| Mountain Railway of India ( Darjleeing, West Bengal) - A World Heritage Site
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is lovingly called the "Toy Train". The journey to Darjeeling is regarded as among the most spectacular in the world. Travellers are awed by both the scenery as well as the railway line which is truly an engineering masterpiece and without doubt one of the wonders of the world. The history of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is equally fascinating.
It was in the year 1878 that Mr. Franklin Prestage (at that time Agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company) put up a proposal with a detailed scheme to the Government of Bengal for laying a train line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant Governor, appointed a Committee to examine the project. This Committee reported that the project was feasible and would be of great advantage to the Government and public and was accepted in 1879. The construction started that very year and by 1880 the railway line had reached Tindharia. Later that year the line was completed till Kurseong. By July 1881 it was opened for traffic right through to Darjeeling. The name given to the railway line was "Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company".
The original passenger vehicle was a small four-wheeled trolley with canvas roof and two wooden benches for seats. After sometime proper 26 feet long bogie was introduced. The steam engine of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is specially designed for unusual conditions of Darjeeling by Sharpe, Stewart, with 'B' class tank engine with short 0-4-0 wheelbase with additional saddle tank (for extra water capacity). By 1915 a workshop was started in Tindharia which made and repaired passenger coaches.
The whole railway track from Siliguri to Darjeeling is considered an engineering marvel. In 51 miles of track it climbes from near sea level to about 7,400 ft. altitude. To attain this climb engineers have used "loop" and "zig-zag reverses". In "loop" the railway track circles round and passes over itself by a bridge, thereby quickly attaining higher elevation. In "zig-zag reverse" for obtaining the same result by running the track back diagonally up the hillside for a short distance, and then again resuming an alignment parallel to the original alignment but higher up. There are no tunnels, as a result the railway line has very sharp curves depending on the contour of the mountain.
When the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was started, it was the fastest and most comfortable way to travel to Darjeeling. It had passenger and cargo services. The cargo line used to go beyond Darjeeling railway station into the middle of the town. This line was later discontinued and removed. Later with New Jalpaiguri station becoming a more important link than Siliguri, the track was extended from Siliguri to New Jalpaiguri.
In 1920, according to record, the train service had carried 263,082 passengers and 61,704 tons of goods. During those days cargo transported comprised of a variety of items. Down traffic from Darjeeling consisted mainly tea, potatoes and fresh vegetables, from the Teesta Valley section it was mainly wool from Tibet and oranges during winter from Kalimpong and Sikkim and from the Kishanganj section it was mainly jute and paddy. Upward traffic to Darjeeling and the Teesta Valley consisted of rice, flour, tea garden stores, oil, coal, miscellaneous goods and general stores.
A non-profit organisation called the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation was formed in 1993 to encourage the restoration, renewal and presevation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and its railway stations as living museums. Associations called Friends of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, promoted by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation, have been formed in several countries, all dedicated to the conservation and renewal of the Toy Train as a railway treasure.
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