How Soon is Soon?
On the England-India Railway Link Proposed in 1871

by R. Sivaramakrishnan, March 2009.

Reference: W. Low and G. Thomas, 'The Proposed England and India Railway: A Letter to the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone', Edward Savill, London, 1871.
Digitized by Google from the Americana Collection and made available by the Internet Archive.

It is nearly a year since the Sunday Times of the UK splashed the news, duly picked up by all the papers in Asia, that once Pakistan and Iran linked up their railway networks later in 2008, direct train travel from London to Dhaka would be a reality:

An intrepid traveller will soon be able to leave London for Brussels, Cologne, Vienna, Bucharest, Istanbul, Tehran, Quetta, Lahore, Amritsar, Delhi and Calcutta before reaching the end of the line in Dhaka,

though it would take 23 days. So impressed were my daughter and son-in-law, knowing my reservations against air travel, urged me very seriously that I should soon visit them in the Netherlands by this train.

How soon is "soon"? I really do not know. But I know that only some time ago, to be precise, in 1871, two British engineers, William Low and George Thomas, wrote a letter to Rt. Hon.'ble W. E. Gladstone, M.P. and the First Lord of the Treasury, proposing a direct railway linking London with Kurrachee/Bombay.

As to crossing the English Channel, they had

"treated of this elsewhere, and have shown how easily this work can be accomplished by tunnelling under the Channel, but desirous that this crossing ... should be no obstacle in the way of the carrying out of this line, we have supposed that the Straits of Dover can only be crossed by the steam-packets as at present. This would prevent the railway carriages from going direct from England to India, the through carriages would thus have to start from Calais, and the time occupied in crossing the Channel and shifting luggage will be ample if we allow three hours for it."

The route was to be Calais, Paris, Macon, Mont Cenis Tunnel, Turin, Milan, and Trieste,

"to which place the line of railway is already complete...."

"Leaving Trieste, the line passes through Illyria via Fiume; through the western boundary of Croatia via Ottocac and Gracac, thence through Dalmatia via Knin, east of Dernis, about 15 miles east of Spalatro, to the west of Sigo, to the east of Fort Opas via Ragusa, and crosses the entrance to Cattaro; leaving the Austrian territory near Lastua. The total length of new line in Austria to be constructed amounts to 385 miles.

Leaving Austrian territory, the line passes through Turkey in Europe via Alessio, Sciak, Durazzo, Kavago, Pekini, Karbonates, to the River Beratina, thence passing up this valley via Berat, Kussovita, Dubrin, Dusali, Karidachi Pass, Beliachta, Kastoria, Sarigol, Karaferga, Golokia, Salonika, Beshik, Rondino, Orphano, and thence to the Bay of Orphano, skirting along the Mediterranean coast via Jenidscheikarasu, Comuldsina, Maronia, Megri, Keschan, Migalgara to Rhodosdschig, on the shore of the sea of Marmora, and from thence via Turkamenti, Silivri, Bujuk-Tachekmedache to Constantinople, being a length of new line to construct in Turkey in Europe of 602 miles, and being a total distance from London to Constantinople of 2157 miles, out of which 1170 miles are already made, leaving 987 miles to construct.

On reaching Constantinople, we propose, in the first instance, to cross the Bosphorus by a railway steam-ferry; the train, without any locomotive, being placed on board a steamship at Constantinople and taken off at Scutari ... at its embouchure into the Sea of Marmora.

...The line would proceed in Turkey in Asia via Pendik, Izmid, and curving round the upper end of the Gulf of Jzmid, passes south of Isnik at the western end of Lake Isnik, and thence via Vezir-Khan, Bilehjik, Shugut, Kutahiyeh, Altum- Tash, Osman, Afiom-Kara-Hissar, Sandukli, Dinair (near which place there will be a branch to join the Smyrna and Aidin Railway), Egerdir, and thence down the Valley of the White River until the line reaches the Mediterranean coast about 15 miles east of Adalia. The line will then proceed along the coast via Eski-Adalia, Alaya, Selenti, Kharadran, Anamur, Chelindreh, Selefkeh, Ayash, Kara-Hiser, Tarsus, Adanah, Ayas, and curving along the plane of Issus round the Gulf of Iscanderoon, and passing Alexandretta, Beilan, Bakras, and keeping to the south-east of the Lake of Antioch, crossing the river Orontes to the north of Antioch (near which point a line would branch off to Jerusalem), thence via Aleppo until it reaches the River Euphrates near Beles, and then following the right bank of the river until it crosses between Annah and Hit, from thence passing over to the River Tigris a short distance above Bagdad, and following the right bank of the River Tigris it would cross the Schatt-al-Hai Canal near Kut-el-hai, from thence to Kumah, crossing the River Tigris near this place.

