The Frontier Mail And The Grand Trunk Express.

My regular readers will recollect my fascination for the railways. As a traveling salesman before I got kicked upstairs and could fly, I have traveled throughout India by trains, and two of the trains that I used fairly regularly were the Frontier Mail from Bombay and back to Bombay from various places, or from Delhi to the Punjab and back; and the Grand Trunk Express. The very name Frontier Mail was enough to bring up many stories of the Frontier, now being called the trouble spots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Here is what the Indian Railway Fan Club says about the Frontier Mail.
Frontier Mail

The Frontier Mail was flagged off on Sep. 1, 1928, from Colaba Terminus, the main station on the BB&CI (later Western Railway). It was a replacement for the earlier Mumbai-Peshawar Mail. In winter (Sep. – Dec.), the Frontier Mail started from Ballard Pier (Mole Station) to connect with P&O steamships; this is the portion referred to as the “Duplicate” section of the Frontier Mail in old railway schedules and articles.

Leaving from Mole Station the train ran for a short while on tracks of the Bombay Port Railway and the GIPR via Bandra Jn. finally reaching its home tracks of the BB&CI Railway. For the rest of the year the train terminated at Colaba, but a separate train ran to Ballard Pier for the steamer connection. There were also times when the train ran this extra bit on some days of the week alternating with the normal route.

The train’s route took it through Baroda, Ratlam, Mathura, Delhi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and finally to Peshawar. (The section beyond Delhi was run by the North Western Railway as train No. 3.) Peshawar was close to the frontier of British India in those days, hence the name of the train. It used to be the fastest long-distance train in the subcontinent.

Originally the BB&CI introduced it to rival the Punjab Limited of the GIPR, which also went from Bombay to Peshawar. The train had a reputation for being unusually punctual. Originally the rake had 5 coaches and a luxury dining car cum lounge car. As a prestige train of the BB&CI, the train offered plush conveniences on board, and the passengers had access to luxurious retiring rooms at stations along the way. It had air-cooled cars (using ice blocks) from about 1934.

After Independence, it went only up to Amritsar, via Delhi, from Bombay. The train has now [1996] been renamed “Golden Temple Mail”.

And this about the Grand Trunk Express:

The Grand Trunk Express

This train, affectionately known as the ‘GT’ started running in 1929 just after the construction of the Kazipet-Balharshah section, which was the last link in the Delhi-Madras route. Initially it ran from Peshawar to Mangalore and took about 104 hours, one of the longest train routes. Later this service was changed to Lahore-Mettupalaiyam. In 1930 it reached its present status while running between Delhi and Madras.

As a prestigious train, it was one of the few to have the early methods of air cooling by ice blocks. It also carried a parcel van for urgent consignments. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the train used to run with a completely air-conditioned rake (First AC and AC Chair Car) on two days of the week, and with its usual rake on other days, and hence was sometimes known as the AC/GT Express. The train had a 21-coach rake in the 1980s, later extended to 22 and finally 24 coaches. Its first-class coaches were of the corridor type with extra large windows. The GT’s coaches (along with those of other premier trains in the 1970s) also had noticeably better suspension as well.”

Both these trains were part of the undivided India before partition between India and Pakistan, and many refugees in post partition India can tell stories about these two trains and what they did during the partition killings too.

The railways in both the countries were of vital importance for movement of goods and passengers and in India they continue to be even now. For instance, as this is being published, I am on my way to the South of India and two legs of my journey including an overnight one, totaling 32 hours will be by train.

Here is an image of a Pakistani train that was published some years ago showing passengers leaving Karachi to their various homes for Ramzan Id.

It therefore has come as a great disappointment to me when I read about the condition of the Pakistani Railways. If the contents of the article are true, Pakistan will be in greater trouble than it has been perceived to be, as it will seriously affect the movement of goods and passengers within Pakistan.

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