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Mountain Railways of India

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Mountain Railways of India
KSR Train on a big bridge 05-02-12 71.jpeg
Train travelling on the Kalka Shimla Railway in 2005
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Location India
Includes Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Kalka–Shimla Railway
Nilgiri Mountain Railway Edit this on Wikidata
Criteria ii, iv[1]
Coordinates 11°30′37″N 76°56′09″E / 11.5103°N 76.9358°E / 11.5103; 76.9358
Inscription 1999 ( Session)
Extensions 2005, 2008
Mountain Railways of India is located in India
Mountain Railways of India
Location of Mountain Railways of India

The Mountain railways of India consist of three major train lines[dubious ]: the Darjeeling, the Nilgiri and the Kalka. These railways have been collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[2]


The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the first of the three major mountain railways to be constructed, and is still considered a prime example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, Darjeeling's design applies unique engineering techniques to establish an effective locomotive link across mountainous terrain.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a 46-km long metre-gauge single-track railway in the Tamil Nadu state. The project was first proposed in 1854, but was postponed due to the challenges presented by the region's severe topography; work on the Nilgiri did not begin until 1891 and the route was not completed until 1908. The elevation of the tracks ranges from 326 to 2,203 m, and represents the most advanced technology of its time.

The Kalka Shimla Railway is a 96-km long, single track working rail link completed in 1903, and was the last of India's mountain railways to be designated as World Heritage Site. The route was built to provide access to the highland town of Shimla, and is emblematic of the technical and physical efforts taken to connect mountain populations to the rest of India.

All three of these railways remain fully operational as of 2017.[3][4][5][6]

The mountain railway systems in India include:

Name Track gauge Route km Constructed
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 2 ft (610 mm) 88 1881
Nilgiri Mountain Railway 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) 46 1908
Kalka–Shimla Railway 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) 96 1903
Matheran Hill Railway 2 ft (610 mm) 20 1907
Total 250


The concept of mountain railways was conceived by the British Raj in order to establish control over the Himalayas and other mountain ranges within India. In 1844 Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy of India,[7] embraced the idea of making the mountains more accessible, particularly to the British military. In a proposal simply called 'Hill Railway', the British planned for a system of train stations across the Indian subcontinent. The locations proposed were: Shimla, the 'summer capital' of British India; Darjeeling, in the state of West Bengal, known for its tea gardens and scenic views; Ootacamund in the Nilgiri mountains of the Tamil Nadu state; and the Matheran hill station in the Western Ghats near Bombay (now Mumbai).[5][8][9]

The colossal effort to construct a hill passenger railway system throughout the mountainous regions of India officially commenced in 1878 with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway project. Franklin Prestage of the Eastern Bengal Railway initiated plans for the building of a hill tramway parallel to the hill cart road between Siliguri and Darjeeling. By 1881 the line was completed up to Darjeeling.[5][8]

The next project, which had initially been proposed in 1854, was the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu. Work started in 1894, but the railroad was not completed until 1908, due to the harsh terrain along the route. The route was only 46 kilometers (29 mi) long, but had altitudes ranging between 326 meters (1,070 ft) and 2,203 meters (7,228 ft).

Construction on the 96 kilometers (60 mi) long Kalka–Shimla Railway began in 1898. The railway's purpose was to link the remote hill regions to the rest of the country. In November 1903 the railroad was inaugurated by the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

Finally, the Matheran–Neral railway was completed in 1907. Matheran is a station 108 kilometers (67 mi) away from Mumbai.[4][5][6]

UNESCO's designation of three of the mountain railways of India as a 'World Heritage Site' was on the basis of "outstanding examples of bold, ingenious engineering solutions for the problem of establishing an effective rail link through a rugged, mountainous terrain."[4] The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway got the honor first, in 1999; the Nilgiri Mountain Railway followed in 2005; and the Kalka–Shimla Railway in 2008. The three routes have together been titled the 'Mountain Railways of India' under UNESCO World Heritage Site criteria ii and iv, within the Asia-Pacific region. The Matheran Railway, a fourth mountain line, has also been nominated and is pending approval by the international body.[4][9]

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway[edit]

A train on the upper part of Batasia Loop on DHR
The steam locomotive of DHR

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), given the nickname "the Toy Train," is a 610 mm (2 ft) narrow-gauge railway that runs the 88 kilometers (55 mi) between Siliguri and Darjeeling. The railroad is operated by Indian Railways and is located in the state of West Bengal. The railway line was built by the British Government in 1881 and continues to be internationally regarded. Darjeeling is a major summer hill station and the centre of a flourishing tea-growing district. The elevation of the route starts at 100 meters (330 ft) in Siliguri and rises to about 2,200 meters (7,200 ft) at Darjeeling. The highest highest elevation, however, is found at Ghoom station (2,300 meters (7,500 ft)).[10][11]

