The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway - second one in the world!!

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR),W.Bengal. British India
Steam locomotive, DHR,W.Bengal, India. en. wikipedia. org

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR),W.Bengal.British India.en. wikipedia org.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR),W.Bengal.British India.en. wikipedia org.

The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on the social and economic developments in many parts of India. The rail services moved a sea of humanity from one place to another, besides moving raw materials for the factories, agricultural produce to the market, etc.  During the second World War,  under the Raj, the railways played a vital role to move arms and ammunition's to the frontier areas and also quick movement of soldiers across the vast subcontinent. Thus Railways became an integral part of  life in India because it is still a cheap mode of transportation system in the world and millions of people depend on it.  The origin of The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), connecting the base of the mountain Silugiri with  Darjeeling  town  in  the  Himalayas, internationally famous for tea, is an interesting one. The other famous mountain trains in India are  Kalka-Simla Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu and Matheran Light Railway (MLR - 1907), near Mumbai, Maharastra. The last one is yet to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), one of the oldest  mountain railways in the world, showcases a marvelous and novel railway engineering work  connecting the  base of the Himalayas with 2000 meter high Darjeeling town. Silugiri is the base station which has a broad gauge connection to Kolkata (first completed in 1878).  It was an inspirational work undertaken with a view to meeting the needs of the people living in the high mountains. Previously the people had to depend on the Cart road and Tonga services (carriage services) for transport of materials. In the rainy seasons, it was a difficult job, risking slippery road and occasional landslides. I have heard people telling me that it is really fun to watch a small steam locomotive, heaving hard and carrying hundreds of passengers and materials on a two foot rails,  meandering it way up  through hazy, lush green, breath-taking  mountainous terrain with tall trees.

Opened in 1881, it applied bold, ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. Tackling the the gradients at different levels was a challenging one. Darjeeling Toy Train is still fully operational and retains most of its original features.

The history of the line began in 1878, when Franklin Prestage, an agent of Eastern Bengal Railway Company proposed a hill tramway of two feet gauge (Narrow gauge), following the alignment of the Cart Road to Darjeeling. Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal accepted the proposal in 1879, considering its utility value of this unique project in the future. Construction commenced in the same year by Gillanders  Arbuthnot & Co, the contractor. The first phase of work from Silugiri (MSL 389 feet) to  Kurseong was opened on 23 August, 1880 and the last phase was finally completed in 1881. As the years went by, the company expanded its network, with branches to Kishanganj and Kalimpong Road being opened in the early part of the century.: the railway  line ran from Siliguri to Darjeeling - a distance of 51 miles.

Between 1881 to 1900 several improvements were made in the track alignment work in tune with variations in gradients at different levels. During this period, the train services were disrupted by earthquake in 1867 and a powerful cyclone in 1899. During the world War II DHR played a major role, transporting military materials and personnel in the mountainous areas where they had camps.

After independence DHR merged with Indian Railways  and was  a part of the Northeast Frontier Railway zone in 1958. In 1962, the line was realigned at Siliguri and extended by nearly 4 miles (6 km) to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to meet the new broad gauge line there.  


01. In December 1999, the DHR became a World Heritage Site of the  UNESCO. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is only the second railway in the world to be granted this covetous status and is the first ever narrow-gauge railway to be listed; the first one being Semmering Railway of Austria in 1998.

 02. The railway line often rather resembles urban tramway tracks than an overland line. This is because of High Way 55 that runs parallel to the track and the buildings on the road side.

 03. The railway line basically follows the Hill Cart Road which is partially the same as National Highway 55.

 04.  Features called ''loops and Z-Reverses'' were designed as an integral part of the system at different points along the route to achieve a 

    The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), British

comfortable gradient for the stretches in between them. When the train moves forward, reverses and then moves forward again, climbing a slope each time while doing so, it gains height along the side of the hill.

 05. Usually, the track is simply on the road side. In case of landslides both track and road might be affected.
This is is the only flaw in this railway.