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Tourist Trains

Palace on Wheels

(05/2020) This is the premier tourist train operated by IR. It covers the route Delhi - Jaipur - Ranthambhore - Chittorgarh/Udaipur - Sawai Madhopur - Jaisalmer - Jodhpur - Bharatpur/Agra - Delhi, including visits to historical sites, palaces, wildlife sanctuaries, etc. along the way, taking about 8 days in all. Starting Oct 2020, the fares range from $7700 per person for single occupancy, going down to $5000 per person for double occupancy for the high season. In low season, fares range from $6300 per person for single occupancy, going down to $3850 per person for double occupancy.

The Palace On Wheels initially ran on metre gauge, with coaches dating back to 1917. After the original rake was deemed unsuitable for passenger service, a new MG rake was brought into use, with an unusual all-white (or ivory) livery. When the Palace on Wheels was converted to a broad-gauge train in 1992, this rake was repainted blue and used for the Royal Orient (see below). In Sept 2017, a newer spacious rake was introduced, based on LHB design, giving passengers an option of booking Deluxe or Super Deluxe cabins.

Royal Orient

(03/1999) The Royal Orient was started as a joint effort between the state of Gujarat and WR some time in 1994-95. The itinerary was Delhi - Chittorgarh - Udaipur - Junagarh - Veraval - Sasangir - Dilwara - Palitana - Sarkhej - Ahmedabad - Jaipur - Delhi, taking 7 days.

The rake used was the replacement rake for the ageing Palace on Wheels rolling stock (which ran the POW service from 1992 to about 1994, when the BG rake for POW was introduced). This new ICF-built replacement rake was rendered useless until Gujarat Tourism and WR decided to run it as the Royal Orient. The livery was changed to a blue scheme. It originated from Delhi Cantt station and traversed a fair part of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Royal Orient rake was maintained at the WR workshops at Ajmer. The service was stopped during the gauge conversion of the Delhi - Ahmedabad main line and never resumed in a BG avatar.

Fairy Queen

One of the oldest working steam locomotives in the world , and certainly the oldest working loco in India, the Fairy Queen is a 2-2-2WT BG loco built in 1855 by Kitson, Thompson, & Hewitson, (Leeds, UK) formerly loco No. 22 of the East Indian Railway. It used to work on the Howrah-Raniganj line and later in Bihar. From 1998 to 2011, IR used it to haul a two-car tourist train which has a two-day itinerary from Delhi to Alwar (Rajasthan) and back, including a trip to a tiger sanctuary. (See the section on steam locos for more information on old locos.) In 2011, the Fairy Queen locomotive was vandalized and looted at a railway shed in Delhi. While the locomotive was being repaired, a 1965 built WP Akbar was used to run the service. It was renamed as The Steam Express. In 2017, the Fairy Queen was back up and running and housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum. It is used by the Steam Express for special day trips.

The Steam Express

When the Fairy Queen locomotive was vandalized in 2011, the train service was kept operational by using a 1965 built WP locomotive known as Akbar. The train service name was changed to Steam Express and it made a day trip to Rewari and back. It is operational from October to April each year. The train leaves Delhi Cantonment station at 1030am and reaches Rewari at 1pm. On the return trip, the train leaves Rewari at 4.15pm and reaches Delhi Cantonment at 6.15pm. Passengers can spend a few hours at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum. The round trip fare for the Steam Express is INR6804 per person for adults and INR3402 for children between age 5 and 12. The one way fare for Steam Express is INR3402 per person for adults and INR1701 for children between age 5 and 12. Occasionally, the renovated Fairy Queen will run the Steam Express for special trips.

The Maharaja’s Express

The Maharaja’s Express is a luxury train run and maintained by IRCTC. It runs on 4 circuits covering more than 12 destinations across North-West and Central India, running from October to April each year. The Indian Panaroma is a 7 day/6 night round trip from Delhi covering Jaipur, Ranathambore, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho and Varanasi. The Indian Splendour is a 7 day/6 night trip from Delhi to Mumbai covering Agra, Ranathambore, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur and Udaipur. The Heritage of India is a reverse trip from Mumbai to Delhi covering Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranathambore and Agra. The Treasures of India is a 4 day/3 night round trip from Delhi covering Agra, Ranathambore and Jaipur. The fares range from $23700/$47400 for double/sing occupancy in the presidential suite to $5980/$10490 for a deluxe cabin.

The Deccan Odyssey

The Deccan Odyssey is a joint venture between the Govt. of Maharashtra and Ministry of Railways, providing luxury travel in western India. There are six routes currently served by the Deccan Odyssey covering sights in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Telangana. The Maharashtra Splendor route covers Mumbai, Nashik, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Kolhapur, Goa and Sindhudurg. The Indian Odyssey route covers Delhi, Sawai Madhopur, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Vadodara, Ellora Caves and Mumbai. The Jewels of the Deccan route covers Mumbai, Bijapur, Aihole, Pattadakal, Hampi, Hyderabad, Ellora Caves and Ajanta Caves. The Maharashtra Wild trail route covers Mumbai, Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Pench, Tadoba, Ajanta Caves and Nashik. The Hidden Treasures of Gujarat route covers Mumbai, Vadodara, Palitana, Sasan Gir, Somnath, Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan and Nashik. The Indian Sojourn route covers Mumbai, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Agra, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur and Delhi. The fares for a deluxe cabin is $7320 for single occupancy and $5250 for double occupancy. The fares for the presidential cabin is $15855.

