Col. Barog, forgotten British engineer and Kalka - Shimla Railway


KSR Barog hill station. tryst with my life -

The Kalka-Shimla, 96.54-km-long narrow gauge track crisscrossing 102 operational tunnels, 889 arched masonry bridges  and hundreds of curves is indisputably the most challenging engineering feat ever undertaken in the British empire. 

When the British railway engineers took up the job for execution of this railway project, never had they thought about the extend of enormity of work to be done to get the track laid. Initially, they had to tackle the wild animals, etc., with a hunting party, vagaries of weather conditions and safe camping sites  and rest areas. On this route, tunnels alone constituted eight percent of the most difficult job. The other hurdle was construction of  strong tall bridges  across numerous ravines. Unlike the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Siliguri-Darjeeling Railway line that have loops and reverses to tackle sudden  changes of ascent on the gradient, here it is not a major problem as the line zigzags gradually uphill. When the train chugs through numerous tunnels and bridges  to reach higher levels, the greatness of this grand engineering project comes into  focus and also fine execution  without damaging the elegance  and charm of the hills. This rail track, which was open to passengers on November 9, 1903,is a living tribute to the British engineering ingenuity and, indeed, a gift to India.


Kalka Simla-railway Barog tunnel. (no 33)

 It was in 1930, the tunnels were numbered and the total usable tunnel was 102,  rest were either not used or damaged. The  tunnels  at Barog and Tara Devi were larger than the rest; the longest being the Barog tunnel no 33 near the station Barog named after British railway engineer.  L.Edwards, Executive Engineer of Dharampur division successfully completed the work on 30 tunnels. Later Col Barog and others worked on other tunnels.

In any mammoth project undertaken, there may one or a few or a group of hardworking people whose contribution goes either unrecognized, unsung or overlooked. In the case of KSR, one sincere British engineer's contribution was duly  placed on record only after his death. His name was Col, Barog, who had vast experience in mountain railway engineering works, including tunneling and bridge constructions over the valleys. He was in charge of tunnel no. 33, the longest one - 1143.61 meter to be made in a hill in the Shiwalik range  made of well compacted sandstone rocks at an elevation of 4500 feet from MSL. After few days of calculations and recheck, as per normal engineering procedures, he asked his team to drill the tunnel from both sides of the hill at the same time in an alignment most  suitable to the terrain. The idea is that the tunnel on both sides would meet at a pre-determined  mid point and then the tunnel work would come to a close. The crew kept drilling as planned from both sides for days and there was no sign of two tunnels meeting at mid-point. As ill-luck would have it, somewhere their trajectories diverged and it would be futile to drill further. Col Barog realized that his calculation was wrong and the failure of this tunneling work would cause additional delay of the project, besides cost-overruns. Col Barog was held responsible for the failure of tunnel 33 work and fined Rupees one for wasting the government money.

Now, at stake was his professional name and integrity. Being dedicated and sincere, he failed to face the reality and became depressed. One  late evening  he went out for a stroll as usual with his pet dog and entered the unfinished tunnel no. 33. Overcome by a sense of shame and humiliation, he questioned the purpose of his life that had been dented by this unfortunate failure. Without second thoughts, he whipped out the gun from his holster and shot himself. The terrified dog alerted the nearby village people and by the time they reached, Col Barog, gentleman and good engineer, had been dead sometime ago. There are different versions about his death, the circumstances that forced  him to choose the extreme step - suicide. Later Chief engineer Harrington himself ran into rough weather when he took up the job of realigning the  same  tunnel. It too ended in fiasco and on local people's advice, he sought the spiritual advice of a local diviner and, at last, aligned
 the two tunnels. In the government records it is mentioned about the spiritual leader's role in the successful realigning of tunnel
 no. 33.

As for Col Barog, the government realized their folly and honored him posthumously by naming the small village after him. Tunnel no. 33 is called the Barog tunnel. In the olden days the small  Barog hill station that comes after tunnel no. 32, was an important stop-over because here, the train would stop for an  hour to enable the visitors - mostly Englishmen and their memsahibs to have a good sumptuous meal comfortably in the viewing gallery in the station, before their onward journey in the picturesque mountain terrain.

Col Barog was buried in  a nearby place - in front of the tunnel, near the Kalka-Shimla national highway, about 1 km from Barog. His grave is being poorly maintained by the state government and it must be repaired and  preserved for the posterity.  His saga of accidental failure is lost in the grand success of this project for which he played a great role in the early stages.