The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

February 2004 Update

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Kurseong Feb 12

Stayed at the Hotel Amajeet between Kurseong depot and station. It has a restaurant and a bar. Siliguri Junction shed contained the following locos on 11/2 afternoon;

NDM4 604 Maverick (diesel),
802 (in steam), 786, 790, 792, 782, 787 (oil fired experiment).

Next morning there were 2 diesels (604 plus 605 Buccaneer) and 604 took the through train to Kurseong and returned with the down train.

Tindharia shed contained 795 (dripping) and 805 (repairs).

At Kurseong, 806 Queen of Hill brought in the down train and took the up train to Darjeeling. One other loco dead on Kurseong shed. There is an internet cafe just up from the station. The 2nd floor room could be a good video spot for train departures! (Actually there were too many wires and the view was of the petrol station in bright yellow.)

Kurseong Feb 13

News from the line: The pattern for the through train is as yet 'no pattern'. An Englishman I talked to rode up on Feb 12 and the diesel changed to steam at Mahanadi. The steam then derailed after some distance and he continued by road. Today, the down through train was steam Darjeeling to beyond Kurseong with 806 and then diesel 604 arrived Kurseong around 1430 with the up train and continued on to Darjeeling. It will probably work the down train throughout tomorrow but could switch for diesel/team somewhere and then return to Darjeeling. Only tomorrow knows! I need to try to establish if and when steam is used on the bottom section. Locos seen (this should be complete list apart from anything hiding in Tindharia Works);

Loco / Location / Status / Name

No? / Ghum / Plinthed / Baby Sivok
779 / Darjeeling / working Joy Train / Himalayan Bird
780 / Kurseong / working school train / Green Hills
782 / Siliguri / ? / Mountaineer
786 / Siliguri / OK? /
787 / Siliguri / Oil Fired, not used? /
788 / Kurseong / in reserve / Tuskar
790 / Siliguri / OK? /
792 / Siliguri / ? / Hawkeye
795 / Tindharia shed / OK? /
802 / Siliguri / In Steam / Victor
805 / Tindharia shed / repair /
806 / Darjeeling/Siliguri / working 1D/2D / Queen of Hill

Which loco at Siliguri Junction is named Ajax?

Today the 1000 Joy Train departed around 1100 for Ghum behind 779 working cab first (this is not what I had been told, there is a turntable at Darjeeling) The afternoon train appeared cancelled and 779 went back on shed just after 1300. Trains vary between 1 hour (school train) and 2 hours + (through train) late at destination. Departures from initial station are usually on time (apart from Joy train that regularly left after 1100.) No sign of the new loco. (Now known to still be at Golden Rock.)

Kurseong Feb 14

The normal, preferred pattern has now emerged. One diesel works the up train 1D through to Darjeeling, the other works the down train 2D all the way to Siliguri. Diesel drivers are based at Siliguri but lodge at Darjeeling I assume. Mahanadi seems the preferred point to cross. Steam is only used in case of diesel service, repair or special charters. If steam is used, perhaps it works up to Darj and then covers Darj - Kurseong/Mahanadi - Darj before it returns to Siliguri when the diesel is available again. The booking office clerk at Kurseong told me this and said that the Assistant Diesel Engineer based at Tindharia is the best person to ask when steam will substitute. He also said that 806 is a Siliguri loco and had returned there. The pattern today was as above with 787 on the Kurseong - Darj - Kurseong working. I did not see the Joy trains. However, once a pattern seemed to have emerged, late afternoon 806 came up light engine to Kurseong and went on shed. This should mean 3 locos on shed here tonight. Only time will tell what 806 has come here for. Perhaps it will be based at Darjeeling so they have a spare loco there for the Joy trains or to work through in case of diesel failure.

Darjeeling Feb 16

Diesel 604 went down to Siliguri today and I heard a diesel arriving at Darjeeling around 1600. 806 came to Darjeeling light engine yesterday following the school train. It arrived in time to work the morning Joy Train to Ghum. Only one Joy Train per day seems to run. Minimum numbers are now 6 pax.

