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The Beauty of Mountain Railways in India

The Beauty of Mountain Railways in India heritage property includes three railways. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the first, and is still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, its design applies bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. The construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 46-km long metre-gauge single-track railway in Tamil Nadu State was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway, scaling an elevation of 326 m to 2,203 m, represented the latest technology of the time. The Kalka Shimla Railway, a 96-km long, single track working rail link built in the mid-19th century to provide a service to the highland town of Shimla is emblematic of the technical and material efforts to disenclave mountain populations through the railway. All three railways are still fully operational.

The Beauty of Mountain Railways in India
Continent: Asia
Country: India
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (II)(IV)
Date of Inscription: 1999

The development of railways in the 19th Century

The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. The two Mountain Railways of India on the World Heritage List are outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology, and the impact of innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multicultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is intimately linked with the development of Darjeeling as the queen of hill stations and one of the main tea-growing areas in India, in the early 19th century. The densely wooded mountain spur on which Darjeeling now stands was formerly part of the Kingdom of Sikkim. It was adopted by the British East India Company as a rest and recovery station for its soldiers in 1835, when the area was leased from Sikkim and building of the hill station began, linked to the plains by road.

The development of mountain railways in the 19th Century
Mountain Railways India

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In 1878 the Eastern Bengal Railway submitted a detailed proposal for a steam railway from Siliguri, already linked with Calcutta to Darjeeling. This received official approval and construction work began immediately, and by 1881 it had been completed. Since 1958 it has been managed by the State-owned Northeast Frontier Railway.

The DHR consists of 88.48 km of 2 ft (0.610 m) gauge track that connects New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling, passing through eleven stations between the two termini. One of these, Ghoom, is the second highest railway station in the world, at an altitude of 2258m. Because it passes through a mountainous region, 73% of the total length of the line consists of curves, the sharpest of which is that between Sukna and Rongtong, where the track passes through 120°.

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There are six reverses and three loops on the line, the most famous of these being the Batasia Loop between Ghoom and Darjeeling. The steepest gradient is 1 in 18 (in zigzag reverses). The Toy Train, as it is affectionately known, affords breathtaking views of high waterfalls, green valleys that are often hidden by cloud, and at its end the splendid panorama of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga range.

There are several distinct sections: the 10 km plains section between Siliguri and Sukna (partly urban and partly agricultural), the 11 km densely forested section from Sukna to beyond Rongtong, the 38 km largely deforested open hill section with its many tea gardens to Kurseong, and finally the 30 km alpine section to Darjeeling, dominated by stands of Himalayan pine and tea gardens.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway consists of 45.88 km of a 1 m gauge single-track, partly rack-and-pinion railway that connects Mettupalayiyam to Udagamandalam in Tamil Nadu State. The railway can be divided into three sections:

Some 7 km, from Mettupalaiyam to Kallar (elevation 405 m), across the central plain of Tamil Nadu, with its betel-nut palm and other plantations. Maximum speed is 30 km/h called the Blue Mountain Express, the name of which was changed recently to the native Nilgiri Express.

The rack section of the line, from Kallar to Coonoor (elevation 1,712 m). There are 208 curves and 13 tunnels, and 27 viaducts. The Kallar Bridge over the River Bhawani, the Adderley Viaduct and the Burliar Bridge are examples of such composite bridges. Here, the railway climbs through almost uninhabited, tropical jungle.

A stretch of 18 km runs through a landscape with dominant eucalyptus and acacia forest. The railway continues to climb across the Nilgiris until it reaches the summit, just before the terminus of Udagamandalam at 2,203 m.

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