Lahore Railway Station

Lahore Railway Station was literally the first purpose-built British imperial building, its foundation stone haying been laid by John Lawrence in 1859, and it cost half a million rupees to build.

Lahore Railway Station is representative of typical grand British architecture in the Indo-Pak subcontinent during the British Raj. The railway network established by the British was very extensive and is one of their lasting contributions to the culture and infrastructure of this region. With its great round bastions and tall machicolated towers, Lahore station may look as if it is the product of some short lived collaboration between the Raj and the Disney Corporation, but it was in fact built in deadly earnest. The twin towers look as innocent as Swiss cuckoo clocks, but they were designed to be bomb- proof, while the loop holes across the facade are not the mock arrow slits they appear to be, but placements for Maxim guns, which were drawn down carefully designed lines of fire. Even the cavernous train sheds could, in an emergency, be sealed with huge sliding metal doors, turning the whole complex into a colossal fortified bunker. According to its architect, William Brunton, the whole station had a "defensive character" so that "a small garrison could secure it against enemy attack".

The station was built in the immediate aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. So the building was deliberately designed to function both as a station and as a fort. At the time one of the major concerns was the safety of railway employees, and accordingly, the building was designed to provide accommodation for "refuge of the Railway staff and others in any time of danger." Constructed entirely of brick masonry, its quaint square turrets rise above the main structure and carry large clocks which could be visible from great distances, once again underscoring the importance of time that an industrialized society such as England was keen to inculcate in the local public.

The earliest of the Raj structures of Lahore, few railway stations can present a picturesque view such as this. The station provides a grand setting for the important railway junction that Lahore became ever since the first train was run to Amritsar in 1860. Later, when linkages had been established with Bombay, Calcutta and Peshawar, and in 1889 with Karachi, Lahore contributed significantly to making Karachi the largest exporter of wheat by transporting wheat from Punjab's canal colonies.

During the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878), Lahore played a key role by facilitating the passage of 75 trains every 24 hours to carry troops and provisions to the war destination.

Its architect, William Brunton was particularly pleased with the masonry, which he called 'the best in the world' and which he felt confident could survive even full-scale howitzer fire. When Lord John Lawrence broke the earth on the future site of Lahore Railway Station in February 1859, the silver shovel he used bore the Latin motto 'tam bello quam pace'- better peace than war. The motto was appropriate because the railways did play a vital part in creating a peaceful, united India. The irony was that less than a century later, they were also the instrument that made its irreparable division feasible. The biggest migration in human history was only possible because thousands of people could be moved from one end of the country to another by rail.

back to sites