Visiting Narrow Gauge Railways in India
Dave W
India > India Travel - Getting There and Around > India Travel > Indian Railways
#1
| Account Closed

Visiting Narrow Gauge Railways in India

I will get the rant over before I start. Many people call these “Toy Trains”, a phrase that makes me seethe when I see it. These lines were all built to carry freight and passengers in the days before reliable road transport. They were constructed to a narrower gauge to permit the use of tighter curves and to reduce the cost of engineering works. Call them “Hill Railways” or NG lines by all means but please - never “Toy Trains”





At the time of writing there are still a surprising number of working narrow gauge lines around India. Three of them were featured in regularly repeated BBC documentaries, called 'Indian Hill Railways', and sometimes mentioned here on India Mike by prospective visitors. This post is an attempt to provide some basic details on how to get to these lines, how to book tickets and a few facts about each line.

Some General Points.

Most of these lines are in fairly mountainous areas where extremes of climate can occur. It is not unknown for landslides to block track or bridges to be washed away. Check locally particularly if travelling in or just after the monsoon period. Some of the less well known lines will be converted to Indian Broad Gauge (5' 6") over the coming years so do check in advance.

The rolling stock on these trains is much smaller than on the broad gauge lines and there is restricted luggage space available.

Kalka (KLK) -Shimla (SML)

This 2' 6” gauge line is quite easy to access from Delhi. It runs for 96 km from Kalka, at the very northern edge of the plains, up through the Himalayan foothills to Shimla, climbing 4,659 feet in the process. In completing the full journey a train will pass through 102 tunnels and cross 864 bridges and take around 5 hours for the full trip. More facts here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalka%E...Shimla_Railway

The timetable looks rather out of balance with 4 uphill departures between 04.00 and 06.00, a solitary lunchtime uphill trip and no trains after that. These timings are to allow connections with key trains from Delhi. In the downhill direction there is one morning train and 4 afternoon/evening trains, again timed to make connections at Kalka. Most regular trains are hauled by diesel locos. One service each way is operated by Rail Motor, a kind of small bus on rails. There is one surviving steam loco and recent reports suggest that it has been overhauled and is available for charter.

The best train on the line is the Shivalik Deluxe, which has more comfortable seating and fewer people per coach than the other loco hauled trains. It is timed to connect with the Howrah-Kalka Mail (# 12311/2) which gives a convenient overnight trip from/to Delhi. The Himalayan Queen has more cramped coaches but is timed to connect with the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi (Train 12011/2) which obviates the need for an overnight train trip. All trains make a refreshment/comfort stop at Barog.

Advance reservation is essential. If you are a non-Indian passport holder with a Tourist Visa or an Indian holding NRI status you may be able to benefit from Foreign Tourist Quota tickets which are available on the Shivalik Deluxe and the Himalayan Queen.

I made a video of our trip on the line which can be seen here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWmV1MV4wlM



Nilgiri Mountain Railway: Mettapulayam (MTP) – Ooty (UAM)


Strictly speaking this line is not narrow gauge but metre gauge. It is however very definitely a hill railway, the only one in India to use the rack and pinion system which allows its trains to climb particularly steep gradients. The lower part of the line is operated by oil burning steam locos, the upper part (above Coonoor) by diesels.

Opened in 1908, the line is 42 km long, with 16 tunnels and 250 bridges. It climbs over 6,000 ft during the journey. The famous song 'Chaiyya Chaiyya' from the film 'Dil Se' was shot on the Nilgiri railway. More facts here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nilgiri...untain_Railway



There is currently only one train per day (#56136) on the lower section, which leaves Mettupalayam in the early morning. Booking early is essential for this train, particularly if you want to be in the First class compartment at the front. The coaches are propelled up the line with the loco at the rear so this front compartment gives excellent views of the line ahead, as well as the countryside to either side. This train is timed to connect with the Nilgiri Express (#12671 ) which leaves Chennai at 21.15 each evening and which has through coaches in 1AC, 2AC, 3AC and Sleeper. This is the only long distance train to and from Mettupalayam. Other journeys by rail require a change at Coimbatore.