The Golden Chariot

The Golden Chariot is the only luxury train running in South India, operational from October to April. It is the joint venture between the Government of Karnataka and Ministry of Railways. The 7 day/6 night tour covers Bengaluru, Bandipur, Mysore, Halebidu, Chikangaluru, Hampi, Badami and Goa. The fares range from $7350 for single occupancy and $4200 for double occupancy. The Golden Chariot also had a 8 day/7 night Southern Splendour trip which would take guests from Bengaluru to Chennai, Mamallapuram, Puducherry, Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kovalam Beach, Alappuzha and Kochi. This service is currently suspended for renovation.

The Mahaparinirvan Express

The Mahaparinirvan Express, an initiative of IRCTC is a Buddhist Pilgrimage train covering all major Buddhist destinations. Starting from Delhi, the route covers Gaya, Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Varanasi, Sarnath, Nautanwa, Lumbini, Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, Sravasti, Balrampur and Agra. The fares are $1305 for AC First Class Coupe, $1155 for AC First Class and $945 for AC-2 Tier.

The Kangra Queen

The Kangra Queen is a tourist train that goes through the scenic Kangra Valley route, from Pathankot to Palampur in Himachal Pradesh. It covers 128km in 4.5 hours (one train each way everyday).

The Desert Queen

The Desert Queen was a tourist train announced in August 2000, which is supposed to cover the Nawalgarh - Fatehpur - Pidawa - Mukungarh - Shekhawat route in Rajasthan, in 3 days and 3 nights. Price to be US $485 per night. (07/2020) It is currently not operational.

Other tourist trains

In the early 2000’s, IR proposed many new luxury trains, some of which became operational (see above). A great majority of them never saw the light of the day because suitable partners were never found.

IRCTC runs many pilgrimage specials throughout the year with timings and fares announced on its website and apps. These specials feature standard IR accommodation classes. Entrance tickets to various pilgrimage spots are included in the fare.

Hill Railways

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling railway was conceived by Franklin Prestage, the Agent or General Manager of the Eastern Bengal State Railway. Tea estates had opened in the Darjeeling area in the 1870s, and the newly opened Calcutta-Siliguri line saw considerable traffic. Prestage proposed in 1878 to build a 2' NG railway line on the Hill Cart Road. The original line of the DHR was constructed between 1879 and 1885 and was originally named the Darjeeling Steam Tramway Co. The DHR was actually opened to traffic in 1881, when it became the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Co.

The ruling gradient is 1:16, and the sharpest curve is of radius 18m. There are five zig-zags (switchbacks) and four full loops, of which two are double spirals. Services are operated today with several ancient steam locos kept alive by the Tindharia Works. The working locos date from as far back as 1899 and 1904; the newest ones are from 1925. These are the famous 'B' class locos developed Sharp, Stewart of Manchester, UK, in 1889. They are 0-4-0 saddle tank locos, and each loco weighs 14 tons, with 26" coupled wheels and 11"x14" cylinders. Originally, the locos hauled four coaches (24' bogie stock) and a four-wheeler van. Thirty four were built in all. The ones that survive today use parts cannibalized from locos no longer in service. Of the locos that are no longer in operation, a few have been preserved. See the DHR loco list. The DHR also used a Beyer-Garratt articulated loco, bought in 1911 but not used much.

The crew for the trains in the old days generally consisted of a driver, a fireman, a coal breaker, a coal passer, and two sanders who stood at the front of the engine. Cargo hauled included rice and tea, other mixed freight, and passengers from Siliguri (500' altitude) to Ghum (7407'), and finally to Darjeeling (7000') over 51 miles (82km). The DHR locos typically racked up 1200 to 1300 miles in each month of service.

Originally, the DHR had two branches. The Kishanganj branch, running west-south-west of Siliguri, was 107km long and was converted to MG and connected to the NER system at Barsoi during the construction of the Assam Rail Link in 1948. The Kishanganj branch used 'A' class Pacifics, none of which survive today. The other branch was the Kalimpong Road (Gelkhola) branch, following the Teesta valley, 36km long, which was closed in 1950 following floods that swept away the trackbeds.

Currently, it operates services between the following stations:

  • Kurseong - Darjeeling - Kurseong (daily)
  • New Jalpaiguri - Darjeeling - New Jalpaiguri (daily)

Shorter excursions between Ghum and Darjeeling are run often, known as the 'Joy Train' services and intended for tourists. These are always steam-hauled, while the other services are sometimes steam-hauled and sometimes diesel-hauled these days.

See the steam section and also DHR loco lists for some more information on DHR locos. See the section on organizations for some more information on groups interested in the DHR. Lists of locomotives and their current dispositions, detailed maps, etc. are available from some of them.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (or the Ooty Rack Railway)

The meter-gauge line from Mettupalaiyam to Conoor (the Ooty line) is a rack railway. Normal MG locos and rolling-stock cannot run on this line because of sharp curves and steep gradients, so it has special equipment. This is the only example of a rack railway in India.

The Mettupalayam - Coonoor line was constructed in 1897 and opened in 1899 (it was actually opened in August 1898 but then closed after track damage from heavy rain). Four 2-4-0T Beyer-Peacock locomotives were used initially. The extension from Coonoor to Ootacamund was built in 1908. Niklaus Riggenbach (Switzerland) and J L L Morant (Royal Engineers, UK) were the engineers who conceived of and designed the line.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway ascends to the highest point on meter-gauge in India. Mettupalaiyam is at 310m (1071'). The terminus, Ootacamund (Ooty) is at 2204m (7228'), but the previous station, Fernhill, is at 2218m (7275'). The actual summit occurs just before Fernhill and is at 2226m (7300').

