The origins of the Bombay to Peshawar Punjab Mail are rather unclear. Based on a Cost Estimate paper circa 1911 and a complaint by an irate passenger circa October 12, 1912, about the 'late arrival of the train by a few minutes at Delhi', it has been more or less inferred that the Punjab Mail made her maiden run out of Ballard Pier Mole station on 1st June 1912.
Punjab Mail is over 16 years older than the more glamorous Frontier Mail. Ballard Pier Mole station was actually a hub for GIPR services. The Punjab Mail, or Punjab Limited as she was then called, finally steamed out on 1st June 1912. To begin with, there were the P and O steamers bringing in the mail, and the Officers of the Raj, along with their wives, on their first posting in Colonial India. The steamer voyage between Southampton and Bombay lasted thirteen days. As the British officials held combined tickets both for their voyage to Bombay, as well as their inland journey by train to their place of posting, they would, after disembarking, simply board one of the trains bound for either Madras, Calcutta or Delhi.
The Punjab Limited used to run on fixed mail days from Bombay's Ballard Pier Mole station all the way to Peshawar, via the GIP route, covering the distance of 2,496 km in about 47 hrs. The train comprised of six cars: three for passengers, and three for postal goods and mail. The three passenger carrying cars had a capacity of 96 passengers only.
During the pre-partition period, the Punjab Limited was the fastest train in British India. The Punjab Limited's route ran over the GIP track for the large part, and passed through Itarsi, Agra, Delhi and Lahore, before terminating at Peshawar Cantonment. The train started originating and terminating at Bombay VT (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Mumbai) in 1914. The train then loosely came to be known as the Punjab Mail, rather than Punjab Limited, and became a daily service.
Third class cars started appearing on the Punjab Mail by the mid-1930s. In 1914, the GIP route from Bombay to Delhi was some 1,541 km and the train covered it in 29 hrs 30 minutes. In the early 1920s, this transit time was further reduced to 27 hrs 10 minutes. In 1972, the transit time was again pushed up to 29 hrs. In 2011, the Punjab Mail has as many as 55 intermediate stops. The Punjab Mail got an air-conditioned car in 1945.
In 1968, the train was dieselized up to Jhansi, later extended from Jhansi till New Delhi, then by 1976, onwards till Firozpur. In the late 1970/early1980s, WCAM/1 dual current locomotive to run the Punjab Mail on electric traction right up to Bhusaval, with the changeover from DC to AC traction at Igatpuri.
The Punjab Mail takes 32 hrs and 35 minutes to cover the 1,930 km between Mumbai and Firozpur Cantonment with 52 intermediate stops. The train is electric hauled. The restaurant car has been replaced by a pantry car.
Though passenger train services were suspended during the Covid-19 lockdown from March 22, 2020, gradually the services were reintroduced as special trains after unlock from 1.5.2020. However, Punjab Mail special began its journey with LHB coaches from 1.12.2020. The train services started with its regular number from 15.11.2021.
Presently, Punjab Mail has one AC First Class cum AC-2 Tier, Two AC-2 Tier, Six AC-3 Tier, 6 Sleeper Class, one pantry car, 5 general second class coaches and one generator van.