There are more trains between Ooty and Coonoor (ONR) although this bit of the line has less scenic interest. Tickets can be booked in advance through IRCTC or Cleartrip in the usual way. The fare is Rs 120/- First Class and Rs 25/- in Second Sitting. FTQ tickets are not available for this train.
There is a refreshment kiosk at Mettupalayam which opens well before the train departs. I did not see any vendors on the train.

We travelled the line in January 2013. You can read more about our trip here. http://radinja3.blogspot.co.uk/2013/...-nilgiris.html


Matheran Railway : Neral (NRL) – Matheran (MAE)

A 2' 0” gauge line that climbs up the mountainside in a series of spectacular hairpin bends. The line was built in the early years of the 20th century by the Peerbhoy family and opened in 1907. The trip is 21km and the line climbs approximately 2,400' from start to finish. More facts here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathera...n_Hill_Railway

The current timetable shows 5 trains per day in each direction with an additional train on Saturdays and Sundays. The journey time is around 2 hours uphill and 20 minutes less downhill. Each train has First Class (non AC) and Second Sitting (2S) coaches. The full service is suspended during the monsoon although there were some trains running on part of the line during the 2012 monsoon.

Trains are diesel hauled. There are a couple of steam locos in the shed at Neral. One is an original Matheran loco, the other has been transferred from the Darjeeling line. The last report I saw said that the use of these had been vetoed due to the fire risk. There is no formal on-board catering but you might get a soft drink vendor knocking at your window as the train chugs up the hill. Since publishing this post there has been a report that an oil-fired steam loco may be brought into service during 2013. See link in #5 below.

Advance booking for this line is not totally straightforward. I was able to book the trip uphill using IRCTC but finished up at an Indian Railways PRS counter to book our downhill journey. Cleartrip lists 2 of the uphill trains but none of the ones going from Matheran to Neral. I have also seen reports on Indiarailinfo suggesting that Matheran tickets can only be booked at Neral booking office which sounds a bit odd. Any clarification of this would be very welcome.

Update - A return visit in February 2015 confirmed that tickets now have to be bought at the booking offices at Neral and Matheran. These open about 45 minutes before the train is due to depart.

The easiest way to get to Neral is by commuter train to and from CST in Mumbai although this method is not recommended if you have a lot of luggage. The journey takes around 1 hr 40 mins and there are trains throughout the day.



This is my personal favourite of the lines that I have visited. It could be done as a day trip from Mumbai but Matheran is a fascinating place, worth a couple of days. There is no motor traffic, just horses and handcarts. I have heard that it gets very busy at weekends.


Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: New Jalpaiguri – Darjeeling (But currently incomplete)

This is possibly the most famous railway in the world. Unfortunately it has been going through hard times over recent years. A serious landslide in 2010 cut the line in half and a subsequent earthquake caused problems in other places. At the time of writing (June 2013) it is not possible to travel the full length of the line. The best place to find up to date news is on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society website. http://www.dhrs.org/page4.html ...alayan_Railway

Service trains are diesel hauled apart from the daily 'Joy Trains' at the top end of the line which use the famous B Class coal fired steam locos, some of which are over 100 years old. There is no on board catering as far as I know. There are sometimes charter trips arranged by DHRS and other groups that give the opportunity to travel as much of the line as is still intact. For independent travellers the main options are as follows.

1) Take a service train between Darjeeling (DJ) and Kurseong (KGN). There are 2 per day in each direction, diesel hauled and carrying FC and 2S coaches. Bookable through IRCTC and Cleartrip. Booking is strongly advised as these trains can be very busy.
2) 'The Jungle Safari' a daily diesel hauled return trip from Siliguri Junction to Chunbhatti. This is an Unreserved train so tickets can only be purchased locally on the day of travel.
3) The daily Joy Trains that run from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. These are normally steam hauled and stop for a few minutes at Batasia Loop where there are spectacular views of Kanchenjunga if the weather is right. There are presently 4 of these round trips each day. They can be booked on IRCTC or Cleartrip using Departure station DJ and arrival station DJRZ. FC coaches only. There are a few FTQ tickets on these Joy Trains.

