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Information about a fictitious train on ‘reliable’ Wikipedia, picked up by websites and academic journals: Here is how it originated

In 2016, someone had edited the East Pakistan Railway's Wikipedia page to add information about the fictional Mashriq-Maghreb Express, it was caught and removed from the page in 2020

Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced online encyclopaedia, is considered as a reliable source of information worldwide, including by search giant Google. The founders and administrators of the site proudly proclaim how nothing can be put on Wikipedia without reliable sources. The left-leaning website has even black-listed several right-leaning media houses, which means those media houses are not considered as reliable sources for citing in Wiki pages.

However, it has come to notice recently that for almost four years, details of a fictional train was mentioned in the Wikipedia page of Pakistan Eastern Railway, and it managed to fool lots of people, including Punjab University in Lahore. Pakistan Eastern Railway was later renamed to Bangladesh Railway after East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh.

On 28th November 2016, one Wikipedia editor that goes by the username PAKHIGHWAY made an edit to the wiki page of Pakistan Eastern Railway, where the user inserted details about a train named Mashriq-Maghreb Express, with train number 5214. The edit said that the train ran from 1950 to 1955, and operated from Koh-e-Taftan in West Pakistan to Chittagong in East Pakistan. The wiki page also said that the train used Indian Railway track and rolling stock between Attari and Benapole.

Wikipedia page before the detail of the train was removed

Soon the details of this train started to appear on Facebook posts and blogs, and it made its way to a research paper published by Punjab University in Lahore. The paper titled “Why Pakistan Railways Has Failed To Perform: A Special Focus On Passenger Perspective”, copy-pasted the line about Mashriq-Maghreb Express from the Wikipedia article.

Paper by Punjab University, Lahore

This was an obvious fake information, there is no evidence that any direct train ran between West Pakistan and East Pakistan through India. If it was there, it would have been a well-known historical fact by now. Actually, Muhammad Ali Jinnah had proposed a 1,280-km long transit corridor between the two segments of Pakistan at that time, but neither the British govt nor the Congress party agreed to it.

The claims made in the Wikipedia edit also defied logic, as there was no reason why such an important train will run from Koh-e-Taftan, Pakistan’s western-most Railway station, located in a small mountainous border town. Any such train would have run from major West Pakistan cities like Lahore, Karachi etc. Similarly on the eastern side, Chittagong is located on the easternmost side of Bangladesh. Any train from West Pakistan would have most probably terminate at Dhaka.

Despite lack of any evidence and such logical errors, the information about Mashriq-Maghreb Express remain on the Wikipedia page for 3 years. Only in August last year, someone deleted that sentence after noticing that no link has been provided for the train, and not mentioned in any reliable source.

It is not known why the user with the username PAKHIGHWAY made the edit. Coincidently, that user has been permanently banned from Wikipedia, although for other reasons. According to Wikipedia, the user has been banned for indefinite time for abusing multiple accounts and using talk page to argue with other users.

Doubtful claims behind the edit

The matter about Wikipedia carrying fake information for 4 years came to light after a Facebook post appeared on Social Media, where people claimed to have made the edit to “deter ‘googlers’ on the NALSAR quizzing website”. The claim, posted by multiple on Facebook, says that after making the edit, the person forgot to revert it, and later it became almost impossible to do so, as it had been mentioned in some academic articles, and even in official Pakistan Railway websites.

However, most people making this claim are Indians, and from the edit history of PAKHIGHWAY who had made the change to Wiki page, it can be concluded that the user is Pakistani as all others edits made by the user are Pakistan related.

The Facebook post also says there couldn’t even have been such a train at the time, as the break of gauge would have made it impossible. However, that is not true, as West Pakistan, East Pakistan and India, all three inherited the same Railway infrastructure built by British govt, and trains regularly ran across these three areas before independence.

Therefore, although it was true that the Wikipedia article carried fictional information for three years, the claims behind it are most probably fake.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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