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Famous Mountain Railways of India : World Heritage & Engineering Marvels

Updated: Oct 17

Famous Mountain Railways of India : World Heritage & Engineering Marvels


Nilgiri Mountain Train crossing the major bridge


The scenic beauty of lush green valley and hills always beckon all of us. The pleasant climate of hill stations is what we prefer during hot summer season. A journey with toy train to a hill station is like a dream come true for nature and heritage loving folk. We had opportunity to travel with all the three UNESCO World Heritage Mountain Trains (DHR, NMR & KSR) of India. Besides scenic beauty all along the hills through which toy trains traverse, engineering features of railway lines are unique and mesmerizing. Here modest attempt has been made to present pictorially the salient features of all the three mountain railways of India for visual delight.

(i) Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR)


DHR Toy Train at Darjeeling Station


Toy Train passing through market area

· Nick-named as ‘ Toy Train’ due to its narrow gauge of 2 feet (or 610 mm), its construction began in year 1879 and completed in 1881. It is the oldest mountain train of India.

· The railway line connects New Jaipaiguri and Darjeeling with 88.48 Km track length. The train climbs from elevation 114 m (at New Jalpaiguri) to 2073 m (at Darjeeling). Ghum, India’s highest Railway station (elevation 2258 m) is situated on this route. The stretch is dotted with lush green trees, waterfalls, small culverts/bridges.

· The unique features of DHR are non-availability of any tunnel in the entire length of track, crisscrossing of railway line and road at several locations without any provision of level-crossing, using ‘Z’ reverse (or Zig-zag loop) at 6 locations and 3 spirals to climb steep gradient. The ruling gradient of 1 in 31 is used. The line traverse 02 Nos. full circle at famous ‘Batasia Loop’. A war memorial is located at the centre of Batasia Loop from where we can enjoy magnificent view of Kanchenjunga peak, the third highest mountain of the world (having elevation 8586 m).

· It is indeed an engineering marvel wherein initial structures, tiny steam engines, toy type rolling stock, Loco-shed, old signaling system, Turn-table and much more are preserved and still functional. Considering its unique features, DHR declared as World Heritage Site under the name of ‘Mountain Railways of India’ in year 1999.


Glimpses of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway


Video of DHR


· A number of Hindi films have been shot with DHR such as Aradhana, Main Hoon Na, Barfi, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Parineeta and many more.



(ii) Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR)


NMR Toy Train at Mettupalayam Station


NMR Toy Train passing thru lush green forest

· Nestled in the lap of the Nilgiri hills (popularly known as the Blue Mountains) in Tamil Nadu, constructed between 1891 and 1908. It connects Mettupalayam with Udagamandalam (Ooty) stretching 46 Km distance and it climbs from elevation 325 m to 2203 m.

· A Meter gauge line having ruling gradient as high as 1 in 12. Unique feature of NMR is use of ‘Rack and Pinion system’ to prevent rolling stocks from slipping downwards and have better grip, traction and safety. It uses ‘Abt Rack Systemwhich has been used by very few railways worldwide. A toothed rack rail is placed in between 2 side rails and cog wheels fitted at the bottom of rolling stock move on it. The engine is placed at rear end of the train which pushes bogies upward slope of hills.

· The line consists of as many as 108 curves, 250 bridges/culverts, and 16 tunnels which passes through lush green tea gardens, beautiful streams, vintage railway stations etc. The railway line alignment is away from road alignment for major portion of route.

· The NMR has been declared as the World Heritage Site in year 2005.



Glimpses of NMR

Video of NMR

· Famous song ‘ Chaiyya chaiyya …’ of Hindi film ‘ Dil Se’ has been shot on the roof-top of moving train on this route.


(iii) Kalka Shimla Railway (KSR)

· Meandering through lush green Shivalik hills, construction of KSR line started in 1898 and completed in 1903. The length of railway line is 96 Km which climbs from elevation 656 m (at Kalka) to 2076 m (at Shimla) in Himachal Pradesh.

· The gauge of track is 2 feet 6 inches (or 762 mm). The unique feature of this railway line is presence of 103 tunnels which were cut through the mighty Himalayan range. The longest tunnel (1144 m long) on this route is just before ‘Barog’ railway station. The beautiful multi-arched gallery bridges to take the track between hill slopes can be seen en route. Girder bridges are not used on this line.

· It has been included in the list of the World Heritage Site in year 2008.


Kalka Shimla Toy Train passing over vintage Arch Bridge

Glimpses of KSR


Video of KSR


Hope the journey with above heritage mountain trains of India and scenic beauty along the route will fill one & all with peace & happiness and provide life-time memorable moment.

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