The International Steam Pages
Around the World in Eighty Trains
Kevin Gould spent some 16 months living in Malaysia between September 1969 and January 1971. This tale recounts what happened when it was time to go home... It was written for Moors Line, the house magazine of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) where it appeared in 1981. Hence there are a number of references which will mean little if you are not British and of a certain age! The only changes I have made are for typos and minor errors of fact in the original.
I have prepared some indicative maps of significant parts of the route followed (RD). Click on any of the sections below to display the required map and then click the map to return to this page.
And seventy-eight of them were behind steam! Well, that was the whole idea about that journey in the first place and, although it was completed over a period of six months continuous rail travelling in 1971, it could probably be achieved today by anyone inspired enough to attempt it and who is prepared for plenty of incidents.
"Single to Sunderland, please!" ... a commonplace remark to any ticket clerk you may think, except that this particular request was made in Singapore! Apart from the Bangkok to Calcutta section, which spans Burma and is (still) inaccessible as a through route by road or rail, the entire 12,000 mile journey (8,000 miles as the sober crow flies) was made by rail and 98% of this, involving 78 locomotives, was behind steam power. Five gauges were used, 5ft. 6in. 4ft. 8½ in. metre, 2ft. 6in. and 2ft., with haulage behind eleven types of wheel arrangements, including 4-4-0, 0-8-2 and 2-10-0. Oil fired, wood burning and coal fired locomotives were all travelled upon, as well as a unique little 2-6-4T fired on treated sewage/grease mixture! One of the oldest engines ridden was a Pakistan Western Railway Vulcan Foundry 1914-built 4-4-0 tender locomotive, SP 406S, in Lahore, whilst, joy of joys, one Indian Western Railway YG metre gauge 2-8-2 No. 3566 had been put into traffic as a brand new engine just two days before my trip behind it. That twelve hour night ride going across the Western Ghats will forever remain a glorious memory as it kept up its crisp chatter, hour after melodious hour.
After spending two years in Malaya, the prospect of a VC10 16-hour flight back home, which conveniently obscured all the further delights of the Orient, did not appeal one little bit. The possibility of a return via Japan and the Trans-Siberian was considered but as quickly discounted because of the reported gross tedium of that particular route, fascinating as it would no doubt have been. However, the possibilities of "shed-bashing" and footplating seemed remote. So, after an abandoned "warm-up" tour in Indonesia, the final route chosen from Singapore, up the east coasts of Malaya and Thailand thence through India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to Europe was opted for.
The author with the locomotive crew at Kollar beside No. 507 whilst working the 06.50 Bangalore to Bangarapet on 17th January 1971.
As a railway centre Singapore is a nonentity. It is merely the terminus of the southern reaches of the Malayan Railway system and as such is served by the locomotives and stock of that Railway. Departure from here was made behind a local steam stopper, as the main line trains were hauled by 1957-built English Electric Co-Co diesels, which went north 150 miles to Gemas Junction. The locomotive on my train was No. 564.23 "Ulu Selangor", one of Malaya's then eighty strong North British oil fired 3-cylinder Pacifics. All the Pacifics were named after geographical locations in Malaya, the other two "56" class which I was hauled by as far as the Thailand border being "Jelebu" and "Kuala Trengganu". However, just north of Gemas, between Rompin and Bahau, whilst bowling through a single line loop passing the southbound "Sumpitan Emas" (Golden Blowpipe), the motion of the Pacific snagged the shirt of an Indian signalman holding out the token and. after severing his arm at the shoulder, flung him a full five yards back onto the platform—the first incident of the long trek home. Onwards into Sungai Golok in Thailand behind a tender-first "McArthur" 2-8-2 No. 90127 on a three coach mixed train. As reparations for the destruction they caused between 1941 and 1943, the Japanese provided Thailand, in the early 1950s, with a series of attractive 2-8-2 tender locomotives and scores of really beautiful Pacifics—mostly supplied from Sharyo Co., Nagoya, Japan. In travelling up the east coast of Thailand into the rump of S.E. Asia, not one dirty steam engine was seen. The crews took an obvious enthusiastic pride in the appearance of their engines. Bang Sue shed in Bangkok was a non starter for steam activity. Servicing facilities were provided for the workings that existed but principally it housed the large local fleet of American and Japanese 'growlers' (diesels). One regular steam working, however, involved the use of a class of interesting 2-6-0's west to Thonburi and the 'Bridge over the River Kwai'. Chengmai near the Laotian border is a two day steam