Scinde Railway

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Scinde Railway also known as the Karachi-Kotri (Indus River) Railway
– this was the first railway of the Scinde Railway Company - see separate page for further information on the formation and development of the Company


  • Some early documents and references use the spelling Sind Railway.
  • Not to be confused with the ‘Sind Light Railway’ which is a separate narrow gauge railway.


The Scinde Railway Company was first established by deed of settlement in March 1855 and incorporated by the ‘Scinde Railway Act’ of Parliament in July 1855 after which a contract was entered with the East India Company in December 1855.

The Company had been invited to tender in 1855 by the Government of India to build a railway from Kararchee(Karachi) to Hyderabad, to be called the Scinde Railway [1], this being a distance of about 120 miles(192km). The company contracted with the Government of India (GoI) to construct the initial section from Karachi to Kotri. The company was granted a 5% return on investment up to a maximum of £1 million in order to build the ‘120 mile’ line [2].

The London based Robert Stephenson, Consultant Engineer was approached by the 'Scinde Railway Company' for advice and in 1857 recommended John Brunton as Chief Engineer. Following Stephenson’s death in 1859 George Bidder was appointed as the Scinde Railway Consulting Engineer in London [3].

The Scinde Railway was one part of a communication link developed by the 'Scinde Railway Company' constructed primarily to reduce the journey time on the final stage of long haul from Britain to Delhi and Calcutta. The line from Karachi to Kotri could move cargo and passengers to Kotri instead of Karachi, saving approx 250km of circuitous journey through Indus River delta. At Kotri the line linked to the ’Indus Flotilla’ Company steamers, also owned by the ‘Scinde Railway Company’ which operated upstream to Multan [4]. From Multan the ‘Punjaub Railway ’ ran to Amritsar where it became the ‘Delhi Railway’, both owned by the Scinde Railway Company, connected to the East Indian Railway at Ghaziabad (just east of Delhi), thus providing a connection between Karachi and Delhi and onward to Calcutta.

1858-59 Report

The following is recorded in “Railways in India for the year 1858-59” for the ‘Sind Railway - Physical Difficulties’ and Construction’ [5]:-

  • “The line in Sind (Scinde) proceeds from Kurrarchee(Karachi) to Kotree on the River Indus, opposite Hyderabad. Its lengthy, including a branch to Ghizree Bunder, is 114 miles. The most important works are bridges and viaducts, of which there are several of considerable size, that over the Bahrum River being 600 yards in length; the next largest at 500 yards is over the Mulleer. Other works of magnitude are, an embankment across a valley at Dorbejee, required to protect the line from the effects of inundation, and the wharf and steam ferry at Kotree”
  • “The soil is not favourable for works of excavation, being in general a mixture of sand and clay, often with a hard crust of 1-2 feet and near the Karatolla Hills a number of rocky ridges have to be cut through. A further difficulty, which has to be contended with, is a scarcity in the supply of water. This will not be when the line is completed, as the watering points will be fixed at places where there is anabundance. The want of a supply of labour has already been much felt.”
  • “The first sod was cut by Sir Bartle Frere in April 1958. The works have hitherto been retarded in consequence of the pecuniary difficulties of the Contractor, who has lately abandoned his Contract. The line is now being finished by the Company, and the Resident Engineer reports that rapid progress has been made.”


Scinde Railway (Karachi-Kotri)

The work commenced in April 1858 to construct the broad gauge(BG) single track railway [6] and on 13 May 1861 succeeded in connecting the port town of Karachi to Kotri on the Indus River, the first railway line for public traffic between these towns [7].

The challenges faced during the construction were considerable as described in the article ‘The Line and Works of the Scinde Railway’ by John Brunton, Institution of Civil Engineers, 1862-63 [8].
Particular reference is given to the earthworks , a viaduct and considerable number of bridges required to be built:-

  • Bahrun Valley Viaduct’ The route involved construction a large stone viaduct, the heaviest piece of masonry upon the line with a length of 1,728 feet(527 metres), work commenced 1859 and completed in Jan 1861 - see separate page for further information
  • 6 Viaducts with Warren Type iron girders, sent out from England, total of 43 each of 80 feet clear span. These were erected at the following rivers;- Mulleer, 21 spans; Guggur, 3 spans; Dorbagi, 2 spans; Runnpittiani, 6 spans; Loyach, 8 spans; Rhodh, 3 spans.
  • 24 Bridges as follows:- 19 bridges, containing 48 arches, each of 20 feet span; 1 bridge of 3 arches of 30 ft span; 2 bridges, 10 arches of 40 ft span; 2 bridges, 4 arches of 45ft span,