Kateri Road was a station (now closed) between Runnymede and Coonoor which was very interesting technically, as the gradient there was so steep that the rack could not have any gaps anywhere. Thus even the points had racks. This station was closed (and the rack points removed) in 1982 when the gradient was eased.

Until March 1998, the X class steam, built by the SLM (Winterthur, Switzerland) were the only locomotives in service when YDM-4 diesel locomotives were brought into service for the Ooty-Coonnor leg.

There are presently seven X class locomotives in service with no. 37384 the only remaining original still operational on coal. Two other Swiss made locomotives were converted to oil firing by the Golden Rock workshops near Trichy. Four more locomotives, all of them oil-fired, were manufactured by the workshops between 2011 and 2014. The first of these were dispatched on February 20, 2011. Recently (05/2020), the workshops have been asked to build two more X class, with one of them to be coal burning.

On Oct. 31, 2009, a YDM-4 locomotive was used in a trial run between Mettupalaiyam and Hillgrove over the rack section (8.2km). It hauled 5 coaches in the critical section where the gradient is 1:12.5. However, these trials were not successful as the rack-less locomotives started stalling and rolling backwards after departing Kallar.

“Toy Trains”: Other NG Hill Trains

Other than the DHR and Ooty railways, there are other narrow gauge trains run by IR, popularly (and perhaps rather too dismissively) known as “toy trains”. These include the Kalka - Shimla trains (the Shivalik Deluxe train and the Shivalik Palace tourist coach) which go through some gorgeous hill scenery. The Shivalik Palace Tourist coach provides private accommodations for 6 persons.

The Kalka-Shimla route is 96km long with 102 tunnels (although because of a misnumbering -- tunnel #46 is not used -- the count is often given as 103), 869 bridges, and 919 curves. Barog tunnel is the longest at 1,144m. The entire route was actually built to 2' gauge and then regauged to 2'6". Petrol railcars ran on this route in 1911.

Another interesting 2' NG section is the Neral-Matheran line (the 'Matheran Light Railway' or MLR) which is accessible from the main Mumbai-Pune section. The NG passenger trains run only during daylight hours. Matheran is a hill station. The line was built by Abdul Hussain, son of a renowned businessman Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy of Bombay, who visited Matheran often and wanted to build a railway to make it easier to get there. Hussain's plans for the railway were formulated in 1900 and construction started in 1904. The line was open to traffic by 1907.

Neral, the starting point, is about midway between Mumbai and Pune. The 2' NG line runs parallel to the BG line to the west of Hardal Hill and then turns east to ascend to Matheran. The rail alignment and the roadway meet near Jumappati and meet again after a brief separation, at Bhekra Khud. Following a small level stretch, there is a sharp ascent just before Mount Barry. A large horseshoe embankment was built to avoid a reversing station here. The line runs for a mile or so northwards around this and then turns around to take a tunnel through — ‘One Kiss Tunnel’, a reference to how short it is! Two more zig-zags through deep cuttings remain before Panorama Point is reached, and then the line bends back to Simpson's Tank and terminates at Matheran. In all, the line is about 20km long. Originally, the tracks were laid with 30lb rails but now has 42lb rails. Ruling gradient is 1:20 and speeds are limited to 20km/h.

The line was generally closed in the monsoons because of the danger of landslides. Starting in the 1980s (1982?), the line was kept open often even in the rainy season. On July 26, 2005, landslides following heavy rain washed away large parts of the track and destroyed 37 bridges on the line, and services were suspended for a long time. Services started being partially restored on March 5, 2007 following the relaying of tracks and reconstruction of bridges from Neral to Jummapatti. The line observed its centenary on April 15th, 2007. Current services are hauled by NDM-1 locomotives.

Steam: A 'B' class loco #794 from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was transferred to the Neral-Matheran line for steam specials, but the status of these specials is currently unknown. An MLR loco, #741 (Orenstein and Koppel #1767, built 1905) is preserved at Matheran station.


Rajdhani trains were originally conceived as fast passenger trains connecting various state capitals to the New Delhi area (the capital; "Rajdhani" means a capital city in Hindi). They are generally given operational priority as they are touted as "prestigious" trains. The early Rajdhanis all had AC chair-car accommodations; however, now they all have AC sleeper accommodations.

One peculiar feature of the Rajdhanis used to be that ticketing could only be done from the starting station or to the terminating station; it was not possible to buy a ticket for a journey between two intermediate points. However this rule no longer holds.

Q. Which was the first Rajdhani and when was it introduced?

The first Rajdhani was introduced between Howrah and New Delhi on March 3, 1969. It was initially a bi-weekly 8-car train - Brake/Luggage/Generator, AC I, AC Pantry, AC Chair, AC Chair, AC Chair, AC Chair, Brake/Luggage/Generator - hauled by a single WDM-4. It left Howrah on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and left New Delhi on Mondays and Fridays. The first return journey from New Delhi was March 3. The booked speed for the route was 115 km/h and the maximum permissible speed was 120 km/h. (At the time, the only train allowed this speed.) Later it ran five days a week, and also had a mid-train generator car. Still later it became a daily train, with two runs (Tuesday and Friday) going via Patna. After 1993, the train reverted to having just two generator cars at either end, although some reporters say they have seen it with the mid-train generator car on occasion since then.

Initially, the Rajdhani covered the 1,441km route in 17 hours and 20 minutes but this was later speeded up to 16 hours 35 minutes (from Delhi) and 16 hours 55 minutes (return). The New Delhi - Kanpur time was 268 minutes, and the Mughalsarai to Dhanbad time was 240 minutes, which compare very favourably with the timings of fast trains today!

