Barsi Light Railway

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The Barsi Light Railway was a 202-mile (325 km)-long, 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge railway between Miraj & Latur in western India. It was the brainchild of British engineer Everard Calthrop, and regarded as having revolutionised narrow gauge railway construction in India.


Calthrop worked as a locomotive inspector for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, and in 1886 requested leave to investigate proposals for independent branch lines. He identified two schemes of particular interest – a 5-mile (8 km) tramway connecting the Hindu religious centre of Nasik with the railway, and a 21-mile (34 km) branch line to the town of Barsi. The Great Indian Peninsula Railway approved both schemes, and Calthrop undertook a survey of both lines. In 1887 he registered the Indian Railways Feeder Lines Company in London to promote the construction of feeders to the railway, and began negotiations with the Indian government to build the Barsi Light Railway. The Great Indian Peninsula Railway suggested that he either return to his duties as a locomotive inspector, or resign (with its support) to further promote branch lines. His health was failing, and in 1889 Calthrop resigned from the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. Working as a consultant, he then supervised construction of the 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge horse-powered Nasik Tramway using his previous survey.[1]

During his time in India, Calthrop developed his ideas on the construction of narrow gauge railways. He surmised that the axle load on the axles of all rolling stock (including locomotives) could be equal, allowing maximum loading of goods wagons. He settled on a load of 5 long tons (5.1 t; 5.6 short tons) per axle, which was light enough to allow railway lines to be built with 30 pounds per yard (14.9 kg/m) rail. Further, he argued that using a track gauge of 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) was the best compromise between economy of construction and carrying capacity.[2]


In 1895 the negotiations that began in 1887 were finally successful and Calthrop formed a new company to build the Barsi Light Railway, employing himself as consulting engineer.[1] The railway became a showcase for his ideas. Five 0-8-4T locomotives (with even distribution of axle load) were constructed to Calthrop's specification by Kitson and Company. The goods rolling stock was constructed on common 25 by 7 ft (7.62 by 2.13 m) pressed-steel underframes, reducing tare weight and maximising wagon loads. Calthrop recognised the importance of railways in warfare, and designed the rolling stock to facilitate the movement of troops and equipment.[2] Rolling stock rode on pressed-steel Fox bogies, using the Timmis system of double coiled springs.[3] The line was constructed with rail inclination (then a new idea), which involves tilting the rail a few degrees to make its surface more nearly parallel with that of the rim of the wheels. Inclination is now applied universally to railways.[4]

Prior to shipment of the rolling stock to India, Calthrop and the Leeds Forge Company, manufacturer of the rolling stock, conducted tests on a specially built test track located at Newlay, near Leeds. The line was opened for inspection by railway officials and journalists, and a number of reports were published in the technical railway press.[5]

The Barsi Light Railway opened in 1897, and was extended on a number of occasions until it reached a total length of 202 mi (325 km) in 1927.[6] It is regarded as having revolutionised the narrow gauge railway system on the Indian subcontinent;[7] the railway was immensely successful, establishing Calthrop as one of the leading figures in the field.[8] Calthrop remained Consulting Engineer until he retired, due to ill health, two years before his death.[1]


The BLR used transporter wagons to carry broad gauge wagons over its narrow gauge lines.[9]

Transporter wagons were also used on the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway.

Unigauge conversion[edit]

The Barsi Light Railway continued to be operated as a privately owned railway until 1954, when it was purchased by the Indian government; it continued to operate as a narrow-gauge railway until conversion to 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) began in the late 1990s as part of Indian Railways' conversion program for all 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge and narrow gauge lines.[10] This is now closed but the remnants are visible all along the route. The new BG line was completed on 19 October 2008 and is largely on a totally new alignment.


Internationally, other narrow gauge railways copied the Calthrop ideas, such as the Victorian narrow gauge railways in Australia, which was persuaded to change from 610 mm (2 ft) gauge to 762 mm (2 ft 6 in) gauge so as to use the rolling stock designs already available for this gauge. The four lines in Victoria totalled 190.7 km in length.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gratton, Robert, 2005,The Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway, RCL Publications.
  2. ^ a b Calthrop, E. R., 1997,Light Railway Construction, Plateway Press.
  3. ^ anon Engineering 12 January 1897.
  4. ^ Lewis, Nick. "The Leek and Manifold Light Railway". Narrow Gauge Pleasure. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  5. ^ anon E R Calthrop & the Newlay Exhibition Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modelling Review No. 69 Jan 2007
  6. ^ Hughes, Hugh 1994 Indian Locomotives Pt. 3, Narrow Gauge 1863-1940. Continental Railway Circle.
  7. ^ Bhandari, R R. "Steam in History". The IRFCA Server. Indian Railways Fan Club. Archived from the original on 6 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  8. ^ Turner, Keith 1980, The Leak and Manifold Light Railway, Newton Abbot, David & Charles.
  9. ^ "Narrow Gauge Lines.". The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times (Tas. : 1899 - 1919). Tas.: National Library of Australia. 4 March 1908. p. 4. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Marshall, Lawrence C., 2001 Indian Narrow Gauge Steam Remembered Plateway Press, East Harling