Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the DHR or Toy Train, is a narrow-gauge railway based on zig zag and loop-line technology which runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in the Indian state of West Bengal. Constructed between 1879 and 1881, with six zig-zags (Z-Reverse) and five loops, the railway is about 88 km (55 mi) long. Its elevation varies from about 100 m (328 ft) at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 m (7,218 ft) at Darjeeling. Although four diesel locomotives handle most scheduled service, the daily tourist trains and steam-enthusiast specials are hauled by vintage British-built B-Class steam locomotives. The railway’s headquarters are in Kurseong. The train attends the highest altitude at Ghum Railway Station (2258 mts). Ghum, once had the distinction of being the highest railway station in the world. Although the records have long tumbled, Ghum still remains the highest narrow gauge station in the world.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site
On 2 December 1999, UNESCO declared the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) a World Heritage Site. Two more railway lines were later added, and the site became known as the mountain railways of India. UNESCO Heritage committee declares the DHR as an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multi-cultural region, which serves as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world. It also says that the development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. This process is illustrated in an exceptional and seminal fashion by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger Railway. Open in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing and effect rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact. Completed in 1881, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) toy train covers the 72 km distance between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling on a 2 feet wide gauge.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway History
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger Railway. Open in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing and effect rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact. While Darjeeling was growing, Rowland Macdonald Stephenson was crusading his battle for railway extension in India. In 1849, he was able to extract favourable conditions including a guarantee of return on the capital. He promoted East Indian Railway Co. (EIR).
Siliguri, at the base of the Himalayas, was connected with Calcutta (now Kolkata) by metre gauge railway in 1878. Between Siliguri and Darjeeling, Tonga services ran on a cart road (present-day Hill Cart Road). Franklin Prestage, an agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway, approached the government with a proposal to lay a steam tramway from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Ashley Eden, lieutenant governor of Bengal, formed a committee to assess the project’s feasibility. The proposal was accepted in 1879 after a positive report by the committee, and construction began that year.
Franklin Prestage settled for a 2ft. rail gauge, and formed the Darjeeling Steam Tramway Co. with capital fully subscribed in India. On September 15, 1881, title of the company was changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Co. and this company remained effective until the line was taken over by the Indian Government on Oct.20, 1948. All through that time the line was managed by the agency of ‘Gillanders Arbuthnot and Co.’ which supervised from its Calcutta office the financial, legal and purchasing interests of DHR and of other small railways. A manager and engineer were stationed at Kurseong, while the mechanical superintendent was at Tindharia.
Gillanders Arbuthnot and Company was hired for the construction, and by March 1880 the line extended to Tindharia. Lord Lytton, the first viceroy to visit Darjeeling, rode to Tindharia on the train.
Although the railroad originally followed Hill Cart Road, the steepness of the road was more than the locomotives could handle in some areas. In 1882, four loops and four reverses (zig-zags) were built between Sukna and Gayabari to ease the gradient. The line was extended by a quarter-mile to Darjeeling Bazar in 1886. The Darjeeling station was renovated in 1891 and Kurseong got a new station building and storage shed in 1896, but the railway was impacted by an 1897 earthquake and a major cyclone in 1899.
Services provided by Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
By 1909–1910, the DHR carried 174,000 passengers and 47,000 tons of goods annually. The first bogie carriages entered service, replacing basic four-wheel carriages. DHR extension lines were built to Kishanganj in 1914 and Gielkhola in 1915. At Tindharia, the railway works were relocated from behind the locomotive shed to a larger site.
The Batasia Loop was constructed in 1919, creating easier gradients on the ascent from Darjeeling. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) began facing competition from buses operating on the Hill Cart Road which took less time than the railway to reach Darjeeling. In 1934, a major earthquake in Bihar shook all of Northeast India. Many buildings in Darjeeling were heavily damaged and the railway was also affected, although it soon recovered and played a vital role in transporting repair materials. During World War II, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) transported military personnel and supplies to the camps around Ghum and Darjeeling.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in post Independence Era
In 1951, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was purchased by the Indian government and was absorbed into the government railway organisation before it was managed by the Assam Railway. Assam Railway (including the DHR) became part of the North Eastern Railway zone in 1952, and part of Indian Railways’ Northeast Frontier Railway zone six years later. In 1962, the railway was realigned at Siliguri and extended by nearly 4 miles (6 km) to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to meet the new broad-gauge line there. The extension began freight service that year, and passenger service in 1964. The locomotive shed and carriage depot at Siliguri Junction were moved to NJP.
Over the period of 130 years, the DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) has undergone only minor changes. Two of the five loops of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, have been removed. Also the line has been extended from Siliguri to New Jalpaiguri. Sadly, the age old steam engine has been largely replaced by the diesel engine. But the steam engine still runs on special occasions and the tourist train running between Darjeeling and Ghum (via Batasia Loop) still runs on steam. The fuming smoke and the shrill whistles of the steam engine, not only makes the ride memorable, but also nostalgic.