The International Steam Pages

Real Steam in Pakistan 2005

This is Stephen Mourton's report of the second such visit in 2005. Click here for a report of the first one including the official timetable. 

Mirpur Khas metre gauge system 

Trip organised by Enthusiast Holidays/ Globe Tours using minibuses. Escorted by armed guards throughout! The idea of going at this VERY hot time of year, not at all ideal, was to get 4 consecutive days of steam working: Monday, the weekly Mirpur Khas to Khokhropar train; Tuesday, the weekly Khokhropar to Mirpur Khas train; Wednesday, the twice-monthly Mirpur Khas to Nawabshah train and return; Thursday, the weekly Mirpur Khas - Jhudo - Mirpur Khas train. 

Thanks to Globe and the excellent local tour company, some very good photo locations were utilised - irrigation canal bridges; mosques, signal gantries, herds of goats, camels, street running, plus all the local colour etc, with the trains being stopped as required.

Times shown are from the current timetable valid from 15 May to 14 October 2005.

Monday 30 May 

The Mondays only train MG-6 along the main line to Khokhropar, 126 km, is due away from Mir at 15.00 with scheduled arrival at Khokhropar of 21.50. But the loco, YD 2-8-2 519, was still on shed at 15.00, and eventually the train departed over an hour late with one water tanker and three carriages.

Other locos on shed: 

SP: 127 dead, couplers removed; 138 dead, being worked on; 140 dead.
YD: 518 dead; 520 OOU, rear bogie missing, appears to be being cannibalised; 524 dead, possibly recently ex-works. (523 here in Dec 2003 was not seen).

Materials trains - of concrete sleepers and rails - for conversion of the Khokhropar line to broad gauge started running today for the first time we were told. YD 522 had gone out to Khokhropar with the train earlier in the day. Information received during the trip suggested a completion date for this conversion of January 2006.

We chased the train as far as Pithoro Junction, 36 km, by which time the light was fading.

Tuesday 31 May

An early start to get to the last station before Khokhropar. Apparently the road beyond here is only suitable for 4 wheel drive and anyway the area around Khokhropar appears to be out of bounds to foreigners, being close to the Indian border. Even the local bus does not travel beyond here. Sorry I omitted to write down the name of this village, but it is a very fine location, a fascinating place with South African-like ‘kraal’ huts dotted up the hillside plus a mosque by the line and some more high ground to overlook it, all in a desert setting. And the usual colourful local tribal life.

The Tuesdays only train MG-5 was due to leave Khokhropar for Mir at 06.45 but apparently train MG-6 from Mir had not left here until 04.30, having been severely delayed by the materials train. Eventually 519 appeared at our location at 08.50 on 2 water tankers and 5 carriages, including an inspection car. One water tanker was detached en route. We chased or rode the train or footplated all the way back to Mir, with arrival at 15.20 (due 13.05). The Khokhropar trains have a reasonable number of passengers and also some parcels traffic carried in the guard’s compartment. 

At Mir 522 was shunting wagons of rails and sleepers at the station. But disaster struck when a wagon of rails got derailed on points while being propelled. 519 was called to the other end of the wagons to try and drag the train back on, but this was not successful. So the diesel breakdown crane was summoned from the shed and rerailing took place sometime after dusk.

At the shed 518 was being fuelled, while 140 had been shunted and was being emptied of fuel. Fuel stocks at the shed are not sufficient now that the materials train is running. The shed foreman had been told in the event of insufficient fuel being available for both, the materials train takes precedence over the twice-monthly Nawabshah working. A midnight photo session at the shed apparently saw quite a bit of activity, with 519 and 522, and 138 being readied for the Nawabshah train.

Wednesday 1 June

The 07.00 from Mir to Nawabshah Junction, MG-2 Down, 129 km, DID run today - though one has to question whether it ALWAYS runs on the 1st and 15th of each month as per the timetable. Personally, I think anyone going specially for this train, the only scheduled SP working, needs to be prepared for disappointment…. This was an extremely hot day on the train trundling through the desert. Nawabshah was THE hottest place in Pakistan, at 46 degrees celsius according to newspapers. The train consisted of a water tanker and two carriages. There were no passengers apart from our group and the track gang, whose services were required to remove and replace a buckled rail en route, which the gang were already aware of. Track is lightly laid, so train speed is low, even then the stock lurches quite a lot in places. Eventual arrival at Nawabshah Junction was about 18.00, due 13.40. The loco uses a turntable here. Our return to Mir was by minibuses.

Thursday 2 June

No less than 3 engines in steam at the shed at 07.00 - 138 came on having just returned overnight from Nawabshah (timetable for MG-1 Up is 16.00 ex Nawabshah, arr Mir at midnight.) 518 was being prepared for the materials train, while 524 was the engine for the Jhudo loop train MG-3. Timetable departure is 08.00, arriving back at Mir at 18.30 after covering 228 km. Does this make it one of the longest steam passenger workings anywhere? It leaves Mir on the main line as far as Jamrao Junction, 8km, branching onto the loop line for 184 km via Jhudo, coming back onto the main line at Pithoro Junction, from where it is 36 km back to Mir. Train consisted of 3 water tankers and 3 carriages. There were passengers joining at various stations. This service only runs one way round the loop, so how do passengers get back to where they started? Presumably by road, unless they wait a week for the next train!

The Future

The Assistant General Manager (Infrastructure) was visiting the Khokhropar line from Pakistan Railways HQ in Lahore, doing a line inspection by powered trolley, complete with an umbrella-type shade to keep the sun off. He said the Khokhropar line broad gauging is due for completion in January 2006. As this is a prestigious project, reconnecting with Indian Railways, one suspects that every effort will be made to keep to schedule to avoid loss of face. As for the Nawabshah and Jhudo lines, he said there is no budget to broad gauge or dieselise these, but the lines are required to be kept open for strategic purposes. So this means having mixed gauge as far as Pithoro Junction. Of course, keeping the lines in place does not guarantee having a regular train service on them.

There is work to do on the Khokhropar line on the many irrigation canal bridges, as some of these are not wide enough at present for broad gauge, otherwise broad gauging appears relatively straightforward. A short section of line out of Mir has mixed gauge on wooden sleepers. But as broad gauge concrete sleepers are mainly being used, one wonders how it is going to be possible to continue running the metre gauge service while the bulk of the main line is converted. Maybe the current service will be suspended for a month or two ? 

Rob Dickinson