Trains of fame and locos with a name - Part 1

by Joydeep Dutta

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the FNRM Newsletter No. 2, Summer 1998.

In India, it is a part of our railway tradition to provide an official name to every train. The practice of naming trains which began during the 'Railway Mania' of the 30's declined after the second World War. The railways then faced fierce competition from the road and the airlines. This led the railway managements, throughout the world to reorient themselves, in order to improve the image of the railways. Hence the great trains like the Flying Scotsman, Orient Express, Rheingold Express, were replaced by the sleek looking, fixed formation TGVs, HSTs, ICEs, XPTs, Shinkansen and so on.

In this context it is interesting to know which was the first officially named train in the world? Most railway historians agree that this record holder is the 'Irish Mail', which began its journey from London (Euston) on August 1, 1848. Though officially called by that name the train did not carry the nameplate depicting the words 'Irish Mail' until the Summer of 1927. The year 1927 was an exciting year for the Indian Railways due to the so called 'race to Delhi' between the GIP (Great Indian Peninsular) and BBCI (Bombay Baroda & Central India) railways. During this year the 'Punjab Special' of the BBCI competed with the GIP's Bombay-Delhi boat mail. The BBCI's Bombay-Delhi route dated back to 1909 and was 140 kilometers shorter than the GIP route, which had to run over several ghat sections. After Mathura the BBCI had the running rights over the GLR The BBCI won the race by cutting the schedule to less than 24 hours but many felt that GIP was the real winner since it took only 27 hours to cover a much longer distance with 18 intermediate stops. The excitement paled in the following year, i.e. 1928, but the BBCI again attracted attention by introducing the legendary 'Frontier Mail' on 1st September 1928. This train ran from Bombay to Peshawar (now in Pakistan), conveying troops to the Afghanistan frontier, covered the distance upto Delhi in 23 hour 35 minutes. In the 1930s the Frontier mail was slowed down by 15 minutes and it ran into Delhi in 23 hours 50 minutes. After independence, the Frontier mail continued to run upto Amritsar still doing the Delhi run in the same time. The Frontier Mail 'was' the pride of the Western Railway.

Recently, the name of the Frontier Mail has been changed to 'Golden Temple Mail' and with that the railways have erased the most legendary name in India's passenger train history. This neglect for railway history was protested by many through articles and editorials in the newspapers. 'The Statesman' in Calcutta came out with an article on the history of the great train. Fortunately the travelling public still calls it the Frontier Mail.

During the earlier days of railways in India all the trains were named as mail trains since the carriage of postal mail was one of the most important service of the railways. It will be interesting to know which is the first named train of India. This answer is not clearly known though it appears to be the 'Calcutta Mail' from Bombay to Howrah via Allahabad. In the 'Complete Book of Trains and Railroads", John Westwood also mentions about the 'Poona Mail' of 1860's. In 'Railways of the Raj' by Michael Satow & Ray Desmond there is a plate depicting the accident of 'Poona Mail' through a brake failure on the Bhore Ghat on 25th January 1969.

to be continued in the next issue...