The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales, no. 7406570.
Registered office: 9 Wardo Avenue, London SW6 6RA
A Brief History of The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Construction is started by the Darjeeling Steam Tramway Company to a narrow gauge of only 2ft (610mm). Its purpose is to reduce the haulage rates of commodities (such as rice) to Darjeeling and to improve the viability of local industries such as tea production. The line closely follows the route of the existing Hill Cart Road – the Government supports the scheme so as to reduce road maintenance costs.
Eight steam locomotives arrive from the works of Messrs Sharp Stewart, Manchester, England. In March Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India visits the line which opens to the public between Siliguri and Kurseong in August.
On 3 July the line is officially opened to Darjeeling. It is 51 miles (82km) long and climbs from only 400ft (120m) at Siliguri to the summit at Ghum (7407ft/2257m) before descending to Darjeeling (6812ft / 2075m).
The Company is renamed the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Co. In its first full year the line carries 8,000 passengers and 380 tons of goods.
Four loops and four reverses (zig-zags) are constructed between Sukna and Gayabari to ease the gradient.
A short extension for goods traffic is opened to the bazaar at Darjeeling.
Darjeeling station is enlarged and rebuilt.
Kurseong gets a new station (previously the Clarendon Hotel had been used for this purpose) and storage sheds.
Many homes in Darjeeling and Kurseong are damaged by an earthquake and tremors. DHR service is maintained.
A devastating cyclone hits Darjeeling on 23 September – 4,000ft of mountainside slips into the valley causing much loss of life and damage to the DHR.
Traffic on the line continues to grow with 29,000 passengers and 31,570 tons of goods. In addition to rice, flour and coal the line is bringing increasing numbers of tourists to the region. The shareholders in the Company are benefiting from dividends of 11-14%.
Growth continues with 174,000 passengers and 47,000 tons of goods. The first bogie carriages enter service, replacing very basic 4 wheel carriages.
A branch line of the DHR opens from Siliguri (Panchanai) to Kishenganj. At Tindharia the railway works are relocated from behind the loco shed to a new and extensive site created from removing the summit of Selim Hill. The line is now carrying 250,000 passengers and 60,000 tons of freight (flour and rice 17,804 tons, tea 5,354 tons, potatoes 3,824 tons, salt 1,634 tons, sugar 894 tons and metals 915 tons).
With the continued growth in staff and business, the headquarters of the railway moves from Darjeeling to more spacious accommodation at Kurseong.
Another branch – the Teesta Valley Line - is opened from Siliguri to Kalimpong Road (Gielle Khola).
The loop at Batasia is constructed, eliminating problems by creating easier gradients on the ascent from Darjeeling. But the first sign of competition for the railway comes with the introduction of a bus service, making the journey in 3 ½ hrs – 1 ½ hrs faster than the trains. The railway retaliates with a railcar in 1920 but it can carry only 9 passengers and is soon out of service.
The DHR and the Teesta Valley line are used to transport men and equipment for attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Despite increasing competition from private cars and buses, the line continues to prosper with 258,000 passengers and 80,000 tons of goods, although earnings from both sources are declining.
A serious earthquake in Bihar shakes all of Northeast India. Many buildings in Darjeeling are heavily damaged and the railway is also badly affected, although it soon recovers and plays a vital role in transporting repair materials.
The line is running three through trains a day in each direction, taking 5 ¼ hrs and two local services running from Tindharia and Kurseong
The effect of World War 2 dramatically increases traffic on the DHR which plays a vital role transporting military personnel and supplies to the numerous camps around Ghum and Darjeeling. The line now has 39 working locomotives and Tindharia Works, employing almost 400 workers, constructs extra rolling stock including a five vehicle ambulance train for the wounded. A Walford diesel locomotive arrives in 1942, but the trials are unsuccessful. In the year 1943-44 the line carries 311,000 passengers and 76,000 tons of goods.
The old wooden station at Darjeeling is replaced by a modern concrete building.
On 20 October the DHR is purchased by the Indian Government and is absorbed into the Indian Government Railways organisation.
As Partition has severed the main line railway link with Assam, the Kishenganj to Siliguri and Siliguri to Sevoke sections of the two DHR branch lines are replaced by metre gauge track as part of the new Assam Rail Link Project. After heavy damage from flooding the remaining section of the Teesta Valley branch from Sevoke to Gielle Khola is abandoned. The DHR comes under the management of the Assam Railways organisation.