The ticket issued for the journey was Rs. 280 for AC sleeper and Rs. 90 for AC Chair car. The train offered a true express service between New Delhi and Howrah with no booking of passengers for any station enroute. It ran on the Grand Chord with intermediate halts restricted to Kanpur Central, Mughalsarai and Gomoh, for service requirements like refilling of overhead water tanks and replenishing of catering stores. It was also the first train to run with the modern pantry car that is used in Indian railways today.

Two years later (July 1971), Kanpur Central was converted to a passenger halt when ten seats in the AC Chair car were set apart for Kanpur residents. On Nov. 1971, the train's speed was increased to 120/130 booked/max. resulting in a reduction of 30/45 minutes in the Up/Dn journey times. In a few years, Mughalsarai and Dhanbad became passenger halts and the Gomoh halt was removed.

It continued to be hauled by a WDM-4 even after the complete electrification of the Howrah - N. Delhi route (via the Grand Chord). These WDM-4s had a superior bogie design which meant that the train could accelerate faster and brake at higher speeds. They were also rated at 130 km/h, a little above the 120 km/h of the WAM-4 locos. Mughalsarai had workshop facilities to handle the maintenance of these locos; this explained the 12-minute halt there (sometimes the loco was changed there as well).

IR introduced the higher speed WAP-1 AC electric locomotive some time in 1983, which could haul an 18 coach Rajdhani at a max. speed of 120 km/h. A single Ghaziabad WAP-1 usually hauled the train through the late 1980s, although occasionally twin WAP-1 locos were also used. Later WAP-2's were occasionally used. In 1986 it changed to using air-braked stock and was allocated the first air-braked WAP-1 locos, from Ghaziabad shed. After 1985 WAG-5 locos were sometimes used if the allocated WAP-1 had a problem, since WAG-5's were among the few locos then that had air train brakes. Since then various WAP models have been used to haul Rajdhanis. It was also the first train to be hauled by a WAP-5 loco. In the early days of the WAP-5 locos, the train was hauled by WAP-1 locos on Tuesdays and Fridays (when it went through Patna) and dual WDM-2 locos hauled it from Mughalsarai onwards.

In 2009, at the time of its 40th anniversary, the Howrah Rajdhani took 17 hours and 10 minutes for its run, and had passenger stops at Dhanbad, Parasnath, Gaya, Mughalsarai, Allahabad, and Kanpur Central. It uses a rake of 18 LHB coaches. In 2018, Asansol stoppage was added, without any increase in journey time.

Q. What about the Bombay Rajdhani?

The Bombay Rajdhani was introduced on May 17, 1972 with a maximum speed of 120 km/h and booked speed of 115 km/h. It covered the 1,384km route in about 19 hours. It was a biweekly train. The cost was Rs. 343 by AC sleeper and Rs. 114 by AC Chair car. Composition - 1 AC sleeper with 18 berths, 4 AC chair cars with 71 seats each, 1 pantry-cum-chair car with 10 seats, 2 luggage-cum-power cars. An additional AC Chair car with 71 seats ran as and when traffic justified it. There was no booking of passengers for stations enroute.

The Bombay - New Delhi Rajdhani was initially hauled by a single specially re-geared Ratlam WDM-2 loco. There were operational halts at Vadodara, Ratlam, Gangapur City and Mathura, for watering, engine changing, change of crew, issue of caution orders, etc. A few years later, Vadodara and Ratlam became passenger halts, Gangapur City still existed as a service halt and Mathura had been removed.

In 1984, the train became double-headed (WDM-2's) with 18 air-braked coaches (the first long-distance train to get air-braked stock for regular operations). At the time electric traction was not continuous all the way between New Delhi and Bombay, and most electric locos were not fitted with air brakes, hence the choice of the twin WDM-2 locos. Further, the change to DC traction after Virar towards Bombay would have necessitated a change of locos in any case, lengthening the trip time. Except for a couple of patches in the Nagda-Kota section, the entire Bombay-New Delhi section was double-tracked - so journey time had been cut down to about 17-1/2 hours. By the late 1980s, a WAP-1 (from Vadodara shed) would take over in the Ratlam - New Delhi section (or sometimes from Vadodara onwards), thus increasing the speed to 120/130 booked/max. in this section. Later WAP-3 and other WAP series locos were used.

The WAP locos couldn't run all the way to Bombay because of the change of traction at Virar, and the diesel shed at Ratlam was conveniently situated to handle the WDM-2's required for that run of the Rajdhani. With the WAP locos hauling the train for part of the way, the running time was brought down to about 16-1/2 hrs. Kota was included as a passenger halt and Gangapur City was removed from the list.

With the introduction of the high-speed dual-voltage (AC/DC) WCAM-2P locos (which were also air-braked) in 1993-94, the Rajdhani could be electric-hauled all the way. A WCAM-2P hauled it on the Mumbai Central - Vadodara section, and a WAP series loco hauled it for the rest of the route to New Delhi. From 2012, the train is hauled by a WAP series loco, end-to-end, post conversion of DC systems to AC in the area. In the second half of 2019, IR conducted trials with push-pull mode (loco at both ends), trying both WAP-7 and WAP-5 pairs to improve acceleration and better sectional clearance times, but these ultimately were not as successful as hoped.

On December 15th 2003, a new LHB rake was assigned to the Mumbai Rajdhani. The new coaches incorporate advanced features such as anti-skid disc brakes, a modular pantry, a food warmer/cooler, and anti-telescopic and anti-climbing features.