The town of Siliguri was connected with Calcutta (now Kolkata) via railway in 1878, while the additional journey to Darjeeling needed to be taken using tongas (horse-driven carts) along a dust track. On the recommendations of a Committee appointed by Sir Ashley Eden, work on the railroad began in 1879 and was completed by July 1881.[10][12] The line underwent several improvements over the years to increase manoeuvrability by making gradients more gradual. By 1909–1910, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was carrying roughly 174,000 passengers and 47,000 tonnnes of goods annually.[11]

Important features incorporated in the line included four loops (spirals) and four 'Z' reverses (zigzags). The introduction of bogie carriages allowed for the replacement of the basic four wheel carriages formerly used. A major earthquake damaged the railway in 1897, and during the rebuilding of the route extensive improvements were made to the track and stations. Further modernization occurred as part of the Northeast Frontier Railway Zone. Most trains on the route are still powered by steam engines, although a modern diesel engine is used for the Darjeeling Mail train.[10][12][13]

In 1999, the Darjeeling line was the first to be recognized by UNESCO and placed on the World Heritage List. A condition of being placed upon the list was that steam locomotives would continue to be used along the route.[4]

Another famed feature of the route is the signage located at key vantage points, marking locations with titles such as 'Agony Point' and 'Sensation Corner.' Spirals located on steep hills are also notable and provide spectacular views of the valleys below.[5]

Panoramic view of DHR station at Darjeeling

Nilgiri Mountain Railway[edit]

NMR travelling between Mettupalayam and Ootacamund
The only rack-and-pinion railway in India

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a single track, 46 kilometers (29 mi) long metre-gauge single-line railroad. Initially Coonoor was the final station on the line, but in September 1908 it was extended to Fernhill, and eventually up to Udagmandalam by October 15, 1908. In present-day it connects the town of Mettupalayam with the hill station of Udagamandalam (Ootacamund). The route is located within the state of Tamil Nadu and travels through the Nilgiri Hills, which are popularly known as the 'Blue Mountains' of Southern India. The Nilgiri is the only rack railway in India, meaning it uses an alternate biting system (ABT), commonly referred to as a 'rack and pinion' rail system. The ABT requires use of special steam locomotives. The system was described by Sir Gulford L. Molesworth in a report from 1886:[14]

Two distinct functions – first that of traction by adhesion as in an ordinary loco; second that of traction by pinions acting on the track bars. The brakes are four in number – two handbrakes, acting by friction; and two acting by preventing the free escape of air from cylinder and thus using compressed air in retarding the progress of the engine. The former are used for shunting whilst the later for descending steep gradients. One of the handbrakes acts on the tyres of the wheels in the ordinary manner and the second acts on grooved surfaces of the pinion axle, but can be used in those places where the rack is laid.[14]

The line travels a distance of 46 kilometers (29 mi), and contains 208 curves, 16 tunnels, and 250 bridges. The uphill journey along the route takes about 290 minutes (4.8 hours), while the downhill journey takes only 215 minutes (3.6 hours).[5][15][16]

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2005. A unique feature of the line, which is still fully operational, is that it is oldest and steepest track using rack and pinion technology. Currently the line has a metre gauge for 7.2 kilometers (4.5 mi), up to the foothill station of Kallar, where the rack rail portion begins. The longest tunnel of this section measures 97 meters (318 ft). The metre-gauge section of the route has a gradient of 1:12.5 through Coonoor. Beyond Coonoor, up to the final station, the track has a ruling gradient of 1:23.[5][8]

Kalka–Shimla Railway[edit]

Shivalik Deluxe Express in Taradevi station
A typical passenger train on one of the line's big bridges

The Kalka-Shimla Railway opened on November 9, 1903 and continues to run between Kalka and Shimla. The railroad is a 95.66 kilometers (59.44 mi) long, 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow-gauge line.[8] Shimla is the modern capital of Himachal Pradesh,[5][17] and is located at an elevation of 7,234 feet (2,205 m) in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was formerly the summer capital of British India, starting in 1864, and also served as the headquarters of the British Army in India. Kalka is a town in the Panchkula district of Haryana.[5][17]

Prior to construction of the railroad, the only access to Shimla was via a village cartway. The railway line was constructed by the Delhi–Ambala–Kalka Railway Company, with the project beginning in 1898 in the Siwalik Hills, being completed in 1903.

