Burma Railway

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Burma Railway
[[Image:|150px| ]]
System timeline
1896 Burma Railway Company formed to work existing state lines
1928 Nationalisation
1937 Separation of Burma from India
1948 Union of Burma created
Constituent companies / lines
1896 Irrawaddy Valley State Railway
1896 Sittang Valley State Railway
1896 Mu Valley State Railway
1923-1927 Madaya Light Railway
Key locations
Headquarters Rangoon
Workshops Insein
Major Stations Mandalay, Pegu, Prome, Toungoo
Successor system / organisation
1928 Burma Railways
1989 Myanmar Railways
System mileage
Metre gauge 1340 miles (1905)
2049 miles (1943)
Associated auxiliary force
How to interpret this infobox

Burma Railway

The Burma Railways metre gauge(MG) was originally known as the ‘Burma State Railway’. In 1896 ‘Burma Railway Company’ was formed for the purpose of taking over the working of the original system and extending it by the construction of other lines, particularly one from Mandalay to Kunberg. The railways taken over by the Company from Government in 1896 comprised the following lines:-

  • Rangoon to Prome on the Irrawady river Formed as a private company, in 1896 the (BR) took over the three state railways of operating in Burma under a guarantee provided by the Government of India.
  • Rangoon to Mandalay, and thence to the bank of the Irrawaddy, opposite Sagaing
  • Sagaing to Myitkyina with a branch to Katha, whence there is communication by river to Bhamo.

The above paragraph is taken directly from the Administration Report on Indian Railways 1918 [1]



Following the merger of the Irrawaddy Valley State Railway, the Sittang Valley State Railway and the Mu Valley State Railway to form the Burma Railway (BR), construction continued on various projects . In 1905 the network was 1340 miles(2157km); expanding by 1916 to 1598miles(2572km) [1]; by 1937 the system length was 2051 miles(3301km) [2].

In 1928, BR was dissolved and the railways in Burma were brought once again under direct government control, being renamed Burma Railways. In 1937, Burma was split from India and political control passed to the newly-formed Burma Office.

The infamous Thailand-Burma Railway, constructed between 1942-1943 by Allied POWs under the direction of their Japanese captors, is at present outside of the scope of this article.

Railways in Burma in 1900
Burma Railway System 1937 Map

Neighbouring countries Railway Link Proposals

  • Assam-Burma Connection Railway Project. A series of proposals from 1892 onwards to link India and Burma by rail; eventually all were dropped.
  • Burma-Yunnan Railway Project. A project to connect the Burma Railway network to the China’s south-western Yunnan province. Construction started in 1938 and was abandoned in the early 1940’s

Burma Railways Network

The following is extracted from the 1937 ‘History of Indian Railways [3] with a total open mileage of 2060 miles(km)

  • Irrawaddy Section 161 miles(km), opened 1877, Rangoon to Prome, formerly the ‘Irrawaddy Valley State Railway’- see separate page
  • Sittang Section
    • ‘Main Line’, 106 miles(km), opened 1884-85, Rangoon via Nyaunglebin to Toungoo, formerly a part of the ‘ ‘Sittang Valley State Railway’ - see separate page
    • ‘Suburban Lines’, 9 miles(km), opened 1880-90, ‘Worked for goods traffic only’
    • ‘Cantonment Branch’, 9 miles(km), opened 1911 from Malagon to Bauktaw; extended via Kanba to Cantonment 1926
  • Mandalay Section
  • Mu Valley Section
    • ‘Main Line’, 340 miles(km), opened 1891 from Sagaing (facing Mandalay) reaching Myitkyina in 1898, formerly a part of the ‘Mu Valley State Railway’ - see separate page
    • ‘Sagaing-Aloa Branch’, 70 miles(km) from Ywataung to Aloa, opened 1900
    • ‘Katha Branch’, 15 miles(km) from Naba to Katha
  • Mandalay-Kunlong Section 178 miles(km), opened in stages 1898 from Mychaung reaching Lashio 1903
  • Bassein-Hezada-Letpadan Section 110 miles(km), opened in stages 1902 from Bassien to Henzada in 1903, and by 1904 reaching Tharawaw on the east bank of the Irrawady river to Letpadan
    • ‘Pegu-Martaban Extension’, 123 miles(km) opened 1907 from Pegu to Martaban (opposite Moulmein)
    • ‘Henzada-Kyangin Extension’, 66 miles(km) opened 1907-08 from Henzada to Kyangin
    • ‘Southern Shan States Section ‘, 98 miles(km), opened in stages from Thazi to Augban 1912-14; extended to Hebo in 1921 and to Shwenyaug in 1928
    • ‘Pyinmana-Taungdwingyi -Kyaukpadaung Section’, 139 miles(km), opened 1922-24 in stages from Pyinmana to Taungdwingyi; extended to reach Kyaukpadaung in 1930
    • ‘Alon-Ye-u Section’, 49 miles(km), opened in stages from 1922 from Alon reaching Ye-u in 1926
    • Moulmein-Ye Railway’, 89 miles(km), opened in stages in 1923 from Moulme reaching Ye in 1925
    • ‘Pegu-Kayan-Thongwa Section’, 48 miles(km) opened in stages in 1927 from Pegu to Kayan and reaching Thongwa in 1928
    • ‘Nyaunglebin-Madauk Railway’, 11 miles(km) opened in 1929 from Nyaunglebin to Madauk
    • ‘Myingyan-Nalogyi-Paleik Railway’, 42 miles(km) opened 1929-30 from Myingyan to Paleik

