The International Steam Pages

A Visit to Pakistan Railways 2013 

Torsten Schneider writes about his second attempt to visit Pakistan...

In 2007 I had first registered for an organised tour to Pakistan. However, the German tour operator went bust just before departure. The person, whose name we won’t mention, did not even bother to cancel the tour, and of course the down payment was lost. At the same time terrorist activities were on the increase in the north-western regions of the country. Here the Khyber Pass is located, centre of pilgrimage of legions of railway enthusiasts in the past. This resulted in a travel warning not only from the British Foreign Office. Therefore, for me Pakistan had ceased to be a potential destination for an indefinite future.
Then, in March 2013, there unexpectedly arose the opportunity of a trip in connection with a conference in Lahore in Punjab province. There was only limited time for private activities, but as it happened the one or other train nevertheless passed me and my camera, and I found myself inside depots and workshops in Lahore. A train trip to Rawalpindi, as well as excursions to the former forest railway at Changa Manga and to the horse railway at Gangapur rounded off my impressions and made appetite for more. And there still is working steam in Pakistan!

My principal interest is the current railways of a country as they are, not particularly steam, though. Regrettably, Pakistan Railways (PR) now operates only broad gauge trains. Electric traction finally terminated in 2010. Those remaining of the 29 electric locomotives delivered in 1966/67 are stored in Lahore, except no. 7027 which is exhibited in the railway museum in Golra Sharif near Rawalpindi. Due to lack of locomotives and fuel, freight trains have largely been suspended, some passenger trains have been withdrawn, and many air conditioned passenger couches have been taken out of service. There are exclusively diesel locomotive hauled trains. A survey of all classes can be found in the internet. Two railcars delivered by Hitachi in 1967 are stored in Lahore. At present there are no steam excursion trains to the Khyber Pass, nor from Rawalpindi to Golra Sharif, or from Lahore to Changa Manga and Khewra. All steam locomotives considered operational stand idle in Lahore and Rawalpindi workshops.

The metre gauge lines around Mirpur Khas in Sindh province were either converted to broad gauge, or closed down after monsoon damage in 2007/08. However, a video on YouTube from 2010 shows YD 520 shunting passenger coaches through Mirpur Khas station to another siding. The locomotive is said to still have been in Mirpur Khas shed in February 2012. The last narrow gauge (762mm) lines had closed over 20 years ago. Some steam locomotives have survived plinthed in various places around the country. In addition, there were and some still are a number of industrial, forest and agricultural railway systems of various gauges.

All steam locomotives sighted during the 2013 trip are compiled in the table. It should be noted that no particular attempt was made to add to the list. Additional data on the locomotives listed and other machines preserved in the country can be found in Thomas Kautzors’s 2006 report on this site.

Survey of steam locomotives seen in Pakistan in 2013

Gauge Class, Number Manufacturer’s dates Location
1676mm „Eagle“ Stephenson 1872/1871 plinthed inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm MG 233 Kitson (UK) 1908 demonstration object in Lahore railway academy
1676mm L 448 „Iron Horse“ Dübs 3979/1897 plinthed inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm XB 450 Armstrong Whitworth 1065/1930 plinthed inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm SGC 1225 scrap inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm SGS 2473 stored inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm SPS 3078 stored inside locomotive workshops Lahore
1676mm CWD 5734 Can.Loco W. 2259/1945 museum Golra Sharif (Islamabad)
1676mm CWD 5735 Can.Loco W. 2260/1945 stored inside locomotive workshops Lahore
762mm G 57 NBL 18330/1908 plinthed in front of railway headquarters Lahore
762mm GS 64 NBL 22768/1921 museum Golra Sharif (Islamabad)
762mm ZB 203 Hanomag 10759/1932 plinthed in front of Rawalpindi station
762mm ZB 205 Hanomag 10761/1932 plinthed in front of Lahore station
762mm ZB 207 Hanomag 10763/1932 museum Golra Sharif (Islamabad)
762mm ZE 234 Hanomag 10739/1930 plinthed outside locomotive workshops Lahore
610mm - Hunslet 1077/1911? plinthed in Changa Manga amusement park
610mm 1763 A. Barclay 1763/1923 stored Changa Manga forest railway yard
610mm 17208 John Fowler 17208/1927 operational in Changa Manga forest railway yard
610mm 21496 John Fowler 21496/1936 stored Changa Manga forest railway yard

Changa Manga is a town located about 70km south of Lahore, at the main line to Karachi. A few hundred metres to the south-east of the PR station, at the main road to Chunian, immediately after the bridge over the railway line, the forest railway yard can be found to the right, and opposite at a track triangle the passenger platform. The 2 feet (610mm) railway is still owned by the Punjab Forestry Department. Due to lack of forest timber, trains were suspended in 2006 or 2007. Only a few timber trolleys stripped of their bogies remain, so that authentic timber trains can no longer be formed. The only track left runs about 6km to an amusement park. Diesel and steam hauled trains run on Sundays. For these a Swedish made diesel locomotive (no. 895) and at least one steam locomotive, no. 17208 are available. I visited on a Monday. No. 17208 was just serviced after the previous day’s outing. No. 21496 looked well greased, but its tender stood in front of it. No. 1763 had apparently not been used for quite a while. As I had no time for another visit at the subsequent weekend, I arranged a steam train charter during the week. However, when I called again beforehand, the head officer had changed his mind.

Around 100km to the south-west of Lahore, at the line to Shorkot, lies the village of Buchiana. In 1898 a 2 feet horse tramway was opened from nearby Gangapur town to carry freight and passengers to the railway station. After a parallel road had been built it closed in 1998 (a plague in Golra Sharif museum alternatively mentions 1905 and 1990, respectively). In 2010 the tramway was reopened, but due to competition by faster and more comfortable motorbikes and motor rickshaws there is no real need for it. The three of us were asked a total of 150 rupees (roughly £ 1) for the trip. See this IRFCA article for more information, the same site has a very nice set of pictures of the tram in action.

I can’t see a reason not to visit Pakistan again. I stayed away from the Khyber Pass and other regions considered dangerous for foreigners and even citizens of other regions of Pakistan. When I travelled I did not sense any particular dangers, nor did I encounter any major problems. Most nights I stayed in the university guest house where the conference took place. The rooms were “Western” standard. Consequently I applied the principle of the clean and the dirty hand only twice. And once you get used to it, then it is more hygienic than our use of toilet paper, anyway. Street criminality is no worse than anywhere else. Somewhat nerving were the frequent power cuts even in the city of Lahore. No idea how reliable the electricity supply is in the countryside. The best period for travelling in Pakistan is November till March. In mid March there were already occasional rains and even thunderstorms, and the sky was often dull. On other days the air was very dry, and the climate at temperatures of 30 deg C maximum very pleasant. Gathering information can be a problem. While there are websites for example about the Changa Manga forest railway and the Khewra salt mine (where there is an electric tourist train into the underground mine), they usually lack telephone numbers or email addresses. In addition, in particular in the countryside many people do not speak English. Yet almost everybody was friendly and open-minded.

The Gangapur Horse Tram:

The Changa Manga Railway, 17208 upper and 21496 lower:

ZB 205 at Lahore station:

GS 64 at Golra Sharif

ZE 234 at Lahore

Inside Lahore Works:

MG 233 at Railway Academy, Lahore

Stationary boiler at Lahore diesel shed

Rob Dickinson