An on-line search of the India Office Records (IOR) records held at the British Library relating to this railway [9] gives the following:-

  • Z/E/4/25/I53; “Indus River, Railway line to be constructed from Karachi to a point on.”; 1854-55
  • Z/E/4/25/R766; “Rivers, Indus, Railway line to be constructed from Karachi to a point on.”; 1854-55
  • L/AG/46/17/1-13; “1. Scinde Railway Company”; 1855-1878


Construction Engineering Management

  • John Brunton; 1857, Appointed Chief Resident Engineer of Scinde Railway (Sind Railway) [10]; 1858-62, 'Supervised the construction of the 108 miles(174km) of the Scinde Railway between Karachi and Kotri until its completion in 1862. His detailed "Description of the line and works of the Scinde Railway" [11] itemise the problems of building in the tropics.'
  • William Arthur Brunton, the son of the above; 1857 at age 17, Assistant Engineer; then Area Surveyor on the Scinde Railway; 1859-1961, responsible for the erection of the thirty-two 45 foot (13.7M) spans of the 'Bahrun Valley Viaduct' [10]. This is the longest bridge on the Karachi-Kotri section and is a viaduct across the Bahrun River. Construction on this bridge was started on 5 March 1859 and completed on 26 January 1861 [4]
  • Willoughby Charles Furnivall District Engineer in charge of construction under John Brunton c.1860-7 [12].

Construction Staff - Other staff of the Scinde Railway involved during the construction are acknowledged:-

  • J E Hartley; c.1859-c.1861, ‘Scinde Railway’ Resident Engineer supervising the 'Mulleer Railway Viaduct' construction [8]
  • W T Warren [13]
  • Mr Thomas Warren [13]
  • Mr J Pinder [13]

Railway Operations Management

  • Joseph Harrison, 1860-75, Engineer-in-Chief, General Agent and General Agent for some part of this time [14]. 1864-1870 Chief Resident Engineer during construction of ‘Delhi Railway[15].

Historical books online

Further Information


  1. British Library IOR/L/F/8/10 (853) ‘Contract to build a railway from Kararchee to Hyderabad’, 1855
  2. H.M. Government “Statute Law Repeals: Nineteenth Report : Draft Statute Law (Repeals) Bill; April 2012"; pages 134-135, paragraphs 3.78-3.83 Retrieved on 2 January 2016
  3. Google Books "Robert Stephenson – The Eminent Engineer” edited by Michael R. Bailey; page 155-57; Retrieved 4 May 2020
  4. 4.0 4.1 All Things Pakistan “Karachi to Kotri - The first railways in Pakistan” by Owais Mughal, Posted on September 17, 2009; Retrieved on 23 Feb 2018
  5. Online pdf version from 'Google Books' “Railways in India for the year 1858-59” by Juland Danvers , Government Director of the Indian Railways’- presented to both Houses of Parliament by HM Command. Paragraphs 69-72; Pages 17-18; Retrieved 2 Jan 2021
  6. Sind Gazette British Library Compiled by E H Atkin Bombay Salt Department. Printed for government at the Steam Press Karachi 1907 Page 344
  7. Grace’s Guide “Scinde Railway” Retrieved on 2 January 2016
  8. 8.0 8.1 Google Books ‘The Line and Works of the Scinde Railway’ by John Brunton, Institution of Civil Engineers, 1862-63 Page 22-23 ; Retrieved 25 Nov 2020
  9. “British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue” - Search; Retrieved 8 Apr 2016
  10. 10.0 10.1 Google Books "The Archaeology of an Early Railway System: The Brecon Forest Tramroads" by Stephen Hughes, page 126; Retrieved 14 Jun 2016
  11. Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 22, January 1863, pages 451-"Description of the line and works of the Scinde Railway" by John Brunton; Retrieved 14 Jun 2016
  12. Institution of Civil Engineers "Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland - Furnivall, Willoughby Charles"; Retrieved on 21 Jul 2016
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Google Books ‘The Line and Works of the Scinde Railway’ by John Brunton, Institution of Civil Engineers, 1862-63 Page 25 ; Retrieved 19 Feb 2018
  14. Grace's Giude "Joseph Harrison"; Retrieved 1 Mar 2018
  15. Google Books “Life and Labours of Thomas Brassey” by Arthur Helps; pages 148-149; Retrieved 1 Mar 2018