Q. When were Shatabdis introduced? Which was the first one?

The Shatabdi Express trains are fast inter-city express trains which aim to provide daytime service noticeably faster than the other “superfast” trains over medium distances, generally providing for a same-day return (leave early in the morning, and return late at night). They are aimed primarily at businessmen and tourists. The Shatabdis have air-conditioned rakes and two classes of accommodation: executive chair car and ordinary chair car. The price of meals and refreshments is included in the fare; however this became optional with an opt-out feature added in 2017.

“Shatabdi” indicates a century in Hindi; the service was started to commemorate the Nehru centenary in 1989. The first Shatabdi between New Delhi and Jhansi was flagged off in July 1988. In 1989 it was extended to Bhopal. In 1989 another Shatabdi was started between New Delhi and Kanpur, and later extended to Lucknow.

The Bhopal Shatabdi is booked to run at a speed of 150km/h between New Delhi and Agra, and at 130km/h between Agra and Bhopal; For some time, it was the fastest train in the country. It was also the first train to cover the New Delhi - Agra section in under two hours, taking 115 minutes, handily beating the Taj Exp. which was the previous speed record holder on that section.

Later Shatabdis have in general not been as fast as the Bhopal Shatabdi, but they do normally achieve speeds of 120-130km/h. In the past, Shatabdis (including the Bhopal one) used WAP3 locos, others use WAP1's and also WDM2's in unelectrified sections; now these are hauled by WAP-5/7 or WDP4Ds in unelectrified sections. The Swarna Shatabdi Exp. between Amritsar and New Delhi had a dedicated rake (IRY20 design) with several new features.

Other Famous Trains

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.

The express steamed out of Mangalore station on its first run on 1st April, 1929. However, calling it the ‘Grand Trunk Express’ was a bit of a stretch. The name was given to two through carriages: a composite first-cum-second class coach and a composite third-cum-luggage coach - which ran from Mangalore to Peshawar, attached to a bevy of different trains: with the Mangalore-Madras Mail between Mangalore and Madras, then as a standalone train with various through carriages between Madras and Itarsi, then with the GIP Delhi Express between Itarsi and Delhi, and finally with the Frontier Mail between Delhi and Peshawar. As the timetables of various trains changed, the 2 coaches that made up the Grand Trunk Express also changed their operations. From 15th October, 1929, the service was restricted to run between Mettupalayam and Delhi. By 1st March, 1930, it was extended to Lahore and finally, from 1st September, 1930, the Grand Trunk Express began to operate as a standalone train between Madras and Delhi.

Despite its ‘Grand’ name and its position as the sole train between Madras and North India, the train had a torturous existence until the 1960s. Before independence, the train’s rake was owned by the GIPR, which did not have any terminals in Delhi. As a result, the maintenance of the train was often neglected. In addition, due to disagreements between the M&SMR, the NSR, GIPR and the NWR, the train had a much slower run than many of its contemporaries like the Frontier Mail and the Punjab Mails. Large delays on the Nizam’s Railway and the single line between Itarsi and Delhi were quite common. The train often used to run with a large number of halts on the Nizam’s railway and occasionally on the M&SMR, in place of short distance passenger trains. This practice was revoked in the 1930s, following protests from many eminent citizens and government servants from Madras.

This torturous existence however, came to an end in the 1960s, when the GT swapped its schedule with the then newly introduced Southern Express (the present day Dakshin Express). Since then, the GT has become a much-loved superfast train, maintaining a respectable schedule and holding up its popularity, despite the introduction of numerous faster trains on the Delhi-Madras route.

Though it faced many problems in its early years, the GT still had some notable achievements as a long distance train. For a while, it was the longest running train service in the subcontinent. And 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.

Frontier Mail

Arguably, the only long distance train from India that had an international reputation, the Frontier mail has a very interesting history.

After the opening of the Nagda-Mathura line in 1909, the BB&CIR had at their disposal, the shortest broad gauge route from Bombay to North India. They didn’t waste this opportunity and from 1st April, 1911, introduced a premium train called the ‘Northern Express’ between Colaba Terminus (Bombay) and Peshawar. This train ran through Surat, Baroda, Nagda, Ratlam, Mathura, Delhi, Bathinda and Lahore on its way to Peshawar. Between Lahore and Peshawar, the GIPR’s Punjab Mail ran combined with the BB&CIR’s Northern Express. By 1920, the name ‘Northern Express’ was dropped, and the train simply came to be known as the Bombay - Peshawar mail.

The success of the Imperial Mail running between Calcutta and Bombay led to the introduction of similar services between Bombay and Punjab. While postal specials with premium facilities had operated between Bombay and Punjab prior to 1927, they did not match the Imperial Mail in quality of service. So, the GIPR and the BB&CIR both started operating weekly premium services between Bombay and Peshawar through their own routes. The GIPR’s service was named the ‘Punjab Limited’, while the BB&CIR’s service was known as the ‘P&O Express’ (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company). Both these trains commenced operating from October 27, 1927. The BB&CIR train proved so successful that after little over an year, they decided to regularize the service. The Bombay-Peshawar mail (previously the Northern Express) was to be sped up and run to the same schedule as the P&O Express.

On 1st September, 1928, the Bombay Peshawar mail (previously the Northern Express) was rechristened as the ‘Frontier Mail’ and the new train service was flagged off from Colaba Terminus, the main station on the BB&CIR (later Western Railway). 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.

For the first two years of its service, the Frontier mail followed the same route as the older Northern Express - via Bathinda between Delhi and Lahore. From 1st September, 1930, the train was diverted to run via Ambala and Amritsar enroute to Lahore. It still follows the same route to this day, albeit, terminating at Amritsar.

The train had a reputation for being unusually punctual. The P&O express used to run with 5 coaches and a luxury dining car cum lounge car. As a prestige train of the BB&CI, it 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 1937.

