Bengal’s toy train gets a lease of life

The 136-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR), popularly called the toy train, has got a new lease of life. 

Published: 19th May 2017 09:19 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2017 09:19 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: The 136-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR), popularly called the toy train, has got a new lease of life. 

Ranchi-based Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited (HECL) will manufacture “antique” spare parts to revive a fleet of 13 narrow gauge steam locomotives, which are a tourist attraction. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) in this regard was signed between the government of India enterprise HECL and Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) in Guwahati on Friday.

Union minister of State for railways, Rajen Gohain, was among the dignitaries in attendance.

The steam locomotives, affectionately referred to as “Iron Sherpas”, were manufactured in England some 100 years ago. The company that manufactured them shut shop 60-65 years ago, or is into manufacturing other items. The ageing locomotives also often develop technical snags.

According to railway authorities, they have 13 such steam locomotives at their disposal, of which only six are operational. When these go through any serious mechanical problem, their parts are replaced with that of those which are already “dead” – the practice being called “cannibalism” in railways’ parlance. The railways are killing the practice by signing the MoU with HECL.

Once there were 34 narrow gauge steam locomotives. Twenty-one of them died in due course and their parts were later used when other locomotives developed mechanical snags.

The toy train plies on a 78km stretch between West Bengal’s New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Currently, four diesel locomotives are in use along with six steam locomotives. But the use of the diesel variants violated conditions of conservation the DHR was to have adhered to since the UNESCO has always insisted on a puritan form.

“HECL has agreed to develop and manufacture items and equipment for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways in areas of narrow gauge steam locomotives and develop a steam boiler for narrow gauge steam locomotives. Accordingly, it decided to enter into a MoU with NFR for supply of the items for five years,” an official release said.

The DHR or toy train came into existence on September 15, 1881. More than 100 years later on December 5, 1999, the UNESCO had inscribed DHR as a World Heritage Site.

“The DHR is the first and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger train. It applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is fully operational and retains most of its original features,” the release said.

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