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Disbanded Khyber Steam Safari: An insight into the once glorious past of the Khyber Agency

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Initiated in the yester years of thriving tourism culture in the country especially in the then North West Frontier Province, Khyber Train Safari remained the centre of attraction of major chunk of the tourists who thronged the country in the 80’s. 
 
Plying on the railway track built by the ruling East India Company, in Colonial India, the very first journey was made through Jamrud, near Peshawar, and Landi Kotal in the year 1925, driven by the two vintage steam locomotives built in 1920s by Vulcan Foundry and by Kitson & Co., in the United Kingdom. The first set of bogeys was driven by the wife of Victor Bailey, the engineer who had the honour of laying the tracks in the difficult mountainous region of the Khyber Pass.

The train safari was called off in 1982 when the Pakistan Railways succumbed to colossal financial loss and the route was no more viable to sustain its own cost. However, in the year 1990, PR re-launched the project renaming it as the Khyber Steam Safari (KSS), through the joint collaboration of a private enterprise. It was again disbanded in the late 90’s as the War on Terror was unleashed on the tribal regions of the country.

 The 1920s model vintage oil-fired steam engines pulled the two bogeys through a myriad of tunnels and colonial era bridges hauling the two passenger compartments to a height of almost 1,200 meters. The train passed through difficult terrain, crossing some 92 bridges and 34 tunnels to reach the highest railway station in the country, Landi Kotal.


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Also called as “a journey into time and history”, the train comprised of 75 seats, including 28 window seats, with onboard kitchenette, service counter and two toilet facilities and travelled through 42 kilometers of breathtaking mountainous region of the legendary Khyber Pass. The train track also has a unique reverence as it passes through the runway of the Peshawar International Airport, making it one of the only three runways with a train track on it in the world.
 
Pakistan Railways, with its present vows, is struggling to retain its already meager strength of trains plying on the Karachi Peshawar route and many of the local and less productive train routes have already been pulled off. Lack of tourism in the region and dearth of facilities in the war-ravaged Khyber region has delivered a severe blow to the region’s financial and economic condition.

As per agreement with the local tribes, the English Government allowed free of cost transportation to the local tribesmen back in the 1920’s and the agreement is still honoured by the Pakistan Government. Revival of the KSS will definitely go a long way in the financial upbringing of the region and will be a feather in the cap of the present ANP set up in the province.


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