After Independence, it went only up to Amritsar, via Delhi, from Bombay. The train was renamed as “Golden Temple Mail” in 1996.

Additional Notes

Another train that shares a lot of its history with the Frontier mail, is the present day 19019/20 Bombay - Dehradun express. This train started its service as the ‘Delhi express’, running between Colaba Terminus and Delhi from 1st October, 1921.

Following the introduction of the Frontier mail, the Delhi express was extended to Peshawar and started running to the same schedule as the old Northern Express. Following this, the train was renamed as the ‘Bombay- Punjab express’. This was a slower, all-class counterpart to the faster, more glamorous Frontier mail and in the following years saw many changes in its Northern terminals.

In the chaos following the partition of the country, the Punjab express was terminated at Delhi. Shortly after independence, the train was extended to Meerut and finally to Dehradun - the route it still takes today.

Punjab Mail

Today, the Punjab Mail runs between Bombay and Firozpur. Though this is the only train with this name running today, historically two other, older trains had the same name. The oldest of ‘Punjab Mails’ was the EIR’s Calcutta-Punjab Mail, which started in the 1890s and ran to Kalka and Lahore. The EIR Punjab Mail lost its name and became the Kalka Mail from October 1933 after some changes in its route. The other was the ORR’s Mughalsarai-Peshawar Mail which commenced services around 1900. The ORR train was extended to Howrah from October 1933. Following this, it was called the Punjab Mail until shortly after independence. The Bombay-Punjab Mail was the youngest of the three and the only train that retained its name after independence.

The exact origins of the Punjab Mail are unclear. The first direct connection between Bombay and Punjab (Lahore and Kalka) was established from 1st March, 1890. This consisted of two through carriages that ran till Itarsi with the Bombay-Calcutta Mail, then onto Tundla via Bhopal, Agra and the Yamuna bridge, where they were attached to the 5 Up passenger from Calcutta. Thereafter, the combined train was called the ‘Bombay Mail’ and ran on to Kalka with through carriages to Lahore. By 1902, the Punjab Mail was apparently operating as a standalone train from Bombay, but due to the lack of preserved timetables from that period, information about the train from the period before 1905 is scarce.

After the opening of the Agra-Delhi chord line via Mathura, the train service was reorganized, and the Punjab Mail commenced running through the new route from 15th March, 1905. Until the end of the World War I and for a few years afterward, the GIPR Punjab Mail was combined with the BB&CIR’s Colaba-Peshawar “Northern Express” for the run between Lahore and Peshawar.

In the period between 1911 and 1934, the Punjab mail operated as the 85/86 Bombay Mail between Delhi and Lahore, and used to run via Saharanpur, Ambala and Amritsar. From 1st March, 1930, it's run was terminated at Lahore and only a single through carriage continued running to Peshawar. From 1st March, 1934, the mail was diverted to run via Bathinda to Lahore, the same route that it follows today, albeit, only till Firozpur.

While the Punjab Mail terminated at Lahore, the GIP operated another popular train, known as the ‘Peshawar Express’ between Bombay Victoria Terminus and Peshawar. While not as fast as the Punjab Mail, this train was popular due to its speed and schedule. The Peshawar Express had a popular stint as the Dadar-Pathankot Express after independence and still runs today between Mumbai and Amritsar, number 11057/58.

The Punjab Mail was hauled by a variety of locos in its illustrious history. XC locos were used after the rake was extended by the addition of third-class cars in the 1930s. In 1929-1930 EA/1 electric locos were used experimentally. The train later ran electric-hauled until Manmad, where a WP took over. From 1968 the train was diesel-hauled until Jhansi and by 1976 or so it became diesel-hauled all the way. A WCAM-1 loco was used a few times in an attempt to provide continuous haulage without locomotive changes, in the 1970s. Until June 2015, it was hauled by a DC locomotive until Igatpuri and an AC locomotive thereafter towards Delhi and Firozpur. Now it runs with an AC locomotive, end-to-end.

Flying Ranee

The Flying Ranee ‘ranee’ = queen) runs between Mumbai Central and Surat. It was introduced as a weekend holiday special from Saturday, 17th April, 1937. The train departed from Bombay on Saturdays in the afternoon, and returned back the following Monday morning.

Owing to its overwhelming popularity, it was converted into a daily service from 24th May, 1937. It was aimed at business travellers and it did the Bombay - Surat route in 4 hours flat, hauled by an H class 4-6-0 with poppet valves. Speeds regularly averaged 50mph, in those days (and still) a remarkable performance. The train was discontinued in 1939 owing to the war situation.

On 1st November 1950 the train again steamed off from Surat at 6am, this time as the Flying Ranee and has been running since then. The Flying Ranee was one of the few trains in India to have an observation car, and one of the earliest to have an on-train telephone service. Among other luxuries for this prestige train were a radio and gramophone located in the dining car. With an average speed of 80km/h, it was one of the fastest medium-haul trains in India until the late 1960s.

Around 1965 it was hauled by WP locos dedicated for this train. In June 1977 the train switched to electric traction, being hauled by a WCAM-1; On Dec. 18, 1979, double-decker cars were added to the Flying Ranee's rake (the second such train in post-Independence India, the first being the Sinhagad Exp.). The rake today usually has 19 cars.

Deccan Queen

The Deccan Queen between Mumbai and Pune is one of the more prestigious and popular trains with a long history. It started running on June 1, 1930, on the GIPR's DC electrified route, hauled by EA/1 class loco No. 4006 (new class WCP-2, new No. 20024).

