Darjeeling Himalayan Railway resumes services after over a year; a look at India’s toy trains

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Darjeeling’s popular ‘toy train’ was on track again after a gap of more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The heritage toy train services between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal resumed on Wednesday after a 17-month gap. Already, the toy train was on the tracks between Darjeeling and Ghum since 16 August.

Toy trains are essentially mountain railways that were built by the British between the 19th and 20th centuries. Mountain railways run on a path carved through the mountains passing through scenic valleys, making the experience of riding a toy train a beautiful one.

The bogies are also very small like toys, and hence they are called toy trains. Though most of them are running at loss, with the public demand being so high — the trains are continuing on their routes.

There are five operations toy trains in India. Here is a look at those five trains and their current operational status.

New Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling Railway

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), is an integral part of the northern hills of West Bengal.

At present, one train will run daily in each direction between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, 88 km apart, Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) spokesperson Guneet Kaur said from Maligaon. The resumption of the toy train services is expected to give a boost to the tourism and hospitality sectors.

The toy train on this route was declared a UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1999. Both heritage steam locos built between 1889 and 1927 as well as modern diesel engines are used to pull the toy trains that are widely popular among foreign tourists and domestic travellers.

It is currently running 11 round trips between Darjeeling and Ghum using both vista dome and first-class coaches, Kaur said.

The train ascends from about 100 metres above mean sea level at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 metres at Darjeeling.

The toy train services were suspended in March last year following the imposition of COVID-19 restrictions.

The joy rides between Darjeeling and nearby Ghum were resumed from Christmas but suspended again a few months later due to the second wave of the pandemic.

Kalka-Shimla Railway

The 118-year-old Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge section was resumed by the Northern Railway earlier this year in July.

As per News18railway officials asserted that said service has been restarted in view of the tourist season and a decrease in COVID-19 cases. Kalka-Shimla toy train was restarted from 1 July. But with the increase in movement of tourists in the Kalka-Shimla section, hop-on, hop-off service has been re-started by the railways.

The Kalka-Shimla railway section was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2018. The 96 km rail route has been listed under the ‘Mountain Railways of India’ category of heritages.

It was built during the British rule in India with an aim to connect by Shimla the summer capital of the British Indian rail network. The rail network holds the Guinness Book of World Records for its 96 kilometers steepest rise in altitude with a crossover of 800 bridges and viaducts.

The train services on the Kalka Shimla track were suspended for the second time in April 2021 after the second wave of Covid-19 following lockdown restrictions in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh, and also Himachal Pradesh later, as per Outlook.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway

Indian Railways’ Southern Railway zone had resumed train services in the entire Mettupalayam–Udagamandalam (Ooty) section of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) from 31 December, 2020. The NMR service resumed after a gap of almost nine months. It was stopped in March, 2020, to curb the spread of COVID-19.

All COVID-related safety protocols have to be followed. Passengers have been urged to cooperate and wear face masks and maintain physical distancing.

The construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 45.88-kilometer long meter-gauge single-track railway was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location, the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway — which was also built by the British —scales an elevation of 326 meters to 2,203 meters.

Neral-Matheran Railway

The toy train in Matheran, a hill station near Mumbai, resumed operations from 4 November, 2020, over eight months after the service was suspended in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As per a release issued by the Central Railway, four shuttle services have been operational on Aman Lodge-Matheran section of the narrow-gauge Neral-Matheran railway line.

The first shuttle service of the day will start from Matheran at 9.30 am, while the last service will depart Aman Lodge station at 4.25 pm, the release stated.

According to the CR, the narrow-gauge train will have three second-class, one first-class and two luggage coaches. Passengers are advised to adhere to all norms, SOPs related to COVID-19 during their travel, the CR appealed.

Last year, the Maharashtra government had requested the railway to resume the service on the section, as horses and hand-pulled carts were the only means of transport there.

Aman Lodge station is located near Dasturi Naka, beyond which no vehicle is allowed.

The toy train is a major tourist attraction in Matheran, located 100 km from Mumbai, in the Raigad district. Operational since 1907, the Neral-Matheran toy train was included in UNESCO’s tentative list of world heritage

Pathankot-Jogindernagar Railway

The train service on the Pathankot-Jogindernagar narrow gauge line resumed its services earlier this year, on 15 August, 2021.

The Northern Railway had started two up and two down trains on the route. The train service had earlier remained suspended for 11 months due to the first wave of COVID-19 and was resumed on 22 February, 2021. However, it was again suspended in March after a sharp spurt in coronavirus cases.

The Kangra Valley Railway is a 2 ft 6 in gauge railway that runs from Pathankot, Punjab to Jogindernagar in Himachal Pradesh. It runs through the sub-Himalayan region of Kangra Valley and is 164 km long. The railway is part of the Firozpur division of Northern Railway.

The highest point on this line is Ahju station at an elevation of 1,290 meters (4,230 ft). There are 33 stops.

With inputs from agencies

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