The line then proceeds along the left bank of the Schatt-el-arab, which contains the united waters of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris; passing Bussorah, which is situate on the opposite side of the river, it reaches Mohamrah, in Persian territory.

The length of line in Turkey in Asia extends to 1630 miles....

After entering the Persian territory the line crosses the river Karun between Mohamrah and Sabla, and then for the whole course in Persia it follows the north shore of the Persian Gulf via Mashoor, Sirimeh, Bunder-dellim, Ca-hyder, Bushire, Andiaro, Deir, Taurie, Nikhiloo, Girza, Mospa, Bunder Abbas, Terai Jask, the length of line in Persia being 855 miles to construct....

Leaving Persian territory the line extends along the coast of Beloochistan via Gerishk, Kungoon, Kaleg Rashdee, Purug, Tecz, Choobar, Patkooe, Bucker, Gwutter, Jewnee, Gwadel, Gooruh Passeenoe, Harmara, and Sonmeanee ; then curving round Cape Monze the railway enters Scinde. The length of line required to be constructed in Beloochistan extends to 674 miles.

The length of line in Scinde from leaving Beloochistan territory until the junction with the existing railway at Kurrachee would be 23 miles...."

To summarize,

London to Dover : 78 miles Rail, completed.
Dover to Calais : 28 miles by Sea, steamship.
Calais to Trieste : 1064 miles Rail, completed.

To be constructed:

In Austria : 385 miles
Turkey in Europe : 602 miles
Turkey in Asia : 1630 miles
In Persia : 855 miles
In Beloochistan : 674 miles
In Scinde : 23 miles

London to Kurrachee : Total 5,339 via Constantinople.
Kurrachee to Bombay : 580

"In crossing from Berat to Salonika, the ridge to be passed over is about 4000 feet above the level of the sea, and this is the highest point to be overcome upon the whole length of line to be constructed, and will entail a tunnel of about three quarters of a mile in length, and the gradients to overcome this height will average 1 in 90; some few will be rather steeper than this, so as to avoid heavy works in formation... "

They estimated the total cost for forming the line, etc., exclusive of the permanent way, as follows:

Extension in Austria £5,005,000
Extension in Turkey in Europe . . £4,816,000
Steam Ferry for Bosphorus . . . £100,000
Extension in Turkey in Asia . . . £8,150,000
Extension in Persia £3,420,000
Extension in Beloochistan .... £2,696,000
Extension in Scinde £92,000
Total £24,279,000

Calculating the speed travelled by locomotive at 30 miles per hour (on average) and that of the steamship at 10-1/2 miles per hour, they estimated that London to Kurrachee via the proposed England and India Railway would take 7 days 13 hours 22 minutes. On the other hand, if the rate of travelling by railway was taken at 50 miles an hour instead of 30, the time occupied by the England and India Railway would only be 4 days 10 hours and 13 minutes.

And, hold your breath! On the projected railway, a train was to start daily from London, another also daily from Paris, a third from Turin, also daily, "another from Trieste, another from Constantinople, also Antioch, Bagdad, and Bushire, each starting daily for Kurrachee.... Thus we should have an English, French, Italian, Austrian, Turkish, and Persian through trains leaving for India every day ; and trains leaving India for each of these places respectively, with other trains between each of them, and other important fixed stations on the route."

I never thought that India weighed so much in the European mind.

You can get all the above information, and more from

W. Low and G. Thomas, "The Proposed England and India Railway: A Letter to the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone", Edward Savill, London, 1871. Not in copyright. Full text 58 KB; 42 images.

I am intrigued however that the London - Dhaka train, which I am waiting for, will take 23 days. And anxiously reading the stars to find which will materialize first:

The Versova - Ghatkopar line of the Mumbai Metro?

The New Delhi - Amritsar Bullet train promised by Laluji?

Or, the Dhaka - New Delhi - Cologne - London train, which will take me closest to the Netherlands?

- R. Sivaramakrishnan.

The original source material used on this page is believed to be out of copyright, and/or these extracts are believed to be fall within the scope of fair use under copyright law. Material selection and editing by R Sivaramakrishnan, 2009.