Connection Line to Burma Railway

  • Burma Mines Railway. Opened 1907, private NG railway to transport locally mined silver; connecting to Lashio branch of BR; independent until after 1947

Railways aquired by BR

Madaya Light Railway. Unassisted private company, 1912; Purchased by Government of India(GoI) 1923, passed to BR; closed 1927

Coal Supplies

From 1891 coal for the BR was partly supplied from the Kebwet Mine, the coal was carried by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company(IFC) . By 1923 23,000 tons of coal had been extracted and carried by IFC. The coal was of inferior quality and supply ceased in January 1905. See separate page for further information

Railway Constructiuons


Refer to FIBIS Fact File #4: “Research sources for Indian Railways, 1845-1947” - available from the Fibis shop. This Fact File contains invaluable advice on 'Researching ancestors in the UK records of Indian Railways' with particular reference to the India Office Records (IOR) held at the British Library

An on-line search of the IOR records relating to this railway [6] gives many references. The most important being:-

  • L/AG/46/7 “Records of the Burma Railways Company, 1896-1921”
  • L/AG/46/28 “Records of the India Office relating to the Burma Railways Company 1897-1927”

Personnel Records

This railway was a State Railways and the following IOR records relating to Staff employment are held :-

  • L/F/8/1-20 "Appointments to State Railways made in the UK 1855-1946"
  • Z/L/F/8/1-2 "Index to Appointments to State Railways made in the UK 1855-1946"

In 1906 Walter Home was appointed as Managing Director of the ‘Burma Railway Company’ due to his previous managing the [[Jodhpur-Bikaner Railway], a metre gauge line on most profitable basis. When taking charge, Burma Railway had about 600 miles of route open for traffic. He served as Managing Director for about two decades. And at the close of his era, Burma Railway extended its operations over 1800 miles. The situation has not changed much since Walter Home's time [7] .

The following staff from the Public Works Department are listed in the 1905 Civil List, and other sources, as being posted to Burma Railway; in approximate date order:-

Further Information


  1. 1.0 1.1 “Administration Report on Railways 1918” page 171 (pdf64) ; Retrieved 20 Apr 2020
  2. US Archive .org pdf download of ‘History Of Indian Railways, constructed and in progress’, 31 March 1937 by ‘The Government of India – Railway Department’, pages 62-63 , pdf 85-88; Retrieved 20 Apr 2020
  3. US Archive .org pdf download of ‘History Of Indian Railways, constructed and in progress’, 31 March 1937 by ‘The Government of India - Railway Department’ pages 62-63 pdf 85-88; Retrieved 25 Aug 2020
  4. Wikipedia ‘Ava Bridge’; Retrieved 20 Apr 2020
  5. “’nternational database of structures – Ava Bridge’; Retrieved 20 Apr 2020
  6. British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue; Retrieved 18 Jan 2016
  7. “Eminent Railwaymen of Yesteryears” by R R Bhandari July 2008, reproduced by IRFCA Indian Railways Fan Club Retrieved on 20 Apr 2020
  8. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 430 (pdf page 393 ) Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  9. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Frederick_Lewis_Dibblee Grace’s Guide ‘Frederick Lewis Dibblee’]; Retrieved 20 Apr 2020
  10. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 548 (pdf page 511 Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  11. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 600 (pdf page 563) Retrieved on 22 May 2016
  12. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 454 (pdf page 417) Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  13. India Civil List 1890, page 41
  14. The Locomotive Magazine and Railway Carriage and Wagon Review "Indian locomotive superintendents of the nineties", Volume 31, Number 393, 15 May 1925, page 133+ plate; Retrieved 26 Jul 2016
  15. Grace's Guide "Cornelius Edward Cardew" Retrieved on 26 Jul 2016
  16. Google Books "India Office List 1905" page 420,pdf page 457 Retrieved on 26 Jul 2016
  17. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" pages 451-452 (pdf pages 414-415) Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  18. Google Books "India List and India Office List, 1905" page 569 (pdf page 532) Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  19. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 517 (pdf page 480 Retrieved on 29 May 2016
  20. Google Books " India List and India Office List, 1905" page 601 (pdf page 564) Retrieved on 29 May 2016