trip north from Bangkok and boasts "the world's most beautiful women"... far more of a draw as it turned out than the local engine shed which only housed two 2-8-2's and a solitary 2-6-0. For some, one day in India is a nightmarish lifetime. Abject poverty and destitution is widespread but remarkably the spirit of the average Indian is irrepressible. There is a friendly camaraderie to be discovered amongst the railway fraternity and the British enthusiast is assured of most generous hospitality. Madras is nearly 1,000 miles down the east coast of India from Calcutta. Behind a decrepit electric locomotive our train set off from Howrah/Calcutta station for the two and a half day journey south, but thankfully we ran out of 'wire' at Kharagpur just seventy-two miles on where a massive steam junction exists. WP 7316 (Canadian Locomotive Co. 1949) backed on for the first twelve hour stint to Cuttack. These impressive bullet-nose broad gauge (5ft. 6in.) Pacifics haul prodigious passenger loads all over the Indian Railway system and all the 750 plus engines are still going strong. Footplating on No. 7316 was a startling experience with three firemen (standard practice on all broad gauge and metre gauge locomotives at that time) occupying the cab as well as our driver. The long heavy regulator handle was just too much for Driver Amil so the fireman who attended to the injectors also helped him to heave on it when required. A chain link fastened to the cab roof kept it open when running. Much use was made of the melodious chime whistle as the big Pacific lurched and jolted its way south with 600 tons behind the tender. It was a pleasant gesture from the driver of each fresh engine to welcome the company of an Englishman with him so I was able to spend that entire 950 miles from Kharagpur to Madras on four consecutive footplates, two WP Pacifies and two WG 2-8-2's. But then in India you can always expect the unexpected to happen in a most unpredictable land. The next three months were spent covering as much of India by rail as possible, totally excusable when the 1st class pre-routed ticket I ordered only cost £8 – for over 5,000 miles! To briefly explain that miracle of clerical connivance huge reductions (up to 50%) are available on this type of ticket above a certain mileage level and further equally large reductions are obtainable for various professions of 'tourist' e.g. engineers. doctors, teachers, policemen and "wizards" (honest). Other minor (10 – 15%) concessions are also available so, with a bit of detective work and a bit of guile a ticket originally costing £45 can be legitimately reduced to £8.
Built by Nasmyth Wilson in 1937 (Works N. 1647) T class
2-6-2T No. 32074 is station
A brief survey of some highlights in India included our WG 2-8-0 blowing its fusible plug at Walajah Road. Now this was convenient because a curious branch line ran from here across a reservoir(!) then on to Ranipettai... a long name for a short trip (2½km) to nowhere! Kept specially for the branch were half a dozen PT class 2-6-4 tanks built at Darlington in 1937. It was "Shandy Day" (market day) on the day I went on No. 37156 – fitted with Lentz rotary valve gear which, from the sound of the exhaust beat, had not been set right since leaving its birthplace in County Durham. One of the class is now in the new Delhi museum. On to the the 'Blue Mountains' of the Nilgiri Hills and to what must rank as India's second most amazing railway after the Darjeeling-Himalayan. The WP-hauled "Nilgiri Express" thunders through the night from Madras to terminate at Mettupalayam, and from here a metre gauge line climbs the 7,500 ft. up to Ootacamund ('Ooty') in an incredible six-hour journey. Swiss-built 0-8-2 tanks, compound fitted for working the lower half rack section of 1 in 12 gradients push the six-coach trains up the hill on settings (quoted Driver Gilhooly) "of never less than full regulator and 45% cut-off". Six hours of solid thrash and some of these engines have been going since 1920! Most of the line operates through semi-jungle so there is always the possibility of a glimpse of elephants, monkeys and peacocks. On to Bangalore, again in south India, to an unusual station in as much as it offered three gauges under one roof. The 2ft. 6in. line runs to Bangarapet only 50km on the broad gauge direct line, but this pleasant country route describes the other three sides of the rectangle of which the 5ft. 6in. line is the fourth side. The Sunday morning I took the six o'clock departure the running foreman from Yelahanka shed happened to dash onto the train at the last moment. Conversation with him led to an invite onto the footplate – quite a hilarious episode really as there were five on the narrow gauge footplate already. Our foreman reached the decision rather rapidly that the left leading driving spring on our engine was weak and required renewal – as did all the piston and valve rod gland packings, in his opinion. Seven miles on at Yelahanka. where the workshops and shed for the line's locomotive fleet is located, the engine was "stopped" for repairs and a fitting gang with new spring and packing was despatched