Indian Railways is all set to bring back steam engines for its trains plying in routes such as Kalka-Shimla, Darjeeling-Siliguri and Matheran. Indian Railways is taking this decision with an aim to give a fillip to heritage conservation in mountain railways. Currently, trains are run by diesel engines in these routes. Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani took the decision on Saturday. Lohani told the National Congress of Indian Steam Railway Society, an independent body of enthusiasts of steam locomotives and railway heritage patronized by, among others, retired and serving Railways officers.
The 130-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was closed and is undergoing restoration following the Gorkhaland agitation earlier this year. It is popularly known as ‘Toy Train’. The 88-km journey from Siliguri to the Darjeeling hills passes through forests, tea gardens and numerous bridges and tunnels. The service, which earned UNESCO World Heritage tag in 1999, is a big attraction for tourists who flock to this eastern hill town from all over the world.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site is the 96-km Kalka-Shimla Railways line in Himachal Pradesh. It was built in 1889. This mountain service sees steady patronage by tourists during the busy season mostly on its flagship Shivalik Deluxe Express for tourists and some passenger trains for commuters. These trains are also currently hauled by diesel locomotives.
The 21-km Matheran Hill Railway in Maharashtra was opened in 1907. Like in Darjeeling, this one too is undergoing restoration following two derailments last year. Full service between Matheran and Neral will resume by early 2018. The steam service could be launched then, according to reports.
Earlier, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Railways ministry with Switzerland which would help the two countries in developing tilting trains Tilting trains lean to one side on approaching a bend, just like a motorbike on a winding road. Such trains are operational in 11 countries namely Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, the UK, Switzerland, China, Germany and Romania. The MoUs aim at cooperation in the areas of traction rolling stock, electric multiple units and train sets, traction propulsion equipment, freight and passenger cars, tilting trains, railway electrification equipment, tunnelling technology among other things.