Getting to Kurseong or Darjeeling is a bit of an adventure in itself. The nearest important railway station with links to Kolkata, Delhi and other major cities is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). The nearest airport is Bagdogra. Whether using rail or air the last part of the journey needs to be done by hired car, shared jeep or bus.

My visit was with a DHRS group in 2011 which allowed us access to some parts of the line not currently in use. Some of the highlights are on this video


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyqWsk-owzU


Kangra Valley Railway: Pathankot – Joginder Nagar

A line that I haven't visited yet. A 2' 6" line that runs through the Himalayan foothills for 164km that was opened in 1926 or 1929 depending on which website you believe. It doesn't reach the heights that the KS or DHR do, with a summit at 3,970'. Last year there were disruptions to services for a while due to a bridge washout. The line is supposed to be in line for conversion to broad gauge and an extension to Mandi but there is no firm timescale for this yet. More facts here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangra_...Valley_Railway

Trains are diesel hauled and are all Unreserved. The full trip takes over 9 hours and not all of the 6 daily trains cover the full journey, although they do all start or finish at Pathankot. There are reports on the net that it is possible to charter a train called the 'Kangra Queen' for private travel on the line.

There are quite a few trains from Delhi to Pathankot or the nearby Chakki Bank station, including a number of overnight trains. Amritsar is a local train ride from Pathankot.



These five lines are the ones most visited by tourists. I plan to put what I know about the lesser known lines that are still operating on a separate post (See #11 below). As usual I would be grateful if any errors could be pointed out to allow correction and if anybody who has additional relevant information could post it here.

49 Replies

#2
| Maha Guru Member
There was this Ahmedpur-Katwa line in Bengal. It seems it is also being converted to standard gauge. There is a video in you tube and a facebook page for this line.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ifLf0WOdFo
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ahmedp...83469?fref=ts#
#3
| Maha Guru Member
Great post Dave!

Originally posted by: ashyashwin View Post

There was this Ahmedpur-Katwa line in Bengal. It seems it is also being converted to standard gauge.


There was indeed and here is my trip report of that line from Jan 2010 http://www.indiamike.com/india/west-bengal-f32/round-bengal-with-a-narrow-gauge-train-t100668/ I know other Indiamikers have travelled on it too. Unfortunately it seems that all the NG lines in West Bengal are now closed.
#4
| Maha Guru Member

Originally posted by: ashyashwin View Post

There was this Ahmedpur-Katwa line in Bengal. It seems it is also being converted to standard gauge. There is a video in you tube and a facebook page for this line.


I'm glad that you like the video my wife made of our train journey.
It was in 2010, just some weeks before the line was closed.
#5
| Account Closed

The Curse of the printed word

As usual I have no sooner committed a post to the forum than it is out of date. I saw this feature about the postponement of the reintroduction of steam locos on the Matheran on Indialrailinfo today http://www.indianexpress.com/news/wa...onger/1128433/

Pre-monsoon showers have put paid to the Central Railway (CR) plan of using an oil-fired steam locomotive to haul toy trains :mad: on the Neral-Matheran route by June 10.

There have been a few trial runs but running the engine commercially would not be possible due to the rains, CR sources said.

The locomotive would now be used for chartered trips in October, they said.
#6
| Senior
Nice thread Dave
In 2006 we traveled with the Kangra Valley railway. It was a very nice journey plenty of time to look around as it traveled very very slow. We thought we would be in Jogind Nagar late afternoon but seemed it would take more like 12 hours so we got of at Kullu late afternoon.
In 2009 wanted to travel from NJP to Darjeeling with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway but it was not yet repaired after the monsoon rains that washed away some of the track.
{offtopic}One of the things that found fascinating when we first started to travel to India was the coal run trains, all the different types of engines, not a expert but just standing in the station and seeing all the smoke and steam coming out and all the paint work was a sight one never forgets and left a impression on me.I think now all the trains are diesel (long haul) but not sure.
#7
| Account Closed
Thank you dcamrass.

