Boat Mail

The Boat Mail or Indo-Ceylon Express was a combined train and steamer ferry service between India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Connecting Chennai and Colombo, the system initially utilised a rail-to-sea operation, but changed to a rail-to-sea-to-rail operation.[1] Passengers could buy a single ticket for the journey.[2] The current Boat Mail Express is a train operated by the Southern Railway unit of Indian Railways; it usually departs Chennai egmore at 7:15pm and arrives Rameswaram at 08:15am.

Boat Mail
Boat Mail express at Karaikudi Junction
Service typeExpress Train
LocaleTamil Nadu
First service24 February 1914 (1914-02-24)
Current operator(s)Southern Railway Zone
StartChennai Egmore (MS)
EndRameswaram (RMM)
Distance travelled665 km (413 mi)
Average journey time13 Hours
Service frequencyDaily
Train number(s)16851/16852
On-board services
Class(es)First AC, Second AC, Third AC, Sleeper, Unreserved
Seating arrangementsYes
Sleeping arrangementsYes
Catering facilitiesNo
Observation facilitiesLarge windows
Entertainment facilitiesNo
Rolling stockMS-VM (WAP 7/WAP 4, AJJ/RPM), VM-RMM (TNP WDM 3A/WDM-2)
Track gauge1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in)
Electrification25 kV AC, 50 Hz
Operating speed51 km/h (32 mph) average with halts
Route map


The train's name commemorates the 19th century mail service between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). It is one of the top most prestigious trains of Indian Railways and it has completed 100 years of service in 2014.[2] Before cyclone, the train was running via Chennai Egmore and Dhanushkodi via Chengalpattu, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Mayiladuthurai, Thiruvarur, Karaikudi, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram.

Tuticorin-Colombo era

In the late 19th century, the railway portion of the route within India was from Madras (Chennai) to Tuticorin. At Tuticorin, passengers embarked on the boat mail steamer to Colombo in Ceylon. The train took 21 hours and 50 minutes for the journey from Madras to Tuticorin. The Boat Mail was one of the early trains to be given vestibuled carriages, in 1898.[1]

Dhanushkodi-Talaimannar era

In 1914, after the Pamban bridge was built, the train's route changed and it went from Madras to Dhanushkodi.[3] A much shorter ferry service then took the passengers to Talaimannar in Ceylon, from where another train went to Colombo. The 35-kilometre (22 mi) long ferry journey was considerably shorter than the 270-kilometre (170 mi) long Tuticorin-Colombo route.

Post cyclone

In 1964 a passenger train was washed into the sea by huge waves during the 1964 cyclone, when nearing Dhanushkodi. The railway tracks and the pier at Dhanushkodi were also destroyed. Following this, the Indian portion of the train service now only operates up to Rameswaram,[2] while the ferry service to Talaimannar has since been discontinued. It now runs between Chennai Egmore and Rameswaram via Chengalpattu, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Mayiladuthurai, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli, Pudukkottai, Karaikudi, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram.


The Rameswaram to Villupuram section is hauled by a WDM3A/2 Diesel locomotive and Villupuram to Chennai Egmore by a WAP7 Electric loco.[4] The same locomotive types are used on the return journey. Between Tiruchirappalli and Tambaram, this train achieves a maximum speed of 110 km/Hr.[5][6]

Coach composition

The train consists of 23 coaches, operates daily and covers a distance of 667 km (414 mi), running at a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph)


Alternative Proposals

At one time the South Indian Railway considered constructing a bridge 12 miles (19 km) long across the shallow waters and sand shoals and reefs known as Rama Sethu (Adam's Bridge) between India and Sri Lanka. However, this plan was shelved when World War I broke out.

See also


  1. Famous Trains
  2. Saqaf, Syed Muthahar (14 June 2010). "'Boat Mail' to run on main line from August 1". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 18 June 2014.
  3. "Imperial Indian Mail". Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  4. "16102/Boat Mail(Rameswaram Express) - Rameswaram/RMM to Chennai Egmore/MS". India Rail Info. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  5. "16701/Chennai Egmore-Rameswaram (Boat Mail) Express". India Rail Info.
  6. "16702⇒16102/Boat Mail(Rameswaram Express)". India Rail Info.
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