Steam traction is fast disappearing throughout the world. India is no exception to this and very few regular steam hauled trains are found in broad gauge (5 feet 6in/1.67m) and metre gauge (3 feet 3 in/1 metre) these days. Most steam engines in these gauges have been replaced by diesel electric or electric traction. Some narrow gauge lines (2 feet 6 in/760 mm or less) still feature the old "iron horses".
Before the railway started operating in July 1881 the journey to Darjeeling took up to 3 days from Calcutta. Tea was transported by horse drawn carts down the winding and tortuous "hillcart" road to Siliguri in the foothills which was the nearest railhead then.The railway was built to improve the commerce and tourism of the area and reduced the time taken to get to Darjeeling to a day.
The Darjeeling line was built to a gauge of 2 feet (600mm) to enable the line to traverse the tightly twisting route through the hills. In its heyday in the 1930s up to 50 steam locomotives worked on the line and the journey took 6 hours from Siliguri. Sadly only about a dozen of these locos remain in working order today. The loco design was by Sharp Stewart of Glasgow : a 0-4-0 saddle tank type which is powerful enough to haul 4 coaches up steep gradients of 1 in 23 (one of the toughest for hill railways without a rack and pinion system). As many as 4 people man these engines, 2 in the cab and maybe two more pouring sand on the tracks! Between Siliguri and Kurseong the line has 3 loops and 5 switch-backs where the engine reverses and goes forward to gain height. Between Ghoom and Darjeeling is the picturesque and famous "Batasia loop". There are 132 unmanned level crossings in the route!
From New Jalpaiguri (the current broad gauge railhead) the train covers a distance of 55 miles (88 km) of which 10 miles (16 km) is in the plains. The journey takes up to 10 hours these days including stops (in contrast to 4 hours by bus and 3 hours by car). Tourists anxious to reach Darjeeling before sundown should get off half way at Kurseong and complete the journey by car/bus. In the summer there are two trains a day from New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri (7am and 9am) and in winter there is one train a day (9am). However the heavy monsoon frequently causes landslides and trains can stop running without notice. New Jalpaiguri can be reached in 12 hours from Calcutta or 24 hours from New Delhi by train. The nearest airport is Bagdogra 10 miles/16km from Siliguri.
I would like you to join me in this unforgettable journey through cyberspace which traverses the most majestic scenery and reaches a height of 7,500 feet above sea level at Ghoom, the highest railway station in India! Calling all steam enthusiasts : Do visit Darjeeling before this source of nostalgia disappears for ever! However I believe that this line has been recognized for its importance as a worldwide tourist attraction by the people of Darjeeling (+ Indian Railways) and as a result trains will probably continue to run and be steam hauled (experiments with dirty diesels came unstuck as they got derailed on the tight curves) into the millenium.
Your suggestions/comments are welcome and will be used to improve the contents/info given here. This homepage was compiled from data gathered on my last visit to Darjeeling in December 1996.
|E-mail: S.Ghosal@Sheffield.ac.uk||Time table of trains|
|Latest news on the DHR||Route Map of the DHR|
|Hear the glorious sound of the engine exhaust:||Picture gallery 1|
|Links on the net to other DHR sites||Picture gallery 2|
|Links to Indian steam railway sites||Picture gallery 3|
|Links: How to get to Darjeeling||Picture gallery 4|
|Features of the Darjeeling Locomotives||Features of other narrow gauge locos|
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Standard Disclaimer : Opinions expressed here are my own and not my employer's. I have no connection with anyone in Darjeeling or Indian Railways or any Official/Unofficial organisation connected with them. Accuracy of the information provided is not guaranteed and you are advised to check times before travelling. I will accept no responsibility for any loss sustained as a result of reading this page. Material in this home page is not to be reproduced in any form whatsoever without my permission.