Perhaps a little off topic but not much. Coal fired steam engines are the real thing. I remember them running on regular trains in the UK when I was a child. There are still quite a few running here on Heritage Railways or even on some mainline enthusiasts charters. In India there is coal firing on the Darjeeling line, I'm not sue whether the single steam loco on the Kalka-Shimla is coal or oil fired or whether it is running at all. The steam on the Niligiri and now possibly the Matheran is oil fired.

Indian Railways has a museum at Rewari, south west of Delhi and still run occasional steam specials on the main line but all regular trains are now diesel or electric.
#8
| Maha Guru Member

Originally posted by: JuliaF View Post



There was indeed and here is my trip report of that line from Jan 2010 http://www.indiamike.com/india/west-bengal-f32/round-bengal-with-a-narrow-gauge-train-t100668/ I know other Indiamikers have travelled on it too. Unfortunately it seems that all the NG lines in West Bengal are now closed.


Thanks, had missed that thread. True, it is sad that NGs are being converted to BGs. NG/MG add a lot of color and personality to the railways.

Originally posted by: vonkla View Post

I'm glad that you like the video my wife made of our train journey.
It was in 2010, just some weeks before the line was closed.


I had not noticed that it was uploaded by you! Very nice video. The railway turntable at work was also interesting.
#9
| Maha Guru Member
http://erail.in?T=GWO::SOE: seems to be the only substantial "plains" narrow-gauge railway not threatened with "conversion".
#10
| Maha Guru Member
Talking of toy trains, here is what a real toy train looks like. Meant for children.

The narrow gauge is along with the MG and BG stock under 'Hall of Fame' and 'Hamare Yoddha' (Our Warriors).
Attached Images
WP_000537.jpg ,WP_000526.jpg 
#11
| Account Closed
Other Indian Narrow Gauge lines still operating as at time of writing (June 2013).

I have not visited these lines and am relying on sites such as Indiarailinfo for information. Samit Roychoudhury's 'Great Indian Rail Atlas' is a very useful reference.

Timetables change and lines close for Gauge Conversion so this information should be checked if you plan to visit any of these lines. Motive power on all of these lines is diesel.

If you spot any errors or omissions please post on the thread so we can keep things as up to date as possible.


RAJASTHAN

Dholpur (DHO) – Mohari Junc (MHF) – Sirmuttra (SRMT) & Tantpur (TPO)


A three legged system centred on Mohari Junction with lines to Dholpur (Broad Gauge connection), Sirmuttra and Tantpur. This 2' 6” Gauge line could just about be visited as a day trip from Delhi or Agra. All trains are Unreserved.

There is a very early train from Dholpur to Sirmuttra via Mohari (79 km ,full trip 3 hours, fare Rs 15/-) and a mid morning Dholpur – Tantpur service, again via Mohari (58 km, two and a half hours, Rs 15/-). There is a late afternoon train from Sirmuttra to Dholpur but no through train from Tantpur.

It has been reported that gauge conversion work began in February 2013

See a March 2014 visit report at #36 of this thread.


MADHYA PRADESH

Gwalior NG (GWO)– Sheopur Kalan (SOE)

This is reputedly the longest 2' 0” gauge line in the world – 199 km. There is one train per day in each direction over the full trip which takes 10 hours. There are also 2 further trains per day to and from Sabalgarh near the halfway point. (92km) This trip takes between 4 hours and 4.45.
All trains are unreserved. The fare for the full trip is Rs 35/-.

It is probably best to stay in Gwalior if visiting this line. There are good Broad gauge connections from many places across India. The mainline station code is GWL.

