Yesterday, July 1 was the last run of this pre-independence era train. The Lal Quila Express was on its last journey, after long 147 years, running between Delhi and Kolkata.
It was somehow strange that there was no special mention in the press, no special photo session of this historical journey. Mostly because, this slow running, insignificant looking train was catering mainly the poor and marginal people across four States, specially the people from small and unimpressive towns and Kasbas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal , who came to big cities and the metropolises, in search of livelihood!
290 intermediate stations and 70 halts! Can you imagine this in 2014?
A train taking long 35 hours or more to cross a distance of just 1500 kilometre! The average speed of the train, officially, was 44 km per hour. Sometimes it ran even at further lower speed and while the other trains were allowed to pass, the Lal Quila Express was often detained at the outer signals at various stations, sometimes even for an hour or so, for the sake of fast moving trains, making the journey even slower and laid back.
In 1890 or even in 1920s this must be the usual speed but in 2014, when the Government is talking about Bullet Trains, the Duronto Express to Kolkata takes just 16 Hours and 45 Minutes, Rajdhani takes 17 Hours and 45 Minutes to reach, Lal Quila Express itself, on many of the scorching days was taking 38 Hours, 40 Hours, or even more!
On June 30 last, it was 7 Hours 35 Minutes late! And there was nothing unusual about it!
Every Destination Counts
And precisely, that was the beauty of the slow moving train – 290 intermediate stations and 70 halts! Leaving Ghaziabad, it would stop at Khurja, Aligarh, Hathras, Tundla, and Firozabad. Beginning with Allahabad, it would stop at Naini, Meja, Manda, Vindhyachal, Mirzapur, Chunar and Mughal Sarai.
There are so many nondescript towns of Bihar in the route: Buxar, Dumrao, Raghunathpur, Bihiya, and Ara, till Danapur! Which other long distance train would stop all the major stations in and around Patna!
Rajendra Nagar, Guljarbagh, Patna Sahib, Banka till Fatwa. Kiul junction in Bihar onwards, when it entered Jharkhand, the language and features of the people changed automatically! Jamui, Jasidih, Madhupur, Jamtara…till it enters the industrial belt of West Bengal from Chittaranjan through Asansol.
Before independence, till the 60s, Madhupur and Jasidih were the nostalgic summer sojourns of the middle class Bengalis! Hordes of Bengali families took this train with Holdalls, large Canvas Bags, Suitcases, Water Jugs and their extended clans to get down at Madhupur station to reach their most sought after destinations in the ‘West’ (Paschim Yatra)!
Such A Long Journey!
After the 1857 Mutiny, this train helped the British officials and the troops to endure their Journey towards North India, to fortify their position. Within another 54 years the colonial capital was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta.
Between 1863–64, railroad work progressed fast on the Allahabad–Kanpur–Tundla and Aligarh sections. The Yamuna Bridge in Delhi was ready by 1864 and on 1 August 1864, coaches were ferried across the Yamuna at Allahabad to allow the first through train from Kolkata to Delhi.
The Yamuna Bridge at Allahabad opened on 15 August 1865 and in 1866 Kolkata and Delhi were directly linked. The 1 Dn / 2 Up Mail train (the first numbered train of Indian Railways), the predecessor of the present day Kalka Mail, started running.
Then Came the Lal Quila Express…
Long before that scores of Educationists, Clerks and Technicians migrated to different parts of ‘Upper India’ (as the northern part of India was called in those days) from Calcutta and parts of Sub Divisional towns of undivided Bengal, to build the base of extended British colonial competency.
In the days of Horse Driven Cars and Palanquins, the Locomotives as mighty iron horses, were fast moving on ever spreading iron tracks, to strengthen the roots of British Empire in India.
Lal Quila was the seat of Power, so was the Lal Quila Express, the powerful Juggernaut!
The End of An Era
Despite its slow pace and time guzzling existence, people were happy with this train.
A nodal body of the commuters, the Bihar Daily Passenger Association (BDPA) has earlier vehemently opposed the move to discontinue the train for ever, and repeatedly urged the Railway Board to continue the running of the train (along with another slow moving train in the route Janata Express).
