Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
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 cost of the 51 miles of railway from Silguri to Darjeeling was Rs.
1,750,000/-. Later the line was extended from Siliguri to Kishanganj and towards Kalimpong
in the Teesta river valley. This was known as the Teesta Valley Extension and was started
in 1915. This line used to go from Siliguri to Riyang station passing Kalijhora and then
to Geille Khola (Kalimpong Road) Station. With the improvements done in subsequent years
the total cost was brought to cost to Rs. 4,300,000/-. Later with the construction of a
bigger line, the service from Siliguri to Kishanganj was discontinued. In 1950 landslides
caused severe damage to the line from Geille khola station to Siliguri. This was never
repaired and so the services to Gielle Khola station was discontinued.
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.
An old picture of Toy Train
going round the loop near Tindharia
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.
Very early Toy Train cargo
Now with the passage of time and better motorable roads the Darjeeling
Himalayan Railway is no longer a serious mode of transport. Cargo service has been totally
stopped and the Toy Train has become a joy ride for tourists though an unforgetable
joyride. In a few years time this is going to be the only steam engine train in India.
An old picture of Toy Train stopping for water
with early style coaches
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.
© Copyright 2000 Photos : Das Studio, Darjeeling
2000 Old Photos : From the collection Das Studio, Darjeeling
© Copyright 2000 : darjnet.com, Darjeeling
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