to the station to attend to 507 ES, our 1913 built Kerr Stuart Pacific. In the meantime the passengers had a picnic breakfast on the platform and I went off to enjoy a leisurely shed-bashing session. On view were ES class Pacifies 505 and 508, both ex-works, a 1954 Nippon ZP Pacific, a couple more Pacifics and a 2-6-4 tank. By mid morning we were underway from Yelahanka arriving at Bangarapet 8½ hours after some really fast (for narrow gauge) stretches of running, the engine being worked on the reverser all the time, on no more than half regulator. The broad gauge shed at Bangarapet housed three engines, all for use on the branch to Marikuppam, a shanty town in the heart of the Kolar Goldfields. This week's branch engine was 1923 North British 4-6-0 No. 24364, today driven by the shed foreman. Disappointed at having his photo taken on a "much unclean" engine he persuaded me to stay overnight at his home and in the meantime he had the standby engine, Bagnall 4-6-0 No. 24369 of 1923, specially painted by the night shift and especially lit up for the job. Thank you Driver/Foreman C. Ranganathan for a sight which left me speechless that next morning. With blobs of wet green, black, red, yellow and white paint dripping from No. 24369, off we hurtled down the branch non-stop for a meteoric run. The time saved allowed a few unscheduled photographic runpasts for Mr. Ranganathan's benefit and I have never been more pleased than to send on those photographs to him.
The specially painted 4-6-0 No. 24369 at Marikkuppam after working in the branch train from Bangarapet on 18th January 1971.
On the "Deccan Express" next for the 650 mile trip behind a succession of YP Pacifies, to Pune (Poona). The first engine change, incidentally, came after thirteen and a half hours of continual running, when 280 metre gauge miles north of Bangalore, Hubli Junction was reached… bang on time. Interesting branches en route included the one to Goa (West of India Portuguese Railway) exclusively worked by old North British YD 2-8-2s helped out by prehistoric GS class 4-8-0's on the 1 in 39 grades. Further up country to Miraj finds two short local branches (one to Kolhapur) worked by the quite rare YK class – a peculiar tender cab 2-6-0 of which only 24 were built, either by Hunslet or Skoda in the 1930s. A narrow gauge line also operates from Miraj with haulage behind Nasmyth Wilson 2-8-2 and 4-6-4s (F and G classes). With so much steam activity here Miraj is locally referred to as 'Whistling Junction'. In 1971 the line north from Miraj to Poona was metre gauge and most trains hauled by the handsome YC Pacifies, of which comparatively few were built. Now however the entire section has been converted to broad gauge and the YCs withdrawn. Moving from Poona to Bombay then North East on the broad gauge up to the Himalayas passing through huge steam junctions with hardly a diesel or electric in sight… can this be Heaven?
All sorts of engines can be seen in the North in a multitude of colours and embellishments, including the topical practice then of using the broad gauge locomotives tenders to carry Government adverts proclaiming the virtues of family planning and contraception. Stupid it may seem but remember we on the N.Y.M.R. once used No. 1247 as a mobile bill-board for ball bearings! Like No. 1247's experiment the local reception to this concept also proved hostile. On to the good old North Eastern Railway at Lucknow and up to the cold Himalayan reaches of the North East Frontier Railway. Again, steam abounds everywhere – all metre gauge – except of course for the incredible and fabulous Darjeeling – Himalayan Railway with its ancient saddle tanks and quite unbelievable mountain scenery. Owen Glendower on the Vale of Rheidol is likened to a carpet railway compared to this gem of steamy mountainous phantasmagoria! To all you intrepid travellers who might only get one opportunity in a lifetime to visit India, go to this Railway for the most unforgettable experience of steam and scenery blended better nowhere on God's earth, that I know of anyway. Enough has been written of this line elsewhere, and more capably, than to bear repetition here, suffice it to say it has no equal. Back west again through Lucknow and Bareilly to Delhi. Bags of steam, no 'diseasels', still Heaven! Thence to Agra on the "Taj Express" for a high-speed run behind No. WP 7009. one of the few built at Chrzanow Shops, Poland, in 1958 and highly rated by its regular driver, Ramchandra. At that time, in early 1971, there were (supposedly) only two legitimate border crossing points between India and West Pakistan, one in the North at Firozpur – giving access to Lahore and one in the South-West at Munabao – en route to Karachi. The southern option was adopted because it offered the chance of riding the 280 miles of desert beyond Jodhpur to the border, behind PS Class 4-6-0's built in Britain at the turn of the century. The two day journey from Delhi to Jodhpur, behind a succession of YPs and YGs was enlivened by one or two notable Incidents. At Jaipur, our train took the astonishing time of 3½ hours to travel the length of the platform, the delay being