The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1943

We have all heard of the train to Darjeeling, but there was more to it than the single line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This should be apparent from these timetable extracts from 1943. These are not from the Bradshaw which had rather poor print quality, but from another source (more about that later).

DHR TT 001

First, this is an extract from the Bengal & Assam Railway. See its logo showing that it was founded in 1942. This was an emergency measure following the outbreak of World War 2 in Asia. The old stalwarts Eastern Bengal Railway (HQ in Calcutta, main station Sealdah) and the Assam Bengal Railway (HQ in Chittagong) were merged to form the B & A Railway to make it easier to manage rail transport east of Calcutta. Essentially the running of the railways was taken over by the US armed forces.

Of course, the B & AR was broken up after partition and its tracks are now spread over the present Sealdah  division of ER, the NFR, and Bangladesh Railways.

Now we look at the timetables of the DHR. These lines were not part of the B&AR, but it was the practice to include adjoining smaller railway systems in the timetables of larger systems.

DHR TT 002

There are several points here that many railfans may be unfamiliar with. To begin with, this system was the 2-foot narrow gauge unlike most other narrow gauge lines in India which were 2 ft 6 in. Only a handful of 2-foot gauge lines in India survive now, including the mountain railways to Darjeeling and Matheran.

The Siliguri station here was the BG terminus where long-distance trains such as the Darjeeling Mail used. It was located at the station now known as Siliguri Town. Note the connection between the Mail arriving at 06.44 and the NG train (also called the Mail) at 06.59, and in the reverse direction when the passengers presumably had their dinner at Siliguri.

The present Siliguri Jn was opened as part of the Assam Rail Link in the late 1940s. It is located at the former wayside station of Siliguri Road seen above.

When New Jalpaiguri station was opened in the early 1960s, the NG line was extended south from Siliguri Jn to there passing through Siliguri Town, which had gone from being a major terminus to an unimportant wayside station.

Panchanai Jn was the point where the DHR branch to Kishanganj turned towards the left. There is no sign of it now. There have been various other changes pertaining to loops and reverses. One result of this is that Chunabhati station is no longer on the route. This timetable does not show the numerous halt stations which have mostly vanished without a trace, though Batasia is now a stop for the joyride trains between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Now for the rest of the DHR:

DHR TT 003

The Siliguri-Kishanganj Extension and the Teesta Valley Extension were built later (dates given below). The Kishanganj line provided a connection to MG trains from Barsoi and Katihar side. Being in the plains, it did not need the special B class engines but used more conventional ones. Apart from the usual 4-6-2s, there was also a Garratt.

This line became the starting point of the Assam Rail Link, enabling MG trains from the Katihar side to enter northern Bengal. Note that many of the stations (including Naksalbari and Baghdogra) became part of the MG line though there were some changes in alignment. For instance, the new MG line went directly from Matigara to the new Siliguri Jn without crossing Panchanai (where the station was demolished).

The Teesta Valley Extension had an unfortunate end. Initially the Assam Rail Link followed it up to Sevoke. There was a mixed gauge line from the new Siliguri Jn to Sevoke. Here the TV line turned north while the new MG line crossed the Teesta just east of the station and continued eastward to join the existing MG system at a place which became known as New Mal Jn, and finally to Fakiragram and beyond.

The terminus at Gielle Khola seems to have been known as Kalimpong Road in the earlier days. A ropeway connected this station to Kalimpong.

But this line did not last long after Independence. Severe flooding damage occurred in early 1950 which resulted in the line being closed permanently. Though the tracks ran close to the highway towards Kalimpong and Gangtok, you are not likely to see any trace of the line now unless you take the help of local experts. And the NG line from Siliguri to Sivok was pulled up as it no longer had any purpose, leaving a pure MG line behind. In the  2000s the entire MG route in this area was converted to BG.

Some historical notes here:

DHR History 001

Note the stamp issued in 1982.

The above information is from a nice little booklet called “A guide to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway” by Richard Wallace, first edition in 2000. There is a more detailed second edition published in 2009.

There is another useful book by R.R. Bhandari which may be available at the bookstall at the National Rail Museum at Delhi.

