Punjab Mail   

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16 Apr. 1853 - 16 Apr. 2002

Punjab Mail













Please note that the color of the panels and links box on this page represents the livery worn by the Punjab Mail. This livery is not necessarily the current one, but it certainly was a livery worn by this train at least once during its lifetime.



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1. The Punjab Mail in the 1930s behind an EA/1 (later WCP/1) locomotive. (Picture supplied by John Lacey.)
The origins of the Bombay to Peshawar Punjab Mail are rather unclear. Records in the CR archives are rather ambiguous. Nonetheless, based on a Cost Estimate paper circa 1911 and a complaint by an irate passenger circa October 12, 1912 about the 'late arrival of the train by a few minutes at Delhi', it has been more or less inferred that the Punjab Mail made her maiden run out of Ballard Pier Mole station on 1 June 1912.

Two surprises here: one, the Punjab Mail is over 16 years older than the more glamorous Frontier Mail. Unfortunately, the Punjab Mail is more nondescript, and has almost slipped into oblivion, even today, when she has finally regained her super fast status after several decades. Second, Ballard Pier Mole station was actually a hub for GIPR services. There is so much glitz and atmosphere associated with the Frontier Mail's run out of Mole station that one could easily wrongly assume that the station was of the BB & CIR.

To get a broad idea of how the idea of a Bombay to Peshawar train was conceived, we refer once again to the Cost Estimates of 1911. This document reveals that the expenses for bringing out a regular Bombay to Punjab service were to be shared equally by the GIP Railway and the North Western Railway. The document further states that the entire eight car train in tri composition only (whatever that means) would cost what was then an astronomical sum of 894,000 Indian rupees, or 89.40 lakhs, in Indian terminology. This cost included the design and construction of all the cars of special Burma teak at the Matunga Workshops.

The rest, as they say is history. The Punjab Mail, or Punjab Limited as she was then called, finally steamed out on 1 June 1912.

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8 - 9. (Left) Articulated first class car used on the Punjab Limited, and (Right) A 3rd class car of the Punjab Mail. Note use of external car lighting, to discourage theft, and to light up wayside stations.. (Pictures supplied by John Lacey)

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You will probably not believe this after reading the page about the glorious Frontier Mail, but the Ballard Pier Mole station was a GIP Railway nerve centre. But this I have already mentioned earlier.To begin with, there were the P & O steamers bringing in the mail, and the Officers of the Raj, along with their wives, on their first posting in Colonial India. The steamer voyage between Southampton and Bombay lasted thirteen days. As the British officials held combined tickets both for their voyage to Bombay, as well as their inland journey by train to their place of posting, they would, after disembarking, simply board one of the trains bound for either Madras, Calcutta or Delhi.

Of the trains, the most prestigious was the Punjab Mail, or Punjab Limited as she was then called. The Punjab Limited used to run on fixed mail days from Bombay's Ballard Pier Mole station all the way to Peshawar, via the GIP route, covering the 2,496 km in about 47 hrs.: very respectable indeed for a train in that era. The train comprised of six cars: three for passengers, and three for postal goods and mail. The three passenger carrying cars had a capacity of 96 passengers only. The sparkling cars were all corridor cars, and were made up of first class, dual berth compartments. Catering as they were to the upper class gentry, the cars were pretty well appointed, offering lavatories, bathrooms, a restaurant car, and a compartment for luggage and the servants of the white sahibs.

During the pre-partition period, the Punjab Limited was the fastest train in British India, a title subsequently taken by the Deccan Queen, Flying Ranee and Frontier Mail in subsequent years. The Punjab Limited's route ran over GIP track for the large part, and passed through Itarsi, Agra, Delhi, Amritsar and Lahore, before terminating at Peshawar Contonment. (Peshawar Cantt.)

However, although the Punjab Limited started off in 1912 from Ballard Pier Mole station as a 'limited' service on certain days only to Peshawar, the train started originating and terminating at Bombay VT (now Mumbai CST) from 1914. The train then loosely came to be known as the Punjab Mail, rather than Punjab Limited, and became a daily service. The more prestigious and snobbish Frontier Mail commenced much later, in 1928, so the Punjab Mail is actually a much older train.

From a service meant primarily for the upper class white sahibs, the Punjab Mail soon started catering to the lower classes too. Third class cars started appearing on the Punjab Mail by the mid 1930s, when the large XC class 4-6-2s came in, and which could handle the extra load on the train by virtue of their massive size and abundant power. A picture of an XC hauling the Frontier Mail can be seen on the Frontier Mail page. Hence, in the 1930s, the Punjab Mail was a prestigious train no doubt, but one which catered to third class passengers as well.

4. The Punjab Mail leaves New Delhi for Ferozepore behind a WP in the early 1970s. (Picture by John Lacey.This picture is a clone due to non availability of an actual pic of the train behind a WP.)

