The tourism department and Pakistan Railways have agreed on the early revival of the historic Khyber Steam Safari train service to boost tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The British-era train, a major tourist attraction in the region, was closed down in 2008 due to militancy and the flashfloods, which washed away railway tracks.
KP senior minister for sports and tourism Mohammad Atif Khan told Dawn that his department was in contact with the Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps for the resumption of the historic train service and opening of the historic forts along railway tracks for tourists.
He said currently, the department’s officials were speaking to the relevant military authorities about the modalities for the train service and that damaged tracks in Khyber district would be repaired once the modalities were finalised.
The minister said he would meet the FC inspector general about the opening of Balahisar and other forts to tourists, while he had written to railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and would meet him to finalise details of the initiative.
He said all things would be finalised within a month.
Dr Ali Jan, a member of the KP Think Tank on Tourism, said in light of the recommendations of the prime minister’s task force on tourism, the tourism department and Pakistan Railways had teamed up for the revival of the Khyber Steam Safari.
He said senior minister Atif Khan was very keen to see the train service back on the rails as one of the province’s top tourist attractions of international fame.
The think tank’s member said a meeting to that effect took place in the provincial capital lately with federal railway minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, where the representatives of tourism department and private sector were also in attendance.
He said Sheikh Rashid later ordered his ministry to operationalise four steam locomotive engines on no-loss-no-profit basis.
“Those locomotives will operate between Peshawar and Attock Khurd on immediate basis after necessary preparations. A meeting to plan a way forward will be held with the railway minister in the first week of next month,” he said.
Dr Ali Jan said Pakistan Railways would take care of the technical and administrative aspects of the initiative; the tourism department would handle the branding and marketing things, and the Pakistan Railways Heritage Society would do the coordination job.
He said holistic planning was under way for the sustainability of the proposed activity, which was meant for livelihood improvement and building of the province’s image and was not just an event.
The think tank’s member said plans were also afoot to convert the Railway Club’s building into a ‘steam tourism hospitality hub’.
He said following the construction of the Attock iron-girder bridge in 1883, the North Western Railway line was extended from Rawalpindi to Peshawar.
Dr Jan said the broad gauge was extended from Peshawar to Jamrud in 1901, the line up to Landi Kotal was completed on Nov 3, 1925, it was extended to Landi Khana on the Afghan border on April 23, 1926, and the tracks were laid up to the border post in 1926 but they’re not used.
He said in the past, the whole chapter or section was dedicated to the Khyber Steam Safari in all popular travel books of Pakistan, while the tourist train featured on the cover of TIME magazine and was listed among the top five train journeys of the world.
The think tank’s member said the train service was also showed in the first episode of Himlayas, a 2008 BBC series with adventurer Michael Palin.
Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2018