due entirely to agitating "students" repeatedly pulling the communication cords as we tried to leave. I gave up counting our attempted departures after the sixth lurching stop. These students, apparently, were part of the Muslim minority of North West India, registering their protest against Indian (Hindu majority) "provocations" against West Pakistan (Muslim). Half way to Jodhpur an abrupt but fascinating change of scenery took place for about six miles. The semi-desert landscape was replaced by a vast salt field ("Sebkha's") shimmering and blinding white In the fierce Indian high noon sun. The field had been divided into large rectangular reservoirs by raised narrow embankments along which a narrow-gauge steam railway ran. Several train loads of salt were glimpsed trundling along these banks behind curious smokey "dinky toy" engines.
The diminutive salt train amidst a shimmering salt
field is pictured between Phulera and
At Jodhpur the news was disheartening… the border at Munabao had been closed due to worsening relations between India and Pakistan. The Firozpur border, over six hundred miles north across the Great Thar Desert was, however, still open. Nevertheless an interesting two days of rest and recuperation at Jodhpur were spent in the company of driver Sharma on his immaculate little T Class 2-6-2 Tank No. 32040 (Nasmyth Wilson 1925) the local station pilot. It was bearing a recently-new inscription in the cab stating it to be the cleanest locomotive in the Division… and little wonder, for by bribing his fireman with two bottles of "Goldwater" beer a day the driver ensured that this willing accomplice (and several local urchins) polished 32040 nightly! Overall then, the mainly-steam railway system of India, second in scale only to Russia, is full of surprises and fascination for the steam enthusiast, though definitely not for the squeamish or those of "a nervous disposition". Crews are very friendly with smoke, smoke effects and footplate rides available almost "on request". Most wheel arrangements are represented from 4-4-0 to Garratts (latterly in store) as well as an assortment of liveries. Of interest is the Railway's method of feeding its passengers on a lengthy run. At conventional meal times stewards walk the train and take orders. At the next stop these are tapped ahead, by morse signalling, to the next station where "char-wallahs" (tea-sellers) load on to the train individual trays of freshly prepared food. A typical evening meal might be scrambled eggs, toast, vegetable curry, pot of tea – 4 rupees (20p) steaming pots of spiced (cardamom seeds) tea are sold at every station at "give-away" prices (1p). Enough of India and on to Pakistan. Due to the worsening relations between the two countries in mid 1971 (which soon after precipitated outright war) services on the rail link between Amritsar (near Firozpur) and Lahore, in Pakistan, had been suspended. Not to worry, the Bedford-bus ride for the fifty miles only cost 1.75 rupees (8p!!!) I only meant to pass through Lahore but stopped six weeks.
SP 406S leaves Lahore. The locomotive was one of many footplated by the author.
That first evening in Lahore, whilst footplating large-boilered 4-4-0 SP 406S (Nasmyth Wilson 1914) I had a Pentax stolen by the fireman. It was recovered by the police three days later but the court case dragged on for a further six weeks and culminated in fireman Abdul Rashid being committed to Rawalpindi jail for eighteen months. So what can be seen in Pakistan if you have a month and a half on your hands and an inquisitive interest in steam. Perhaps the best bet then, and now, are the old British 4-4-0's, so closely resembling and built at the same time as the Midland and L.M.S. 2P 4-4-0 of the 406XX Series, etc. These engines, like SP 406's, now almost 70 years old, are reckoned to be the oldest operational 4-4-0's in the world. Forty were in service in 1971, most working the north-east passenger routes, especially on the Multan-Malakwal-Wazirabad secondary main line, but many are believed to be still working on this same route today. Beyond Wazirabad is Rawalpindi, from where you can take a pleasant rattling ride behind another old British product, an 0-6-0 tender locomotive (Class SGS) to Peshawar, jumping off point for the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan. On Fridays you can take the weekly mixed train from there to the Western (Afghan) end of the Khyber, up thirty-two miles of mostly 1 in 33, rising to three and a half thousand feet, with the help of two train reversals. Makes our line seem like a billiard table, doesn't it! The nearly four hour ride will cost you 3½ rupees (20p) for which you'll get an ancient SGS (Armstrong-Whitworth or Vulcan Foundry) at either end… all the way. The Steam Locomotive Operators Association would be hard pressed to beat that for value! And that is not all. You can get the opportunity of jumping off the train, half way there, at the first reversal (Medanak) to climb 200 ft. above the track and photograph the train labouring up the 1¾ mile horse-shoe to the second reversal (Changai). Now you know why they have a locomotive at each end.