According to, BDPA President B N Sahay, the Railway should have reconsidered the abrupt decision, in the interest of non-privileged, low budget passengers, especially the labour class among whom the train was too popular.
Despite its slow speed and innumerable stops, they have always preferred to travel by the train. As someone rightly pointed that, Lal Quila Express, along with Janata Express, have long provided the cheaper, alternative service for the masses. It was a common Train for the daily passengers between Jhajha and Mughalsarai.
The General Secretary of Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS), Shri U K Pathak was highly critical of the move to withdraw the service of one of the oldest passenger trains, by the Railway Board.
The Board has mentioned the slow speed and huge number of stops, and usual dearth of available rakes for the service, as the cause behind the permanent discontinuation of the service.
But Rail Unions and Passenger Bodies were not ready to accept it. They called the decision anti-poor. Incidentally, the decision to discontinue this historic train was taken by the previous UPA Government, at its last leg.
It was the choicest and the cheapest mode of transportation for the common people in the hinterland. Besides, the train was linking, for 365 days a year, four States-West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, providing an easily available mode of commuting for the down to earth people.
Railway Board, PRO however said that the service was not in tune with the times, also not the profitable one. Instead Indian Railways would run more express trains between Kolkata and Delhi, in future, via Patna and Mughal Sarai, with better facilities.
But The Regular Commuters are not Impressed
In absence of these trains, how will an ordinary passenger be able to travel so many smaller places of UP and Bihar? This is a real fact that everyone cannot afford to travel by Superfast or Mail trains, forget about the Rajdhani and Shatabdis. Average Indian income does not permit one to bear the expenses of the superfast trains. Will they ever stop at Sirathu, Jhajha or Jamtara!
A Journey By Lal Quila Express ~ Personal Experience!
Twice, I had the rare opportunity to board this train. Once, from Mirzapur to Delhi, in another time, from Patna to Kolkata.
But unlike the thousands of passengers on this route, it was the A/C Class. Eventually this train had no A/C higher class, than A/C 3-tier.But again it was somehow elitist. But paying just a bit more. You could be a King!
I met two Bangladeshi gentlemen, who were regular in the Train. Twice or thrice in a year they travel from Kolkata to cities of Haryana, Gurgaon and Faridabad to clinch deals for purchasing machinery.
“Look, as a businessman I can easily fly to Delhi, right from Dhaka. But this train is superb. Very special.”
“At just Rs. 1500, you can travel two nights and three days, to enjoy the royal luxury!” quipped one of the gentlemen.
Food is not a problem. The train stops at so many known, unknown stations that vendors are aplenty, day and night. Also Railway provides food, tea and snacks on payment, without a hitch!
“We have playing cards, the mobile phones are with us, downloaded music and enough supply of books and magazines are enough to spend the time. Who will go to stay in a five star Hotel, for two nights!” they were candid.
Also I came to know that people with Bangladesh Passports and obviously with sufficient money with them are open only to Star Hotels in the metros. Smaller hotels near the Railway Stations will try to avoid them at any cost. In Kolkata they generally stay around Park Circus area, and in Delhi, in the vicinity of Jama Masjid!
Not too many people in A/C class would prefer to travel by Lal Quila Express. So except the busy day hours, journey was comfortable and leisurely! If you could take a few unread books, with you, it was an unusual place to finish them all, during the l-o-n-g journey!But now, even the small luxury is gone.
Beyond Lal Quila
Don’t be surprised. Lal Quila Express is gone for ever…but there is even slower train, still running.
And that’s the legendary ‘Toofan Mail’!
Duniya Yeh Duniya, Toofan Mail
Iske Pahiye Zor Se Chalte
Aur Apna Rasta Taye Karte
Sayane Is-se Kaam Nikalen
Bacche Samjhen Khel
The 1942 film, ‘Jawab’ has this immortal song, sung by Kanan Devi. Still remembered and adored!
The much talked about train is still running, as its new Avatar, the Howrah- Sri Ganganar, Udayan-Abha Toofan Express. In 45 Hours and 25 Minutes (officially) it traverses 1982 kilometre. Stops at records 110 stations! And at an average speed of 43 km/hr., perhaps this one is the slowest train in India. But that’s a different story altogether.
By: Deep Basu
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