The Kalka-Shimla line has 103 tunnels and 864 bridges. Most of the bridges are multi-arched, reminiscent of Ancient Roman aqueducts, while one bridge which spans 18.29 meters (60.0 ft) is made with plate girders and steel truss. The ruling gradient of the railway is 1:33 or 3%, and it features 919 curves, with the sharpest being 48 degrees (a radius of 37.47 meters (122.9 ft)). The tracks climb from 656 meters (2,152 ft) to a peak elevation of 2,076 meters (6,811 ft) at Shimla. The longest tunnel on the line is the Barog Tunnel (No. 33) which is 1,144 meters (3,753 ft) long, connecting Dagshai and Solan.

The Kalka-Shimla Railway joined the Nilgiri and Darjeeling lines as a World Heritage Site in 2008.[4] The route from Kalka to Shimla further includes the 3.2 kilometers (2.0 mi) long Koti tunnel, as well as the Dharampur main station. 32 kilometers (20 mi) from Kalka, loops at Taksal, Gumman and Dharampur help to attain flatter gradients. Other important stations on this route include Dagshai (38.4 kilometers (23.9 mi) from Kalka, at an elevation of 1,600 meters (5,200 ft)) and Solan. Special luxury trains called the Shivalik Express and the Shivalik Palace Saloon operate during the summer months to handle the increased number of tourists. The railroad is also used for shipping cargo such as potatoes and serving military objectives.[5]

Matheran Hill Railway[edit]

Toy Train on Matheran Hill Railway
Matheran Railway No.740 preserved in the UK at Railworld in Peterborough

Matheran Hill Railway is a heritage railway in Maharashtra finished in 1907. The project was led by Abdul Peerbhoy and financed by his father, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy of the Adamjee Group.

The railroad uses a 610mm (2 ft) gauge line, covering a distance of 20 kilometers (12 mi) between Neral and Matheran in the Western Ghats. The route was designed in 1900, with construction beginning in 1904 and being completed in 1907. The original tracks were built using 30 lb/yard rails but were later updated with heavier 42 lb/yard rails. Ruling gradient for the railroad is 1:20 (5%), and tight curves require train speeds to be limited to 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph). Until the 1980s the railway was closed during Monsoon season due to increased risk of landslides, but it is now kept open throughout the year. The line is administered by Central Railways.[5]

A unique feature of the line is its horseshoe embankments. Notable features of the route include Neral Station, the first on the route; the Herdal Hill section; the steep grade of Bhekra Khud; the "One Kiss Tunnel" (the only tunnel on the route, it earned its nickname because the tunnel is just long enough to exchange a kiss with one's partner); a "Water Pipe" station, which is no longer in operation; Mountain Berry which features two sharp 'Zig Zags'; Panorama Point; and finally the end of the route at Matheran Bazaar. The broad-gauge railroad between Mumbai and Pune runs near the Matheran Hill Railway, and the two tracks cross each other at two locations.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Mountain Railways of India". Retrieved 2017-06-08. 
  3. ^ Abram, David (2003). Rough guide to India. Rough Guides. p. 479. ISBN 1-84353-089-9. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Mountain Railways of India". World Heritage:UNESCO. Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kohli, M.S.; Ashwani Lohani (2004). Mountains of India: Tourism, Adventure, Pilgrimage. The Indian Mountain Railway. Indus Publishing. pp. 97–106. ISBN 81-7387-135-3. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  6. ^ a b "Luxury Trains of India". Archived from the original on January 3, 2004. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  7. ^ "Steam in History". The Indian Railways fan Club (IRFCA). Archived from the original on 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Mountain Railways of India – Chugging and romancing the hills". Northern Voices Online. Retrieved 2017-03-20. [dead link]
  9. ^ a b Srinivasan, Rupa; Manish Tiwari; Sandeep Silas (2006). Our Indian Railway: themes in India's Railway history. Foundation Books. pp. xxxiv–xxxv. ISBN 81-7596-330-1. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  10. ^ a b c Whittle, Paul; Terry Martin. "A Brief History of the DHR". History and A Trip Up the Line. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  11. ^ a b "History of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway". Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  12. ^ a b "DHr History". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  13. ^ "The Loop, Agony Point, Darjeeling [Hill Railway]". British Library Online Gallery. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  14. ^ a b Kholi p.104
  15. ^ Krishnan, Govind. V.M. NMR Nilgiri Mountain Railway:From Life Line to Oblivion. Paypall. 
  16. ^ "Cultural Sites inscribed on UNESCO's World heritage List". India-Mountains railways of India. World Heritage List;UNESCO. 2005-06-15. 
  17. ^ a b "HP declares Kalka–Shimla railway as 'heritage' property". The Hindu. 2010-02-21. Archived from the original on 2008-09-27. Retrieved 2010-02-19. 

External links[edit]