When inaugurated, it had two custom-built 7-car rakes; one with a silver livery with scarlet trim, and the other with a navy-blue livery with gold trim. These had accommodation for 61 first-class passengers and 156 second-class passengers (initially the train had only first-class accommodation). These were replaced by the standard ICF-built anti-telescopic coaches in 1966.

The train has been almost always electrically hauled. The train has been hauled by many different classes of DC locos: WCM-4, WCM-2, WCM-1, sometimes WCM-5. On one occasion when the WCM-1 in charge failed, a WCG-1 (EF/1) hauled it from Lonavala to Mumbai. It has been hauled a few times by WCAM-2P locos, and was for a long time by WCAM-3 class locos. On rare occasions it has been hauled by a WDM-2. Now the train runs with a WAP-7 locomotive.

When introduced, it cut down travel time between Mumbai and Pune to 2h 45m. (The previous best time for this being 3h 26m with steam traction -- the Poona Race Specials of the GIPR from about 1901, which required three locomotive changes and one reversal en route. The regular service on this route by the Poona Mail took about 6 hours!) The Deccan Queen was one of the earlier trains to regularly get a vestibuled rake, and was perhaps the first also to have a dining car and a ladies coach.

Originally a weekend train, in the 1940s it became a daily service. It now has a run time of nearly 3.5 hours, with a rake of 16 coaches and a restaurant car. Unusually, several coaches on this train are reserved entirely for season ticket holders.

The Boat Mail

The Boat Mail was a train and steamer ferry service between India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka, as it then was).

The first version of the Boat Mail started operating from 1st November, 1896, between Madras and Tuticorin. At Tuticorin, passengers embarked on an overnight steamer journey to Colombo. The train took 21 hours and 50 minutes for the journey from Madras to Tuticorin. It was one of the earliest trains to get vestibuled coaches and later got one of the SIR’s first all-steel coaches.

After the Pamban Bridge was built, a faster Boat Mail service was started between Madras Beach and Dhanushkodi from 24th February, 1914. Passengers were transferred to steamers from a pier at Dhanushkodi. The steamers then sailed along the Adam's Bridge to Talaimannar, where passengers transferred to another train to go on to Colombo. The steamer journey between Talaimannar and Dhanushkodi was much shorter than the earlier service from Tuticorin, taking only 3 hours as opposed to an overnight journey.

In 1964, a fierce cyclone washed away the village of Dhanushkodi and the entire rail route between Pamban and Dhanushkodi. The storm also damaged the 2 steamers, one of which had to be decommissioned afterwards.

Following this, the Boat Mail was diverted to run between Madras Beach and Rameswarwam, from whence, the steamer T.S.S. Irwin used to sail to Talaimannar. The steamer service, which was operated by the Southern Railway, was handed over to the Shipping Corporation of India and continued operating until the early 90’s, when it was discontinued.

At one time the South Indian Railway considered constructing a bridge (12 miles (19km) long) across the shallow waters and sand shoals and reefs known as Adam's Bridge between India and Sri Lanka. However, this plan was shelved when World War I broke out.

In the BG avatar, the train terminates at Rameswaram, with no further connection.

The Imperial Indian Mail

A prestigious train of yesteryears. The East Indian Railway and the Great Indian Peninsular Railway introduced this train in 1926 as a weekly Postal Special between Bombay and Calcutta.

The train's schedule was such that the departures from Bombay made for convenient connections for passengers arriving by ship at Ballard Pier from Great Britain and other places. The train was known for a high level of luxurious accommodation. It carried only about 32 first-class passengers, their servants, and the mail. It redefined luxury travel in the Indian subcontinent, and was known all around the world as one of the finest examples of speed and comfort in rail travel. Until its cancellation during the 2nd World war, this was the fastest train in the Indian subcontinent.

In recent years, the Bombay Calcutta Mail via Itarsi (12321/22) has been identified as the ‘Imperial Mail’. This however, is incorrect. The Bombay-Calcutta train is a much older train that has been running since the 1870s. The Imperial Mail was a different train that heralded an era of luxury travel in India.

Janata Express, Jansewa Express, Matribhumi Express, Jan Shatabdi Express, Garib Rath trains

Starting with the Jayanti Janata Express introduced in 1973 (Jan. 26) between New Delhi and Ernakulam / Mangalore, IR has periodically tried out “classless” trains as a populist measure. The Janata (“People”) Expresses of the 1970s had only 2nd-class non air-conditioned coaches. More such trains were introduced later (Coromandel, Gitanjali, Minar, Himgiri, etc.) but several eventually did acquire air-conditioned or first-class coaches. A few Janata Expresses still survive. More recently Jansewa Expresses were introduced along the same lines, and in 2001, IR announced several new Matribhumi (“Motherland”) Expresses with only second-class sitting and sleeping accommodations. These did not materialise and currently the Antodaya Expresses (carrying only second-class sitting) carry the concept forward.

The Janata Expresses were quite successful in their day, especially as they were IR's first attempt to build a brand of sorts in terms of service quality. For instance, these trains all had drinking water available in all the coaches, a novelty at the time.

(02/2002) Jan Shatabdi (“People's Shatabdi”) Expresses were introduced in 2002. These are supposed to be trains that have the running speeds and operational precedence of the Shatabdi Expresses, but with only second-class accommodation (including, for the day-time trains, second-class non-AC chair-car coaches), and air-conditioned chair car coaches.

(03/2006) The Garib Rath (‘Chariots of the Poor’) expresses were introduced as a more affordable version of the AC-3T long-distance trains. These have all-AC rakes, but fares are intended to be up to 25% or so lower than those of the regular air-conditioned long-distance trains. Four of these were introduced in 2006, with several more in the following years.