There is a thread on the forum duscussing the practicalities of a visit. http://www.indiamike.com/india/madhya-pradesh-f36/really-need-information-about-sheopur-t211832/. That thread includes a link to an excellent article about a visit there in 2009. http://irfca.org/apps/trip_reports/show/402

See a February 2014 visit report at #35 of this thread and a trip in February 2015 at #47

GUJURAT - Many lines have closed or converted but there are still a few survivors

Pratapnagar (PRTN) – Jambusar Junc. (JMB)

Gauge 2' 6” , 51 km , journey time 3 hours, full trip fare Rs 15/-. 2 Unreserved trains per day in each direction. Pratapnagar is on the outskirts of Vadodara. Reputed to be the slowest train in India, the loco driver is responsible for opening and closing level crossing gates.

Miyagam Karjan (MYGL) – Dabhoi Junc (DB) – Chandod (CDD).
Miyagam Karjan (MYGL) – Choranda Junc (CRND) – Malsar (MLSR) & Moti Koral


These lines are what remains of the Dabhoi Lines of the Gaekwar's Baroda State Railway. This 16 year old article by Bill Aitken tells a bit of the history although sadly the steam locos it mentions are no longer running. http://www.rediff.com/travel/may/20bill.htm Dabhoi has been described as the Crewe of Indian Narrow gauge.

Gauge 2' 6”, 105 km in total . All trains are Unreserved. There are five trains per day between Miyagam Karjan and Dabhoi, with a journey time of around 90 minutes. Other parts of the system have one or two trains per day. Miyagam Karjan is a junction on the main Mumbai – Ahmedabad line, served by upwards of 50 BG trains each day to and from a variety of destinations. Dhaboi is just over an hour from Vadodara by Broad Gauge train (4 per day). A triangular day trip from Vadodara would be very doable.


Kosamba Junc (KSB) – Umarpada (UMPD)
Gauge 2'6” , 61 km, journey time approx four and a half hours. Unreserved, one return trip per day, single fare Rs 15/-. Kosamba is about ninety minutes south of Vadodara by BG train or about 30 minutes north of Surat.

Bilimora Junc (BIM) – Waghai (WGI) Gauge 2'6”, 63 km, journey time 3 hours. Unreserved, two trains per day in each direction, single Rs 15/-. BG trains from Surat take around an hour to get to Bilimora.

WEST BENGAL

Katwa (KWF) - Balgona (BGNA) Gauge 2' 6", 28 km, journey time 2 hours. Four Unreserved trains (Diesel MU) per day in each direction, singlw Rs 10/-. The surviving piece of a longer system this was still running in early February 2014. There are Broad Gauge connections at each end of the line and a day trip from Kolkata is very feasible. See this post

UPDATE 2nd December 2014 - It has been reported that the Katwa -Balgona line has now closed. http://www.demotix.com/news/6388146/journey-katwa-balgona-narrow-gauge-rail-comes-and-end#media-6388030

More to follow
#12
| Member
Excellent thread, as an aside to other hobbies, i'm a bit of a train/steam geek and am quite keen to do some exploring of the train/rail system during my 6 months here. I'm basically limited to weekend excursions from Delhi but looking forward to what I can do from there, last weekend I kick started that with making good use of the Delhi Metro, and excellent service and example of a modern rail system, and next weekend I plan to visit the National Railway Museum in Delhi, and I expect, the metro museum enroute. But some narrowgauge and or steam would go down very well!

Daniel
#13
| Account Closed
Daniel
If you go to the Delhi Museum on a Sunday you might catch the Patalia State Monorail loco in steam. There is a short circuit of track that it runs on.

Be prepared for some very badly maintained exhibits but there is still plenty of interesting stuff to see.

ADD - As a railfan you might enjoy this thread, which does ramble a bit, but which has all sorts of stuff about some of the NG lines that are still operating. http://www.indiamike.com/india/india...choos-t168168/
#14
| Member
I can do rambling! Is a visit on Sunday better than Saturday then?

Will have to look at this and the other thread fully this evening once home.
#15
| Account Closed
As far as I know, from a telephone conversation with somebody at the Museum in March this year, the Monorail is only steamed on Sundays.