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British Industrial History

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Khyber Pass Railway

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Historically, the main possibilities of a Russian invasion into India were through either the Khyber Pass or the Bolan Pass and therefore the Government planned that strategic railways be built in both of these passes to thwart this.

1879 A reconnaissance survey is conducted to find the feasibility of laying railways through the Khyber Pass but no further action was taken at the time

1905 A start was made from Kacha Garhi (between Peshawar and Jamrud). The track made progress westwards and 32 km of track had been laid by 1907.

1909 Because of changes politically, several kilometres of permanent way and bridges were uprooted from the Khyber Pass and sent to other areas of India to be used there.

1919 May. Political changes bring life back to the Khyber Pass Railway project. Colonel Gordon Hearn surveys and recommends the best route through the Khyber Pass. Previous surveys have recommended a metre gauge (1000 mm) but Hearn proposes that a broad-gauge (1676 mm) line can be laid through the pass.

1920 Construction restarts with Victor Bayley as engineer and the section from Jamrud to Landi Kotal, opens on November 3, 1925.

Engineer in charge is P. S. A. Berridge

1926 April 3rd. Another 8 km portion of track is opened between Landi Kotal and Landi Khana, just 3 km short of the actual frontier post of Torkham.

The cost of building the Khyber Pass railway was accounted as Rupees 485,000 per kilometre in 1926. despite this exorbitant cost of construction, Khyber Pass has never seen heavy rail traffic. At best there were only 2 trains per week here.

The railway has a ruling gradient of 3% between Jamrud and Landi Kotal. There is a rise of almost 2,000 feet in 34 kilometres, and then a drop of 872 feet in the next 8 kilometres to Landi Khana, where in many places the gradient stiffens to 1 in 25. There are 4 reversing stations, 34 tunnels with an aggregate length of more than 4 kilometres, 92 bridges and culverts, and 4 locomotive watering stations. During the construction, three million cubic yards of materials, mainly rock, were moved in the cuttings and embankments.

Reversing stations are an important feature of the railway; due to the tight space, the trains switch tracks and the engines change their roles - the trailing engine becomes the lead and vice versa at the reversing stations. Besides reversing stations, at numerous places catch sidings are also provided to handle runaway trains.

The Khyber Railways was the last of the great railway constructions undertaken on the frontier during the British Raj. From 1947 onwards, Pakistan Railway continued a weekly passenger service through the Khyber Pass. The service ran free of charge simply as a gesture to prove to the fiercely independent tribesmen that the line, inspite of them, was open and the Pakistan Government was in charge.

The regular service in the Khyber Pass stopped in 1982 due to the lack of commercial patronage.

Due to axle load limitations, diesel engines cannot run on this track so the railway to date is served by steam locomotion only.

See also -

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