Mountain Railways of India - The Traveller


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mountain Railways of India

Mountain of Railways of India – Built during 19th& 20th Century

India is a home to several altitude railway stations which are located at higher than 2,000 metres with over ten stations higher than 1,000 metres. Mountain railways of India are 6 or 7 small lines out of around twenty similar narrow or metre gauge which still remain operational around the world. These were built during the 19th and early 20th century at the time of British colonial rule – the Raj and these lines still function till date. Presently, the Indian Railways operate them together with the Kashmir Railway which is operational since 2005.

 Four out of these seven namely the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – 1881, the Kalka-Shimla Railway – 1898, the Kangra Valley Railway – 1924 and the Kashmir Railway – 2005 fall in the rugged hill region of the Himalayas in Northern India while two are further down south towards the Western Ghats like the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu and the Matheran Hill Railway in Maharashtra.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Kalka-Shimla Railway together with the Nilgiri Mountain Railway has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the recognition to these three mountain railways of India is due to outstanding examples of bold ingenious engineering solutions for the problem in establishing an effective link of rail through a rugged mountainous terrain. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway obtained it first in 1999 while Nilgiri Mountain Railways followed next in 2005 and the Kalka-Shimla Railway got it in 2008.

Connected to Important Hill Resorts With Foot Hills

All the three together have received the title of `Mountain Railways of India’ under Criteria – ii, iv under the region in the Asia – Pacific while the Matheran Railway, which is the fourth hill line, is pending acceptance by international group.

All these lines are connected to important hill resorts with foot hills that wind up their way through a scenic and rugged mountainous landscape as they travel along uphill. Given to understand, the terrain on which they were constructed during the British rule, were outstanding examples of the interchange of values on development in technology and marvels of engineering.

The mountain railways in the hilly mountain came up as a result of the interest that was delayed during the British rule in establishing control over the Himalayas as well as various other mountain ranges of India and in 1844, Sir John Lawrence, the then ruling Viceroy of India, had the idea of a phased colonization of the hill especially as military garrisons. The British in their simple proposal termed as `Hill Railway’, had intentions of establishing geographically as well as culturally rich, various stations across the country.

Franklin Prestage Initiated Plans for Hill Tramway 

Some of the hill stations taken into considerations for this purpose were Shimla which was then the summer capital of British India, Darjeeling which is known for its tea gardens as well as scenic views of the eastern Himalayas in West Bengal, Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Nilgiri mountains in Ootacamund and the Matheran hill station in the Western Ghats near Mumbai. Attempts to link the mountainous terrain of amazing beauty together with a hill passenger railway began in 1878 with the construction of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway line when the then Eastern Bengal Railway personnel, Franklin Prestage initiated plans for the building of hill tramway in alignment with the Hill Cart Road from Siliguri to Darjeeling and construction eventually got started. In 1881, the line was commissioned up to Darjeeling.

Inaugurated By Viceroy Lord Curzon – November 1903

Next project was then launched on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu which was first proposed in 1854. Though work started in 1894, the railway was not completed till 1908 since the terrain was difficult and the big difference in altitude that ranged between 326 meters and 2,203 meters covering a distance of 46 kilometres.

The construction of the 96 kilometres Kalka-Shimla railway line started in 1898 opening up the remote hill regions to the people and inaugurated by Viceroy Lord Curzon, in November 1903. The commissioning of the Matheran – Neral `toy train’ was done in 1907, where Matheran is a hill station which is 108 kilometres away from Mumbai while the Kangra line was commenced in 1929 amidst the picturesque Kangra valley.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – The new Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling, toy train on the Darjeeling Himalayan area is not only a source of delight for people of all age but also represents the engineering skills of the highest order which is 83 km long connecting Darjeeling with the railhead at Siliguir which is of great importance as well the status of World Heritage Site. Besides it has the Ghum station which is India’s highest railway station at an altitude of 2,257 metres and is an outstanding example of multi-cultural region to serve as a model for similar developments in several parts of the world.

The Kalka Shimla Himalayan Railway is one of the most famous hill railways in India which runs on three tracks, popularly known as `Toy Trains’. The journey on this line is a unique experience since it passes through amazing mind-blowing landscape of the majestic Himalayas through tunnels and over the bridges in the midst of lush green valleys with pine and oak trees. The railway route comprises of tunnel no. 103 known as mini Shimla where in summer, the festival of goddess Shoolini Devi is celebrated, and is the main attraction of the city.

The Niligiri Mountain Railway which is 46 km long, runs on 1000 mm gauge railway and connects Mettupalayam to Ooty. The first part of this railway to Coonoor was completed in 1899 by the Niligiri Railway Company and extended to Ooty in 1903 and is an extension to the world Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. One will find some of the best natural scenery around with wild life around the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Nilgiri Biosphere Nature Park is one of the most visited places by several tourists.

Neral-Matheran Hill Railway – Matheran is on a hilltop at an altitude of 800 m and the journey to the hilltop in the midst of shady trees and fresh atmosphere is a real experience of witnessing nature as one ascent the top in a toy train. One will find monkeys jumping on and off along with food and drink vendors all through the journey of 11 km. The Neral-Matheran Hill Railway is also one of the most famous attractions of the city and passes through amazing mountain tunnels together with dense forest of the region. It is a Hill Station in the Western Ghat in Raigad district of Maharashtra and is known as one of the smallest hill station in India.

Pathankot-Jogindernagar Railway – the work on this line commenced in 1926 and 3 years thereafter, the 163 km long route was opened to traffic. Kangra Toy Train is where the passengers spend majority of their time going through tunnels. This railway line links Pathankot and Joginder Nagar through a maze of hills and valleys with awesome scenic views.

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