Aden Railway

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The Aden State Railway operated from 1916 and 1929 in Aden, a dependency of of the Bombay, British Colony and Protectorate, in the south-west corner of Southern Arabia. The metre gauge(MG) railway was 29 miles(46km). The railway was worked by the North Western Railway of India under one of its officers who was designated ‘Engineer-in-Charge’ [1].


The Aden Settlement was established on 19 January 1839 when elements of the Royal Marines were landed at Aden by the East India Company to occupy the territory and to stop attacks by pirates on British shipping. Initially part of the Bombay Presidency and later a "Chief Commissioner's Province," Aden remained a part of the Indian Empire until 1 April 1937 when it was detached and re-organised as a Crown Colony of the United Kingdom.

Aden Military Railway 1868

Following the end of the Abyssinian Campaign in 1868, some of the railway equipment that had been used were sent to Aden. A small shed and workshop had been constructed to contain the two locomotives, wagons, rails and equipment. The intention was to build a railway from the pier head to the post office and possibly on to the cantonment. The line was considered to be a purely military venture and not expected to pay its own expense and that the main user would be the Commissariat Stores. The equipment was still in store in 1871-72 and the last record was 1872-73 [2].

Aden Military Railway, 1915-20

In order to support operations against the Ottoman Empire, the Royal Engineers built a military railway in 1915-1916 from Aden to Sheikh Othman, the border with Turkish Yemen. The first section of the line from Ma’alla (Inner harbour, Aden) to Sheikh Othman, a distance of 7 miles (11km) opened Jan 1, 1916[1].

The railway was built to metre gauge standards and the materials used in construction were almost certainly sourced from India, most likely by cannibalising branches of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India and Eastern Bengal Railways.

In 1919. the line was extended from Sheikh Othman; opened to Lahej , Yeman Feb 11, 1919; and to Al Kudad (El Khudad ) Jan 7, 1920 giving a line length of 28.75 miles(46km). The line wassdescribed as the ‘Aden-Lahej Railway’ [3]

Aden State Railway

On May 7, 1920 the Government of India(GoI) transferred the railway from military control to that of the Railway Board creating the ‘Aden State Railway’ under the control of Mr Affleck who was designated ‘Engineer-in-Charge’ [1].

In 1922 the line was opened up to public use, carrying traffic between Aden and Yemen and military supplies to the outpost at Sheikh Othman. The line was worked by the North Western Railway under a designated Engineer-in-charge. The line proved too costly to maintain and was closed in 1929 before being dismantled in 1930 [4]

The ‘Statistics of Working’ from 1915-16, through to closure to public traffic on 1 Aug 1929, show the year-by-year financial results through to final winding-up in 1932-33[5].


Indian Railway Classification of 1926 - Class III railway system.


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

No specific staff records have been identified.

Records relating to the construction and dismantling of Aden Railway are held in the India Office Records at the British Library. An on-line search of the IOR records relating to this railway [6] gives a number of entries, the most significant being :-

  • L/PS/10/89 “File 379/1906 'Railways: Aden; railway construction in Aden hinterland; Aden-Lahej Railway'; 20 Aug 1904-3 Apr 1922”. The Catalogue Contents state ‘... relating to proposals for the construction of a steam railway between Aden and its hinterland from 1904.....'
  • R/20/A/... The search gives at least 8 Records concerning ‘Tramways and Railways in Aden and the hinterland’ dating from 1904 through to 1921
  • R/20/A/3232 “File 523 Proposed discontinuance of the Aden railway service; 1928”
  • L/PS/10/703/1 “File 3082/1917 Pt 16 Aden: railways; 1928-1930”

External links

See also associated pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 “Railways of Aden” from original article “Indian Outpost in Arabia” by Robert Mumford published in the ‘Railway Magazine’ February 1976 pages 73-75; Retrieved 22 Nov 2016
  2. “Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia” compiled by Simon Darvill. Published by ‘The Industrial Railway Society’ 2013. ISBN 978 1 901556 82-7. Available at Reference: Entry IA34 page ....
  3. British Library IOR/L/PS/10/89 ‘Aden; railway construction in Aden hinterland; Aden-Lahej Railway'
  4. British Library IOR L/PS/12/1462 ‘Disposal of Rolling Stock and Material of former Aden Railway’
  5. US Archive .org pdf download of ‘History Of Indian Railways, constructed and in progress’, 31 March 1937 by ‘The Government of India - Railway Department’ page 258 pdf 301; Retrieved 26 Jul 2020
  6. “British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue” - Search; Retrieved 22 Nov 2016