(07/2020) The Humsafar expresses are a later concept to the Garib Rath’s. These too feature an all AC-3T configuration, but with more halts and often connecting obscure places. Humsafar’s all run on LHB rakes.

Samjhauta Express

The Samjhauta Express is a bi-weekly train that runs between India and Pakistan, the only rail connection between the two countries. It has been running, with a few breaks in service, since 1976. It was planned to run it as a daily service, but the increase in frequency has never materialised, so it retains a bi-weekly schedule. Earlier the rakes were returned to the home country the same day but later (04/2000) the rake remained overnight.

Its termini are Lahore in Pakistan and Delhi in India. The border crossing takes place between Wagah in Pakistan and Attari in India. Originally, this was a through service with the same rake going all the way between the termini; now the Pakistani rake stops at Attari at which point passengers have to change trains. The train service was set up with an agreement between IR and Pakistan Railways to alternately use an Indian and a Pakistani rake and locomotive for the train, six months at a time.

The train usually has between 4 and 8 coaches. The rake supplied by Pakistan is usually hauled by an Alco DL-543 class ALU20 diesel loco (Lahore shed), with the entire train in the standard dark green livery of PR. The fate of service depends on the relationship between the two countries; with on-going tensions between the two countries, the service remains suspended.

Lifeline Express

The Lifeline Express or Jeevan Rekha Express is a mobile hospital in a train. There are actually two such trains. Each train, with specially designed air-conditioned coaches, has two surgical operation theatres with three operating tables, a sterilizing room, several patient wards, on-board power generators, a pantry car, storage for medical supplies, and accommodation for medical staff.

The train visits different parts of the country, usually rural areas with insufficient medical facilities, or areas hit by natural disasters, etc., and stays in each place for several days while medical care (routine as well as major surgery) is provided to the local people.

The Lifeline Exp. was started on July 16, 1991, with three coaches donated by IR, and equipment from Impact India, a non-profit health service provider based in New York. Impact India still runs the trains with help from IR and corporate and private donors.

Patiala State Monorail

The Patiala State Monorail was opened in 1907, connecting Bassi and Sirhind in Patiala (10 km). Subsequently it was extended to connect Sirhind to Alampura and Patiala to Sunam and Bhawanigarh for a total route length of about 80km.

It is unusual in being a single-track system (monorail). The track runs alongside a normal road; the train rode on the rail and had an extra wheel that rode on the road surface, to stabilize it. The rail-riding wheels are double-flanged, 3' in diameter and 6" wide. About 95% of the weight was to be borne by these. The outrigger wheel was 5' in diameter and was to bear 5% of the weight. Motive power was originally in the form of mules and oxen, but in March 1909 four monorail locomotives were supplied by Orenstein & Koppel of Berlin. One section, the Morinda line, never had locomotives for its entire lifetime, depending on oxen instead into the 20th century. The monorail system is known as the 'Ewing System'. The Patiala monorail was the first commercial use of this system, and its proponent was Col. C W Bowles, the engineer who designed the Patiala railway.

The line was at first run by Marshland, Price & Co., but later taken over by the state of Patiala. Operating difficulties and competition from other transport systems caused the line to close in 1927. After being discarded for 35 years (!) the rolling stock and locomotives were found, rescued, and preserved. One loco was restored to full working order in 1976, and is currently at the National Railway Museum. At the museum, it has a monorail car also attached, which is a reproduction on an original underframe. One coach (Col. Bowles' private saloon, is also on display.


Further reading: The Railway Magazine article on the PSMT
Also see: Don Dickens' page on the PSMT

Locomotive Info

  • Builder: Orenstein & Koppel, Berlin, Germany.
  • Year built: 1907
  • Wheel arrangement: 0-3-0T (double flanged wheels)
  • Balancing wheel: One flange-less wheel, 39" diameter
  • Cylinders: Two outside cylinders, 5-1/2"x14"

The Presidential Saloon

The Presidential Saloon is not a train, but a pair of twin coaches (numbered 9000 and 9001) reserved for exclusive use by the President of India. The coaches were built in 1956 and are usually stabled at New Delhi station. The coaches have a dining room that doubles as a visiting room, a lounge room or conference room, and the president's bedroom. There is also a kitchen and chambers for the president's secretaries and staff as well as the railway staff who accompany him. The coaches are luxuriously appointed with teak furniture and silk drapes and cushion covers.

The Presidential Saloon was used regularly by many presidents in the 1960s and early 1970s. A tradition developed of having the president on the completion of his term use the coaches for his outbound journey from New Delhi to his residence elsewhere in the country although it's not certain when that started. The last president to use the coaches in this way was Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, in 1977.

After that, the coaches fell into disuse for reasons of security and convenience, although they were regularly maintained and inspected at New Delhi despite not being used. After a hiatus of about 26 years, the coaches were used again on May 30, 2003 when the president, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam used it for a 60km journey from Harnaut to Patna. For his use, the coaches were renovated and provided with modern equipment such as satellite-based communication systems.


The predecessor of the Presidential Saloon was the Vice Regal Coach used in the 19th century and the early 20th century by the Viceroy of India. This was kept at Calcutta until 1927 when it was brought to New Delhi when that city became the capital of British India. The Vice Regal Coach was furnished with Persian carpets, a ‘sinking sofa’, and -- a novelty in Indian trains then -- hot and cold running water. It was not air-conditioned, but used khas mats for air cooling. The first Indian president Dr Rajendra Prasad used this coach after 1950, and used it to travel from New Delhi to Kurukshetra, among other places.