The Khyber steam Safari train was used to climb such steep inclines that it was pulled by two steam engines – one at the front and one at the rear of the coaches – whistling and belching smoke while traversing the treacherous mountains.
It was known as a ‘journey into time and history’. But this journey was brought to a halt in May 2007 after serving local and foreign tourists for decades due to security concerns. The 2007 and 2010 floods later swept away the railway infrastructure.
Today, the two vintage steam engines have little track to roll on.
In an effort to revive tourism in the province, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government wants to restart not only the Khyber Safari stream train but two more Safari trains from Peshawar to the ancient site at Takhti-e-Bhai and from Peshawar to Attock Khurd. The train to Attock was started during the previous government for a short time to the historical Attock Khurd area in Punjab. Railways officials said that they can restart it without any delays.
On the request of the KP government, Pakistan Railways conducted a test run on the Nowshera-Takht-e-Bhai track, after which they gave the government the green light. The senior Railways official in Peshawar said the safari train to Takhti-e-Bhai is important that’s why even though the whole rail infrastructure was destroyed by the ravages of time as the track on Nowshera to Dargai route remained closed since 1992 they are ready to run the Safari train at a minimal cost.
“Pakistan Railways will provide all technical and administrative support,” Muhammad Nasir Khalily, divisional superintendent of the Pakistan Railway in Peshawar told SAMAA Digital. He added that the provincial government will construct resorts, branding and marketing. Pakistan Railways is ready to extend all support to the government to promote sustainable tourism. Khalily maintained that all three safari trains can play a very important role in the revival of tourism in the country.
The official revealed that they are now ready to start the train to Attock Khurd and Takhti-e-Bhai without any delay, as the Nowshera-Takhti-e-Bhai track was cleared last month.
However, he said the challenging task will be the restoration of the Khyber stream Safari train track, which was swept away by the 2007 and 2010 floods. Talking about its history, he said the track was extended from Peshawar to Jamrud in 1901. In 1925, the line to Landi Kotal was extended to Landi Khana and to the border with Afghanistan in 1926 but it was not used.
Khalily said that it has 34 tunnels of which 26 are blocked due to land sliding. There are also 94 bridges; all of them were swept away in the floods and need to be reconstructed. The track has to be repaired and reconstructed to make it compatible with the modern train system.
“It will be a gigantic task that will require Rs1.5 billion to complete its construction,” Khalily said. However, he said that Pakistan Railway has already completed the survey and once the money is available they will start the restoration work and can complete it in months, not years.
Zahoor Durrani, who is associated with the Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP), said the safari train was closed down due security reasons. Peace has been restored but now the main hurdle is financial resources, he said.
He said the provincial government, especially the minister of tourism, is making great efforts for its revival but it is still unclear who will pay for the reconstruction of the track. Durrani said that since it is Railways infrastructure, the Railways ministry has pay for its reconstruction but the other facilities will be provided by the provincial government. He added that despite several meetings with the Railways ministry, no final decision has been made yet to start construction work on the track in Khyber districts and begin operating the Khyber Safari train.