Darjeeling Railway Mountain View "DHR 780 on Batasia Loop 05-02-21 08" Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

About the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

In 1879, there was a real problem in Darjeeling... how to get commodities like rice to a remote area that was near impossible to access except by the existing Hill Cart Road, and how to improve the marketability of existing industries like tea production. A conventional railway was already in place between Calcutta and Siliguri, at the base of the Himalayas, and Franklin Prestage of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company proposed a steam tramway to connect Siliguri and Darjeeling.

With government backing, the Darjeeling Railway was soon born.

The 51-mile line climbs from an elevation of 400 feet to 7,407 feet before descending again to Darjeeling. In what was undoubtedly a major engineering headache, the narrow-gauge (2 feet) track had to negotiate four loops and four reverses to ease the gradient. Despite an 1897 earthquake and 1899 cyclone, though, the little train chugged on and added extension lines and spurs to handle the growing demand in passenger and freight traffic.

By 1905, the tiny railway was carrying 29,000 passengers and over 31,000 tons of flour, coal, rice and other goods. In the next few years, the number of passengers ballooned to 174,000 and then 250,000, with the railway’s headquarters moving to more spacious digs in Kurseong. Over the next few decades, the railroad survived a major earthquake, redesigns of the track layout and WWII, eventually amassing 39 locomotives and a car shop with 400 workers.

The Darjeeling Railway was closed in 2010 after a major landslide, but it’s now open again and still hauling freight and passengers. It may seem quaint by today’s standards, but the Darjeeling Railway serves a purpose that nothing else can and represents an incredible engineering feat.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, courtesy of Google Maps