The International Steam Pages

Pakistan Steam - the last gasp?

The following report has been sent to me by Vic Allen of Enthusiast Tours. Contact points are at the bottom of the page.

Pakistan 01-15 January 1997


Until the newspaper report in 10 January's "Baluchistan Times" and a subsequent newspaper report on 13 January, that the Cabinet was meeting that day to discuss a programme of closures for the worst loss-making lines, my observations tended to suggest that the earlier alarmist reports of the impending doom had been greatly exaggerated. The slow decline of steam continued, although, in my view, not at a greatly accelerated rate. We encountered only one rumour, at Malakwal, that steam would finish there at the end of January. All other railwaymen we spoke to seemed optimistic that steam would continue, and the reports that two of Malakwal's SPS 4-4-0s had been overhauled at Lahore and were shortly expected back, seemed encouraging.

All of this optimism has now evaporated with the newspaper report from one of Pakistan's national newspapers (probably the "Dawn") of January 15. It indicates the services (mainly erstwhile steam-worked services) which were to be withdrawn completely with effect from January 18, and my contact in Islamabad faxed me on January 20 to say that these withdrawals had actually happened. The effect is to leave one return working each at Malakwal and at Mirpur Khas (the latter being the strategic Khokhropar branch, towards the Indian border) and nothing at all at Samasata, which he claims to be completely dieselised.

Our tour, of course, took place just before these changes and there follows some notes about what we did and saw. We used a chartered sleeping- and restaurant-car train throughout, except for 2 nights hotel in Peshawar (Dean's Hotel) and 2 nights in Quetta (Quetta Serena).

Rawalpindi - Peshawar

Malakwal had turned out SGS 0-6-0 2471 for the second year running as our railtour loco. It performed admirably, and we linesided our special train from Taxila to Peshawar, including the famous Attock Bridge shot. There are, of course, notices at each end of the bridge stating that photography is strictly forbidden, but we were discreet and nobody took any notice of us!

Khyber pass

HGS 2277 and 2306 were the locos for our train to Landi Kotal and back, starting and finishing as usual at Jamrud, because of the military airfield which the line crosses between Peshawar and Jamrud. In practice, no objection is normally raised to people travelling Jamrud/Peshawar on the engine on the return journey.

Khyber Pass special HGS 2277 and 2306

Peshawar - Jand - Mari Indus - Kundian - Malakwal Jn

Again 2471 was the loco working the 5 car train (3 sleepers, 1 restaurant car and 1 brake) - it worked normally from Peshawar to Attock City, but "trailed" with diesel haulage from Attock onwards. This is because, as in previous years, the CME was not happy for a train to be steam-hauled on lines which steam does not regularly work; the technique adopted was therefore to be diesel hauled (GM 4919) with the steam loco attached to the rear of the train, chimney outwards, in steam, to perform the "run-pasts" as required. This technique worked well, was fully accepted by the tour participants, and of course, enables pictures in locations which would otherwise be missed. It is also very easy to select the "phot-spots" from the cab of the diesel!

Mari Indus

The tour locomotive was ZB 203, nicely turned out and hauling one carriage. It made several runs within the station/shed limits. It was not, however, without injector problems so its runs were confined as above. The other locos, all dead, were ("G") 47, 70; ("GS") 64/64/66; ("ZE") 201, 230/2/3/4

ZB 203 revival after 6 years of stagnation


On shed, all apparently in working order (and we saw all except 2473 and 2988 working were (SGS) 2470/1/3 and 2395 (the latter being station pilot); (SPS) 2976, 3166, 2988; being worked on were SPS 3159 and 2985, and according to the depot manager, 3191, 2997 and 2973 were in Mogulpura works, Lahore, and two out of the three were expected back at Malakwal any day.

Malakwal - Gharibwal, Malakwal -Khewra and Dandot, Malakwal - Bhera

Storm clouds over Gharibwal

All these trains were worked on the tour by 2470 or 2471. The attraction of the morning Gharibwal train is the salt mountain range which forms the backdrop of the train shunting, and starting its return journey at Gharibwal (you have to order the loco to start from Malakwal tender-first so that it will be chimney first on the return); the line from Khewra to Dandot is officially closed, but we ran as far as the gorge (about 1-1.5km from Khewra) having had the landslide removed from the gorge by Pakistan "navvies" (working for, and paid by, Enthusiast Holidays through its agents in Islamabad, but working under railway staff supervision), during the three weeks prior to our arrival. They had done well, as in some places the landslip reached 4 feet deep over the track. Fortunately, the track had not been damaged and our entire 5 car train was permitted over it, naturally at rather low speed! Between Khewra station and the gorge there is also a rather nice curve, good in the afternoon sun. We would have liked the "navvies" to have got a little further than the gorge, but we were most grateful for what they had done! The afternoon Bhera branch train, normally worked by a Rawalpindi diesel, was made a "plandampf" for the occasion; again 2470, chimney-first outward, tender-first back.

