   The mono-rail had a carrying capacity of 60 tons per hour.   By May 1970, the narrow gauge Rupsa-Bagerhat section was converted to broad-gauge and was opened to traffic.



After the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country, the name of the railway was changed to the Bangladesh Railway.   This state-owned and operated corporation inherited 1,776 m/2859k of tracks, 466 railway stations; 395 major bridges; 3,139 minor bridges; 1,522 level crossings and 60,633 acres of land.   About 95% of the route kilometrage consists of single lane track.   Broad-gauge main sections are laid with 90lb. rails and metre-gauge sections with 75lb. and 60lb. rails.   The main line between Bongaon Junction and Dhaka has been upgraded to dual-gauge (broad/metre) and through international services between Kolkata and Dhaka have commenced.


Built for political, strategic and commercial considerations, the railways in Bengal were under absolute British control as specified in terms and conditions of contracts with the railway companies and government legislation as enacted from time to time.   Government control over the railways was legislative, contractual, and executive.   Railway company directors exercised detailed control on the overall workings of their railways.   The first enactment on railway tariffs, ratified by Parliament in London in 1854 covered the payment of fares before boarding trains, the production of tickets on board when demanded; penalty measures for fraudulent attempts, trespass and obstruction, the handling of luggage and the liability of railways in the carriage of traffic.   These Acts were followed by a series of supplementary laws enacted over the years regarding control; accidents; trespass; inspections; the protection of the public and the appointment of officers.   The need for a general Railway Act was long felt and in superseding all previous acts, the Indian Railway Act IX of 1890 was passed by the British Parliament in Westminster.   The Act was modified by the Government of India Act, 1935. Pakistan inherited its authority from the Indian Independence Act 1947 as did Bangladesh, on gaining independence in 1971.











“RAILWAYS OF THE RAJ” by Michael Satow & Ray Desmond; pub. Scolar Press, London, 1980; Foreword by Paul Theroux; Large-format; hard cover; photographic dust jacket; 118pp.; 3 colour plates;4 drawings; 2 colour photographs; 42 b/w. photographs and 1 map; ISBN: 0 85967 533 5.   A lavishly illustrated account of one of the more enduring legacies of the British Raj.   While light on technical detail and in-depth history, it is a visual

treat of an historic era now long-gone.

“LINE OF COMMUNICATION – Railway to Victory in the East” by J. Thomas; pub. The Locomotive Publishing Co. Ltd., London, 1947. (US$27.54) Soft cover; 86pp; 22 photographs.   A very good, if little-known account of the Bengal Assam Railway’s war effort in the defence of India against the Japanese in the Burma campaign.  This railway, resulting from a merger between the Assam Bengal Railway and the bigger East Bengal Railway is the parent of today’s Bangla Desh Railway, India’s North Eastern Railway and the Malda Division of the Eastern Railway.


“LET SMOKE MAKE STEAM” by Bernard J. Holden MBE an Off-the-Rails Publication, 2004; Soft cover; 131pp.;70 photographs.   An interesting account starting with service in England’s Southern Railway, war-service in 191 Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers which took the author to India and operations with the Bengal-Assam Railway.   Later commissioned into the Indian Army, he continued to work with a Railway Operating Company of the Indian Engineers following the 14th Army’s advance into Malaya.  He returned to India just prior to Independence and then was returned to England for demobilisation.

No locomotive technical detail, but an interesting insight into railway signalling and operations under arduous conditions.

“WAR DEPARTMENT LOCOMOTIVES – Allied Military Locomotives of the Second World War, Volume 1” by R. Tourett (US$37.44). This book, the first volume on this subject, is the result of 30 years research and lists the allocation of every America locomotive to allied countries in every campaign of World War 2.   Of special interest, in context with the nature of this book list are the large number of locomotives sent to Indian State Railways/
 “UNITED STATES ARMY TRANS-PORTATION CORPS LOCOMOTIVES – Allied Military Locomotives of the Second World War, Volume 2” by R. Tourett; Oxford,  U.K. 1977; (US$26.79) Hard Cover; Photographic dust jacket; 101pp.; 131 photographs; 13 plans; 1 map.  This book, the second volume on this subject, is the result of 30 years research and lists the allocation of every American locomotive to allied countries in every campaign of World War 2.   Of special interest, in context with the nature of 536 leaves Pyiwn at twilight

this book list are the large number of locomotives sent to Indian State Railways; the Iraqi State Railway and  Burma Railways, to name but a few.   It was the fine performance of these engines (classes AWD; CWD; MAWD; etc.) that attracted Indian interest to American locomotive–builders as an alternative to traditional British suppliers.


“Building the Railways of the Raj: 1850-1900” by Ian J. Kerr; pub. Oxford (India) Paperbacks, 1997; 3 Maps; 10 Plates; 13 Tables and Graphs; 254pp.  This book captures the enormous complexity of such undertakings against a backdrop of Imperial conquest and settlement.    The broad senses of concept, co-ordination and inter-continental assembly of labour and technical work processes at a multiplicity of levels complicated, as they were, by the diversity of the population from which the work force was drawn, is all, somehow captured here.


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