Shakuntala Railway, History of India’s Only Privately Held Railway Line

Shakuntala Express

The Greatest by product of colonial era that British rulers left for us is the Indian Railways. From Architecture of Railway stations to design of trains, everything has shadows of English rule.

It sounds surprising to many, but even after 70 years of independence, there is still one tiny part of Railway Network that our Indian Railway doesn’t owns.

Shakuntala Railway History
Old Lever from British Era Image Source: IRFCA


The Shakuntala Express, sounds so Indian but you can still see a ‘made in Liverpool’ tag on it.

Shakuntala Railway was founded by a British firm called Killick-Nixon, In 1910. This private firm in a joint venture with the colonial British government in India gave birth to the Central Province Railway Company (CPRC), for planning and assembling railway tracks to be used for transportation of cotton from Vidarbha, & finally to Manchester, England. The trains started running on tracks in 1916 and soon it was started for carrying passengers too.

During British rule The trains on this track were run by Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) which operated in Central India till Independence. Shakuntala Railway is still owned by CPRC, presumably because the government of the day simply forgot to nationalise it, and CRPC is still owned by Killick-Nixon, a British firm. Even though Killick-Nixon has since transferred from British to Indian control, but still it runs privately on Indian Tracks without government’s intervention!

This Track is a part of Bhusaval Division of Central Railway but the Murtazapur – Yavatmal (113 km) and the Murtazapur – Achalpur (76 km) railway tracks are still owned by CPRC.

Shakuntala Railway
Image Source: IRFCA

Unlike most railway lines in India that uses broad gauge lines, the Shakuntala Railway route still uses narrow gauge lines and makes just one return journey every day. At present, the train takes runs with speed 20 Km/hr and covers the 190 KM distance between Yavatmal and Achalpur in Amravati district of Maharashtra. On other hand bus takes 6 hours for the same journey and costs Rs 150. Despite of the fact that this train is time taking, poor Villagers still prefer this train over bus because of its affordable tickets.

Central Railway which runs the trains on these tracks Pays royalty to its private partner and CPRC. Since Independence, this contract has been renewed 6 times (which means in every 10 years).

This legacy of colonial rule may soon be a part of history as Government of India is very soon going to take over Shakuntala Railway. Union Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu has recently cleared a budget of Rs 1,500 crore for transforming the narrow gauge Yavatmal-Murtizapur-Achalpur railway line into broad gauge.

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