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The remains of the old Mont Cenis line of the Indian Mail (WS)

Sleeping-car no.1 of Nagelmackers' first Compagnie de Wagons-Lits, built by Hernalser Waggonfabrik AG, Vienna in 1972, intended for Indian Mail trains Oostende - Brindisi, used for Mann Boudoir Sleeping services and from 1876 by CIWL (drawing by Michel A. Schefer, with the best wishes from Roger Commault)

"Fumoir" of a CIWL dining-car, probably series 350-352 of the Peninsular-Express, c.1900 (coll. Deutsches Museum Muenchen)

The Indian Mail, this combined sea and rail link of the British Empire has been world's most important traffic route during the 19th century, being closely connected not only with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, but also with railway development in Egypt, India and in the countries of South East Asia, still lacking interconnections.

Sailing boats of the East India Company took months for the journey to India and often they did not arrive at all. The first step towards a new age was the arrival of a steamer from Bombay at Suez in 1829. The Overland route through Egypt by horse carriages or camels, the short route through France, partially by rail - "La malle des Indes", and the test runs through Austria and Germany were the next steps. The most active pioneer of the Indian Mail route had been a man not from the ruling aristocracy, but a young lieutenant, Thomas Fletcher Waghorn.

The way of the Indian Mail by a small system Fell railway over the Mont Cenis pass, then once again through Germany and Austria during the war of 1870/71, Georges Nagelmackers' intention to introduce his first sleeping cars on this Oostende - Brindisi route, then the return of the Indian Mail to France by the new Mont Cenis (Frejus) tunnel, Nagelmackers' sleeping car Calais - Bologna, connecting with cars of his competitor George M. Pullman, the three Connor single-driver locomotives in Egypt, theoretically capable of running at 80 mph, the construction of the Suez Canal by Ludwig Negrelli and Fedinand de Lesseps, Sir John Fowler's project of a river/rail route to the Sudan for the Indian Mail, then in 1890 the CIWL de-Luxe Peninsular- Express Calais - Brindisi, initially in connection with the London - Paris Club Train, and in 1897 the Bombay-Express Calais - Marseilles - what a story!

In India, the “mail runners” and horse carriages were towards 1870 more and more replaced by trains. At the turn of the century, the white European Mail de-Luxe Bombay - Calcutta, which then became the Overland Express or Imperial Indian Mail, was the most luxurious train of the world. In the ‘20s a new Imperial Indian Mail became the continent’s most prominent express. On the other route, the “race to Delhi” took place. At Rangoon the British steamers connected with trains to Mandalay and at Singapore with expresses to Prai, opposite Penang island, and from there by the International Express to Bangkok. And the French had their Transindochinois from Saigon to Hanoi.

In Europe the Brindisi route was abandoned in 1914, but on the Marseilles route the new Bombay-Express appeared in 1922 with the first CIWL all-steel sleepers. It was this cosmopolitan express, which got these cars (series 2641-46) first, not the Train Bleu, as often asserted. And initially they were brown, not blue! A picture in “L’Illustration” showed Mahatma Gandhi arriving aboard such an S type car. Later the train became the Overland P&O Express, equipped with the luxurious LX type sleepers. With World War II these services ended, the Indian Mail had changed to air transport.

Expresses in India and South East Asia continue to run. In India they were hauled after the war by the WP Pacifics, a Baldwin design, with its semi-streamlining resembling true American express passenger engines. One even was fully streamlined in the style of American designer Otto Kuhler. A Niagara was envisioned, but not built. Even Ceylon had a fully streamlined locomotive, the tenwheeler 242, surely rather unsuitable for that country. In Burma steamed Garratts, then transferred to Kenya. Pacifics hauled the International Express Malaysia - Thailand and the Transindochinois in French Indochina. And the last steam locomotives were in service in North Borneo, the remotest destination of the Indian Mail.

Cyprus had a "Boat Train" Nicosia - Famagusta on 2ft6in gauge, which connected with the mail steamers for England. 4-4-0 type locomotive 12 with a passenger train (coll. Republic of Cyprus)

A canal in the Nile delta, Egypt, resembling the Mahmoudieh Canal, which temporarily had served the Indian Mail (WS)

Horse-drawn buses for India travelers at a service house between Cairo and Suez (contemporary press)

The early railway Cairo - Suez (contemporary press)

India: Howrah-Delhi Toofan Express, Pacific class WP, departure Agra 1975 (WS)

By the author, including backgrounds and the railway history of India and South East Asia with trains' formations, locomotive and CIWL car lists:

Jules Verne's Express
Die legendaere Indian-Mail Route nach Suedostasien
, Duesseldorf 1980 (sold out).

The book is placed in the libraries:
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich;
The British Museum, Central Library, London
DB - Museum, Nurnberg;
Musee francais du Chemin de Fer, Mulhouse;
Museum für Verkehr und Technik, Berlin
National Railway Museum, York, UK

For information about India see the Rail Transport Museum, New Delhi.

To write down the history of the Indian Mail would not have been possible without the special help by M.D. Lengellé ("Vauquesal-Papin"), Roger Commault, the India Study Circle of Philately and Colonel C.N.M. Blair, Dr. Bruno Bonazelli, Contre-Amiral Jean Eynaud de Fäy, Dr. Claudio Pedrazzini, the National Maritime Museum, London, the P&O and other institutions.

The author's extensive photo collection has been donated to the British Museum, London.

For Indian and Australian Mail shipping see

Bombay Victoria Terminus (WS)