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In those days, a sort of 'race' was held among the trains running to the Frontier region. Trains that took part in the race were the Quetta Mail, Grand Trunk Express, Frontier Mail, the Punjab Limited (Mail), and another Punjab Mail (loosely referred to as the 'duplicate Punjab Mail) which belonged to the East Indian Railway, and which ran between Calcutta and Delhi.The races were held for a few months each at Karachi, Bombay, Delhi and Madras. However, the only real race worth noting is that between two arch rivals: the GIP's Punjab Mail vis a vis the BB & CI's Frontier Mail.

In 1914, the GIP route from Bombay to Delhi was some 1,541 km. which the train used to cover in 29 hr. 30 min. In the early 1920s, this transit time was further reduced to 27 hr. 10 min., despite as many as eighteen intermediate stops.  In 1972, the trainsit time was again pushed up to 29 hr. Today, the Punjab Mail has as many as 37 intermediate stops. The Central Railway however claims improvement in services due to the use of more modern modes of traction. 

The train's destination station was changed from Peshawar to Ferozepore after partition on India in 1947.

In order to maintain high running speeds, the GIP Railway conducted extensive tests on the Punjab Mail in 1929-30 with haulage by one of the new EA/1 electric locomotives. The weight of the Punjab Mail on this occasion was 368 tonnes, with 102 tonnes for the engine. Cautious driving was called for, for upto five miles out of Bombay. There were also several speed restrictions due to curves and junctions. From an average allowed speed of 60 mph, this was now increased to 75 mph. Despite these restrictions, a red signal and some permanent works, the train did the 62 km in 68 min. 25 sec. one way, and 70 min 35 sec. on the return.

The Central Railway is proud of two achievements of the Punjab Mail. First, it has not bent to the fiefdom and political antics of the ministers and other political heavyweights. The increase in halts etc. are purely on commercial grounds, they assure, but only after ensuring that the same schedules can be maintained due to increased speeds and modern modes of traction. Second, the Punjab Mail has the distinction of having never being discontinued all through the World Wars: it features in each and every year's timetable, right from 1914.

The Punjab Mail got an air conditioned car in 1945. Also, the GIP Railway has the reputation of introducing restaurant cars on its trains for the first time in the history of the subcontinent. The Punjab Limited (Mail) has been blessed with a restaurant car right from the beginning.

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1. The Bombay bound Punjab Mail thunders into Bhusaval in the mid 1980s behind a Jhansi WDM/2. (Picture by Dr. Shirish Yande. This picture is a clone due to non availability of an actual pic of the train behind a WDM/2.)

Despite this, and the advent of more modern engines, increase in load and the number of halts meant that the train was severely slowed down in subsequent years. So much so that it lost its superfast status, unlike the Frontier Mail, which retained its halo-ed status right from its inception. After couple of marginal speed-ups, the train has finally once again regained its superfast status in 1997.

After electrification of the Thull Ghats, the train has been electric hauled from Bombay VT to Manmad, from whence WP class steam engines took over. The train was WP hauled from Manmad all the way till Ferozepore. In 1968, the train was dieselized upto Jhansi, and its loading increased from 12 to 15 cars. Dieselization was later extended from Jhansi till New Delhi, then by 1976, onwards till Ferozepore. The number of cars was increased to 18, with two cars getting added on at Jhansi.

In the late 1970/early1980s, the Central Railway took a WCAM/1 dual current locomotive on lease from the WR. It was attempted to run the Punjab Mail on electric traction right upto Bhusaval, with the changeover from dc to ac traction at Igatpuri. This experiment however did not prove too successful.

Today, the Punjab Mail takes 36 hrs. to cover the 1,929 between Bombay and Ferozepore. The train is electric hauled from Bombay VT all the way till New Delhi, though with change from a d.c. electric engine to an a.c. electric engine at Igatpuri. The restaurant car has been replaced by a pantry car. And although the train has regained its superfast status, its is only one hour faster than the Poona - Jammu Tawi Jhelum Express which runs almost neck to neck with the Punjab Mail between Manmad (where it joins the Bombay-New Delhi line) and New Delhi, before the Punjab Mail overtakes it after Ganj Basoda near Bhopal.

From only first class accommodation initially to first and third, the modern Punjab carried first and second class accommodation. An airconditioned 2-tier sleeper car was introduced later.Today, the modern day Punjab Mail carries second class sleeper cars, 2 tier and 3 tier airconditioned sleepers, and a pantry car. An AC First class car is carried as well, making the Punjab Mail one of the few trains on the IR to offer this accommodation. And just as with the Frontier Mail, the Punjab Mail too is a superfast upto New Delhi, after which it is an ordinary express between New Delhi and Ferozepore. The average speed on the New Delhi -Ferozepore stretch is a very respectable 58 kmph. However, the train slows down considerably betwen Jakhal and Freozepore, due to innumerable halts in that section.

4. The present day Punjab Mail readies to leave New Delhi behind a WAM/4 locomotive. (Picture by John Lacey.This picture is a clone due to non availability of an actual pic of the train behind a WAM/4.)

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Punjab Mail   

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