Rajendra B Aklekar, 2011.

Mumbai: How about taking a train to London from Mumbai? No. Don’t just discard the idea as a joke, as you can actually do it in 24 days, though it will involve a changeover of trains at international borders, small boat journeys ferrying the train coaches and a lot of determination. A UK-based senior lecturer who undertook the journey in 2005 is now willing to give it a second shot, but says heightened security concerns and suspended services could today be a problem, though in principle it is practically possible to do a London-Mumbai by train.

Dr John Stubbs, a 59-year-old senior lecturer from Department of Geography at the University of Derby, whose research interests in transportation studies include rail transport development related to the Middle East and Central Asia, had successfully taken the journey to examine the problematic nature of international travel and future prospects for such international rail travel in the 21st century.

John Stubbs

“The railway route to India goes through Europe, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The entire journey from London to Mumbai took me 24 days. I actually travelled from my hometown of Derby so I took 25 days.  But the journey could, potentially at least, be done in slightly less time all according to train operating timetables,” Stubbs told DNA.

“There was a gap between Bam and Zahedan in southern Iran and I had undertaken a four hour bus journey back then in 2005. But today, I know that the formerly missing rail link has now been completed and freight trains are running, albeit irregularly I think, between Istanbul and Islamabad,’’ he said.  

“So in principle in it is now possible to do London–Mumbai entirely by train, providing you exclude the ferry crossing of the Bosporus in Istanbul and the train-ferry across Lake Van in Eastern Turkey,’’ explained an excited Stubbs.  

“I would dearly love to make a second trip though as a UK passport holder, I am rather concerned about security issues in Pakistan. But I have not given up!” he said.

The 11,970-km journey cost Stubbs £335, for train journeys at an average speed of 53km and took 24 days for the point to point journey.

Journey details

This journey has been split into three parts: the European section — from London to Istanbul; the Middle East section — from Istanbul to Zahedan in Iran and finally the Indian sub-continent — from Zahedan to Mumbai.

London to Istanbul

  • London – Istanbul: the first part of this journey involves taking the dedicated high speed Eurostar service to Paris.
  • At Paris, however, the high speed network ends and the journey continues overnight to Vienna on a traditional train, the so-called Orient Express.
  • The present day Orient Express arrives each morning in Vienna (Wien Westbahnhof) at 8.30am and the onward connection departs at 10.03am for the three-hour journey to Budapest. After leaving London there are no border-crossing formalities until the Austro/Hungarian border between Vienna and Budapest, but even there these are very efficiently conducted while the train is in motion and there is no change of crew or locomotive at the border.
  • From Budapest Keleti Station, a daily train – the Trans Balkan Express – goes to Thessaloniki in Greece. The train conveys one through carriage to Istanbul which is detached from the Trans Balkan Express at Bucharest and shunted onto another train for Istanbul. The journey is slow, leaving Budapest at every evening at 19.15 and getting to Istanbul after two nights at around 08.30 in the morning. The route goes through Romania and Bulgaria and necessitates three international border crossings of all of which are exceedingly protracted and add several hours onto the journey.

Although the same track gauge is maintained throughout between London and Istanbul, there are several changes of locomotive and other rolling stock involved.

The Middle East — from Istanbul to Zahedan in Iran

  • Istanbul-Tehran: the first leg of this journey involves the once weekly Trans Asia Express, a 67-hour journey that commences at Istanbul, Haydarpasa Station, at 10.55 pm every Wednesday evening and is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Saturday evening at 6.30 pm.
  • The journey to Tehran takes a full three days and three nights and involves a five hour ferry crossing of Lake Van in eastern Turkey. The ferry is equipped to carry railway wagons but it is far too small to accommodate the entire train. At Van, on the other side of the lake, passengers rejoin the Trans Asia Express but this time it is an Iranian train that has brought Istanbul bound passengers from Tehran.
  • Tehran-Kerman-Bam: for the journey south from Tehran towards Pakistan, ‘Raja’ trains, operate daily. Overnight, services between Tehran and Kerman take about 13 hours for the 950 km journey.
  • The train from Kerman to Bam, which leaves about an hour after the arrival of the overnight train from Tehran, comprises old, non-AC rolling stock but still very comfortable with breakfast being brought round to the seats. The three-hour train passes through some most awe inspiring desert scenery.
  • There was always a gap in the railway route to India between Kerman and Zahedan in south eastern Iran. However, early in 2005, this gap was narrowed with the completion of the new lines from Kerman to Bam. I had taken a 4 ½ hour bus journey to reach Zahedan then.

From the Middle East to the India — Zahedan to Mumbai

  • Zahedan-Quetta: the international train between Iran and Pakistan operates twice a month. Leaving Zahedan just after 8.30am, it was 9pm the next day before the train arrived in Quetta, 5½ hours after the scheduled arrival at 3.30pm
  • Quetta-Lahore-Amritsar: Onwards from Quetta, the Jaffa Express, consisting of Chinese-built rolling stock is one of three daily trains between Quetta and Lahore.
  • The final international train journey to Mumbai, is the twice weekly Samjhauta Express, linking Lahore with Amritsar just 46km away and across the border into India. Arrival in Amritsar is late afternoon about eight hours after leaving Lahore. This service has now been discontinued though the rail link exists.
  • From Amritsar, a variety of trains ply to Mumbai Central or Mumbai CST.

Journey statistics

  • Total km: 11970
  • Total time: 24 days
  • Average speed: 53km
  • Total expenses: £ 335 


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