|Disbanded train safari leaves no track record|
24 October 2012
PESHAWAR: ‘A journey into time and history’ was how the now defunct Khyber Steam Safari was described in its heyday. The weekly train, tugged by two 1920s vintage oil-fired steam engines built by the UK’s Vulcan Foundry and Kitson and Co, took tourists through the rugged albeit breathtaking mountainous terrain between Peshawar and Landi Kotal.
That is until it was closed down in 2006 after parts of its railway track and bridges were washed away by floods. Now, other parts of the track, near Peshawar’s Karkhano Market, are disappearing.
The construction of the famed route between Peshawar and Landi Kotal started in 1920. Built as a strategic line to thwart any Afghan or Russian invasion of British India back then, the route features 92 bridges and 34 tunnels, drilled through solid rock. At the time of its construction, the route was widely seen as an engineering marvel.
The route officially opened on November 3, 1925. The wife of Victor Bailey, the engineer who had been assigned construction of the track, drove the first train through the route, from Peshawar to Landi Kotal.
After Pakistan gained independence, a train ran through the route every Sunday till 1982. Operations ceased that year after the service was no longer commercially viable.
In 1990, however, the service was re-launched under the Khyber Steam Safari moniker in a joint venture between the privately-owned Sahrai Travels and Pakistan Railways and continued to run till its closure in 2006.
After surviving 92 years, the track has finally fallen victim to negligence by railway authorities. Parts of the track near Karkhano Market have been stolen. In other spots in Peshawar, the track has disappeared beneath shops and stalls set up by locals.
Zahoor Sahrai, owner of Sahrai Travels, lamented the current state of the railway track. He said it was more than unfortunate that the land was being used by stall owners for commercial activities and that land-grabbers had even stolen the steel track.
“We needed [to restart] the steam safari in 2007… [But] the three beautiful steam engines, which had been restored at a heavy cost earlier, were parked in a shed… they are in ruins now,” said Sahrai, adding that other nations preserved their heritage “but in Pakistan, our people leave no stone unturned in destroying it.”
When contacted, a high ranking Pakistan Railways official told The Express Tribune that since the track is no longer functional, the land can be auctioned off according to regulations.
“It was auctioned to a contractor for Rs25,000 a day earlier, but he left the contract. So we will auction the land again,” he said. The official added that the track itself cannot be used by any contractor for commercial purposes and he has to stay 100 metres away from it.
He declined to comment on the disappearance of the track altogether.
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