Assam Railways including the DHR become part of the North Eastern Railway zone.
The DHR and other Assam lines are transferred to the new North East Frontier Railway Zone.
At Siliguri the line is re-aligned and extended by approx 4 miles (6 km) to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to meet the new broad gauge line there. It opens for freight that year and for passengers in 1964. The loco shed and carriage depot at Siliguri Junction are relocated to NJP.
The once important railway mail services on the line end – beaten by road competition.
The line is closed for 18 months due to civil unrest.
Competition from road haulage and the interruption to services in previous years finally ends the freight services.
The DHR is awarded UNESCO ‘World Heritage’ status, only the second railway in the world to get such recognition.
Two NDM6 diesel locomotives are introduced into service.
Steam locomotive No 787 is converted to oil-firing, but despite subsequent trials and modifications, it is not a success.
More re-alignment of the line takes place at Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri because of the broad gauge conversion of the Assam line. The DHR gains a new island platform at NJP. The locomotive shed and carriage servicing are relocated to Siliguri Junction.
Two new oil-fired steam locomotives Nos 1001-2 arrive but design problems prevent them from entering service. Tourist traffic shows a welcome increase – 82 steam-hauled charter trains compared with only 20 or less in previous years.
The historic Elysia Building, Kurseong (former residence of the GM DHR prior to 1948) is rededicated after extensive restoration. Two more NDM6 diesel locomotives arrive from the Matheran line. Indian Railways celebrates the DHR’s 125th anniversary with a series of ‘Steam on Three Gauges’ charter trains at Siliguri Junction.
The DHR gets its first full time Director. The heaviest monsoon in decades disrupts services and Darjeeling loco shed is badly damaged. A new daily train, The Himalayan Princess (3D/4D) and more Darjeeling-Ghum tourist services are introduced.
Oil-firing trials end. Coal will continue to power the steam fleet. Tindharia Works gets a thorough renovation. Widespread political unrest and’ bandhs’ (strikes) continue to disrupt services. A wash out in June closes the Kurseong-NJP section for 10 weeks.
Storm damage closes the line for almost 3 months. Major repairs start at Darjeeling Station and loco shed.
A huge landslip at Pagla Jhora in mid June closes the NJP- Kurseong section
Monsoon rains wreck the Pagla Jhora repair work. At Tindharia there is a severe landslip that severs the road and the DHR. The five 4-wheeled vans are restored to running order. Political peace returns after state elections and tourism starts to recover. But the DHR is now cut in two places. Two DHRS steam loco engineers make the first of three visits to Tindharia where they improve the performance of two steam locos and assist in revamping skills and work shop procedures.
In July a further land slip at Tindharia causes more damage, including to the workshop.
Also in July one diesel loco, two steam locos and several carriages are transferred by road from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This allows the introduction of a regular fourth Joy Train service and the resumption of a daily Kurseong-Darjeeling service train.
In October Sonada Station is largely destroyed by fire. The year ends with the road at Pagla Jhora largely complete again but needing further stabilisation and widening before the DHR tracks can be re-laid. The Railway Minister commits to the complete reopening of the line by the end of 2013.
On 5 April a Darjeeling Tours group is the first to use a restored bogie wagon, complete with railings, for photography. In May work starts on a temporary rail diversion at Tindharia and by the year-end it is almost complete. Political tensions continue but against a background of generally better relations. A programme of station rehabilitation starts with Sukna as the first to be improved. Work continues on repairs near Pagla Jhora but still with no clear date as to when the line will re-open there.
This brief summary covers only the most major issues of the DHR’s 133 years history.
For a good value, fully illustrated and more detailed account, you may wish to purchase ‘The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (A Guide to the DHR, Darjeeling and its Tea)’ by DHRS Archivist Richard Wallace - available from the Society’s on-line shop.
The Society’s web site at www.dhrs.org includes full details of our activities, photo features of recent events, a comprehensive sales list, and up-to-date DHR travel information.
There are also links to our associated charity, Darjeeling Railway Community Support (DRCS), and to our associated travel company, Darjeeling Tours Ltd.
History compiled by Paul Whittle, Vice Chairman DHRS.