Essential service - fresh water for Gujar in the Salt Range

SPS workings

Only trains 460/459 were steam worked during our visit - indeed on Jan 06 the rostered engine 3166 failed and it was replaced by a diesel; on Jan 07 3166 did work the train, leaking steam from everywhere. Trains 201/202 had definitely gone over to diesel haulage at the time of our visit, and this was not merely because 2976 had been earmarked as the railtour engine.

Classic SPS 4-4-0 rides off into the sunset

Malakwal - Faisalabad - Shorkot Cant

2976 was the railtour engine, beautifully turned out and feeling very strong. It was booked to run to Faisalabad, but because of some cock-up there was no power waiting for us there so 2976 continued to Shorkot, where a diesel took us overnight to Khanewal Jn.

Samasata Area

We were supposed to have been met by a CWD at Khanewal Jn at 00.335 on Jan 09 but there had been a serious passenger train derailment (1 killed 15 injured) the previous morning on the line from Khanewal to Samasata, so it wasn't until nearly 06.30 that our loco reached us, having been re-routed via Multan. The loco was 5735 and the tour train continued with this haulage to Samasata and then with the same engine after servicing, we were booked to go to Bahawalnagar and back, but because of the long delay, we turned back at a station before Hasilpur, in order to preserve the integrity of the rest of the tour train timetable (I did not want on any account to prejudice our HGS from Sibi Jn). A visit to Samasata shed revealed only 3 CWD in steam (5735, 5100 and 5114). However, at least one other loco was out, as I gather one of the diagrams (to Fort Abbas) requires the engine to be away from its home shed for days at a time.

Quetta area

On arrival at Sibi Jn early on Jan 10 we were pleased to see HGS 2216 ready and waiting for our special train. The operating authorities had imposed a weight limit of 150 tons, so our special from Sibi consisted of several shallow wagons, normally used for ballast/stone etc. and a brake van with a small cabin, and open platforms at each end. Because it was a beautiful day, everybody enjoyed standing on the open platforms! Four hours had been allowed for the run from Sibi and we used all of this, with plenty of good run-pasts. We were supposed to go with our HGS only to Ab-e-Gum, 63 km, but when we arrived there, there was no power to take us on, so 2216 proceeded with its curious goods trains with 24 delighted passengers to Mach, a further 12 km. After time for tea in Mach's station restaurant, our normal 5-car train caught up with us (with Alco diesel haulage) and we continued in it (or linesiding from the minibuses, whichever people preferred) for the remaining 66km to Quetta.

Steam on the Bolan Pass with HGS 2216!

The following day we took our special train (Alco diesel hauled) over the Khojak Pass and through the Khojak Tunnel to Chaman, very near to the Afghan border, and back. En route, we stopped at Bostan Jn, the start of another defunct narrow gauge line (to Zhob) and inspected the contents of the shed. Unlike Mari Indus, the locos are not maintained and most of them have bits missing. None is remotely workable in the foreseeable future. Locos were ("G") 46, 57, 74; "GS") 62, 65

Mirpur Khas

Despite impending doom, this was a remarkably busy and bustling place. On Jan 13, MG2 (07-.30 to Khokhropar) left behind 2-8-2 722; MG22 (07.30 to Nawabshah) with 4-6-0 138; MG14 (09.10 anticlockwise round the Jhudo loop) with 2-8-2 520 and MG6 (15.00 to Khokhropar) with 2-8-2 732. MG15 (06.30 clockwise round the Jhudo loop) had been cancelled.

The following day MG15 ran with 2-8-2 732; MG2 went out with 520; MG22 with 4-6-0 63; MG14 with 2-8-2 722 and MG6 was booked for 721 or 138 - I don't know which loco took it as we had to leave before departure time.

Kotri Jn

Completely full of stored locos. All looked as though they could be restored, although the cab fittings had been completely removed (I guess removed for safe keeping, rather than stolen). My previous visit 3 years ago had revealed a similar scene except that I recall an HGS or two, and possible an SGS (or even an SGC) in use shunting (HGS were active shunting here in Dec 92). Certainly SGS 2410 which had been station pilot at Malakwal in 1993 has now joined the ranks of the unemployed at Kotri.

And so ended what turned out to be a remarkably successful trip - and probably, I fear, the last of its kind. I am a little surprised that the Pakistan Government has taken this action only a month before the elections, because I imagine closing passenger train services is not exactly a vote winner! But the present Government is only a "caretaker government", and it may be that they can act with impunity as they are not expecting to return to power as a government in its present form.

Enthusiast tours run regular tours for enthusiasts, contact Vic Allen (please mention this page and my name!):
Enthusiast Tours, 146, Forest Hill Rd, London SE23 3QR United Kingdom
Within the UK Tel 0181 699 3654 Fax 0181 291 6496
Outside the UK (44) 181 699 3654 Fax (44) 181 291 6496

Rob Dickinson