Numerous other books (mainly of British origin) are also there. Some may be available from bookshops in Kolkata and the Darjeeling area.

Other useful links include:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darjeeling_Himalayan_Railway

and

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/railway-history-construction-of-the-assam-rail-link/

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

DC traction on India’s railways-sidelights

Much has been written about the final days of DC traction in Mumbai, more specifically on the Harbour line from CSTM to Vashi which was the last holdout of this form of electrification on the Indian railways. This is not exactly true – the Kolkata metro will continue to be on 750 V DC indefinitely, and it is officially a part of the Indian Railways (unlike the metro systems in Delhi and elsewhere).

At its peak, the 1500 V DC system in Mumbai covered these sections:

WR: Colaba to Churchgate to Virar

CR: CST Mumbai to Pune and Igatpuri via Kalyan

CST Mumbai to Mahim and then in parallel to WR up to Andheri

CST Mumbai to Kurla via Harbour branch and then to Mankhurd,Vashi and Panvel.

(Mankhurd was the terminus until the 1990s).

Diva-Vasai Road

(Apart from CR and WR, some lines of the Bombay Port Trust were electrified with DC as well).

A typical news item about the conversion of the last route:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Harbour-line-trains-run-on-new-25KV-AC-traction-from-today/articleshow/51762468.cms

What most railfans may forget is that 3000 V DC existed on some routes out of Howrah for about a decade and 1500 V DC on one metre gauge route out of Chennai for several decades.

From an official IR publication of 1964, we can get the early history. It makes things simpler if we use the names of places which were prevalent at that time

The years of completion were:

Bombay VT to Poona and Igatpuri: 1930 (299 route km) on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, predecessor of the CR

Churchgate to Virar: 1936 (60 route km) on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, predecessor of the WR.

Madras Beach to Tambaram: 1931 (29 route km, metre gauge) on the South Indian Railway, predecessor of the SR.

Howrah-Bandel-Burdwan

and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar: 1958 (142 route km) on ER.

Coming back to Bombay, the VT-Reay Road section was opened in 1925 with electrification, as the 1 in 34 gradient at Sandhurst Road was felt to be an insurmountable obstacle to any other means of traction. Diesel traction existed but was not considered a serious option at that time.

Reay Road to Kurla had been running on steam since it was opened in 1910.The extension from Kurla to Mankhurd was completed by 1927 and was electrified in 1936.

The Karjat-Khopoli branch was one of the first lines opened in India (in 1856, when it became the railhead for Poona for some years). It seems to have been electrified only in the mid-90s and timetables of 1994 show diesel-hauled passenger trains on the CR main timetable (not the suburban timetable).

The Diva-Vasai Road line was built in the 1980s and was electrified with DC soon after it was opened.

On what is now the WR, electrification was completed to Borivli in 1928 and to Virar in 1936. Colaba was the terminus for long distance and local trains until Bombay Central was opened in 1930, and the lines between Colaba and Churchgate were electrified but this line itself was closed at the end of 1930. Churchgate has been the terminus for local trains since then.

The short stretch from Madras Beach to Tambaram was electrified at 1500 V DC in 1931. Apart from the EMUs on this route, long distance trains continued to run on steam from Madras Egmore. By 1967 the Tambaram-Villupuram section was electrified at the then standard voltage of 25 KV AC and the Beach-Tambaram section was converted to AC to enable through running up to Villupuram.

After independence, the first steps towards electrification of ER lines out of Howrah were taken with Howrah-Bandel-Burdwan and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar being completed by 1958. These too were converted to AC in the mid-60s, and virtually all subsequent electrification in India was at 25 KV AC. The only exceptions were the extensions from Mankhurd to Vashi and then Panvel, Thane to Vashi and extensions,  and electrification of Karjat-Khopoli in the 90s which had to match the existing DC system in Mumbai.

Some of the DC locos from ER were converted to 1500 V DC and sent to CR, where they continued to serve for many years on the slopes of Bhor Ghat and Thull Ghat. Some EMUs were also converted and sent to WR and CR with mixed results.

More about DC locos, AC/DC locos and operational aspects to follow.