The crew of SP 406S. The thieving fireman is on the left.
In all my travels, however, the line which created the most vivid impression (Himalayas included) was that which stretches from Quetta, in the Bolan Heights of north western Pakistan, across 456 miles of the blustery desolate wilderness of Baluchistan to Zahidan, fifty miles across the border into Iran. And despite the desert it was entirely steam worked! This difficult line, officially called the "Nushki Extension Railway" (N.E.R.!!) was completed by British Engineers just before the outbreak of World War 1. and is laid over "Dasht" (stony plain) and sand-hills… which move at the rate of 500-600 ft. per year. These are locally known as "Do-Regs" and have a fairly regular outline, being about 1½ miles long and 80 ft. tall at the apex. A naturally ruling gradient of about 1 in 100 therefore exists being alternatively up, and then down. Under heavy steam the 2-8-0 takes a good run down the first incline, thereafter the driver keeps but a breath of steam in the cylinders to keep up the momentum of the train. Mile after monotonous mile is covered using this technique, and although the speed gets down to less than walking pace at times, the train keeps moving and saves precious water.
Three HGS class 2-8-0's all British and pre-1918 built and oil-fired, were used on the once-a-week mixed train. Each locomotive carried at least one spare water tender When you come to Zahindan you also come to the end of the line that physically stretches all the way from Singapore and the South China Sea. There is (or was in 1971) a four hundred mile gap before rail is picked up once again, leading north to Tehran. After the Diesels of Iran it was a pleasant change to arrive at Erzurum, in Eastern Turkey near the Russian border, to find steam in abundance and a thick mantle of snow everywhere. The rough-necked "Texas Turks" of this part of Asia do not particularly like Europeans (the only hostility encountered en route) as the shed foreman at Erzurum suitably demonstrated. In my youth I have been escorted out of Polmadie shed, Glasgow by police and alsatians and sworn at by foremen from Kittybrewster to Yeovil Junction, but that was the one and only time I have ever been "snowballed" off shed. He was a canny shot as well! The consolation for that experience appeared, with the arrival from the Russian frontier, of the thrice weekly evening Istanbul train, two Henschel 2-10-0s no less at its head. Plenty of solid-looking 2-8-0s, 2-10-0s and 0-8-0s to be seen on the way to Ankara, with no diesels in sight till then. An ex-L.M.S. 8F, out of steam, was spotted in company with various other T.C.D.D. working 2-8-0's near a four road shed east of Sivas. So, after 2½ days of battling through the rugged snowy mountains of Eastern Turkey, the train makes a final speedy tour along the beautiful North Mediterranean coastline to terminate at Istanbul. Here, say farewell to the Orient, to cheap food and fares, to civilised leisurely travel and a reluctant hello to the insane and expensive hustle of Europe. Only one more pleasant steam surprise before England was reached. Plenty of steam to be seen in Yugoslavia, even around Beograd (Belgrade) where the 22-road roundhouse of Lozionica shed housed, amongst its Pacifics and Vulcan 2-8-0's four U.S.A. 0-6-0 tanks (same as the ex-B.R. fleet that shunted Southampton Docks for so many years). Splendidly turned out, they were kept busy round the clock on local shed, pilot, and carriage and wagon duties. The last pleasant steam memory then before the dreary journey through Germany and Belgium under the wires. A rough sea crossing from Ostend to Dover and on to D9009 "Alycidon" for the 10.00 a.m. "Flying Scotsman" from the "Cross" to Newcastle. Might as well finish off the long trek on a quality train, but if only it could be an A4 on the front. I don't suppose every story can have a happy ending!