Baby Sivok Feb 16 Baby Sivok is in the outdoor museum at Ghum. It is attached to a condemned coach. Although the museum perimeter fence is not yet complete, it looks like the rail link into the area will be left intact. At the moment the rail connection to Baby Sivok is covered with ash and there is also a temporary barrier. Given a few hours, BS could probably be moved out again. However, it does look 'stuffed and mounted' and it's not at all clear that it is still in working order.

Darjeeling Feb 18

I met Shomik Ghosal this morning in Darjeeling. I gather from him that the accident with 787 was not major and he reported that the driver had a magnificent beard which suffered the most in the accident. However, as an oil burner using expensive fuel it is not efficient compared with the diesels and cannot pull more than one coach on the flat. A great pity as it was a good loco when it burnt coal. It's unlikely that I will see it in use and it will probably have to go back to Golden Rock for major changes if the eventual introduction of new steam is to happen. The Statesman today reports that the DHR plans to introduce 3 more diesels and air braking later this year. They are apparently not happy with UNESCO support and this is their plan to reduce costs and obtain more income. They also plan to issue railway stamps in conjunction with the post office and think that tourists will be drawn by being able to write and post letters on the train. On 17/2 the Darjeeling-Ghum tourist Joy Train didn't run but 806 had to run to the water stop above Darjeeling to take water. It appears there is no water at Darjeeling shed. Shomik reports that 779 at Darjeeling and 788 at Kurseong are in good working order and are used turn and turn about with 806 and 780. He says they are used about every other week. In the the period that I have been here, I have seen 779 in steam and assume that it worked the Joy Train when 806 was on the through train. I hope that 788 will be in steam before I leave in a day or so. Shomik promised to post details of the diesels. All I can say is that the works plate says 'SAN'--apparently this is an acronym. No builders dates were visible. I'm now back in Kurseong. I've done about as much as I can videoing the school train and unless steam appears on the through train, I expect a quiet few days before I leave. I will probably check out the remains of the Teesta Valley branch, ride the diesel hauled through train Siliguri Junction to Gayabari and see what signs there are of returning the railway to Siliguri Town and NJP.

Siliguri Feb 20

I'm now back in Siliguri.

Loco status

Darjeeling 779 in reserve for Joy Train 806 on Joy Train duties (this was true 2 days ago)
Kurseong 788 in reserve for school train 780 on school train duties
Tindharia 785 dead has moved up from Siliguri 805 tube cleaning 795 dripping water 793 frames only plus condemned boiler
Tindharia Works No information
Siliguri Junction 782 in steam 802 servicing, watering 790, 792 dump line? 797 oil fired has been moved a few feet

Diesel 604 ran 2 hrs late yesterday and will bring down regular train. Diesel 605 worked up train today. Fingers crossed that 604 Maverick is due for a service and I get steam on train 1D tomorrow.

Kolkata Feb 23

Final Update from Darjeeling Feb 23 (my birthday). I am now in Calcutta so this is my last update. My birthday came a day early as on 21/2 802 Victor was on shed fully coaled up and when I asked they said it was working a charter at 7 am next day. Next morning at 7, no diesel on shed but 806 Queen of Hill was also there and would take up the regular train 1D. Not just 1 steam from Siliguri but steam x 2 from Siliguri. The charter turned out to be a friendly group from the Leighton Buzzard and Bala Lake railways. Even though the Alice/Chaloner move to Darjeeling had fallen through, they decided to come anyway. Their charter left around 8:30 and I followed this to Sukna. The train terminated at Tindharia. After waiting at Sukna for train 1D due around 10:00, the station staff told me that there was an engine failure. I headed back to Siliguri Junction to find 806 still on shed with hordes of staff standing around while a few worked on the valve/cylinder head. It got away around 11;30 and the loco performed well to Tindharia where 605 Buccaneer waited to take the train on to Darjeeling well late. 806 arrived Tindharia 2:45. 605 must have received attention at Tindharia Works 21/2 to explain why 806 came down on train 2D on 21/2. This morning 23/2, 604 Maverick took train 1D from Siliguri Junction. Mountaineer was in steam and 3 locos in addition were on shed including the oil burner all not in steam. I had a look at Siliguri Town and NJP stations and indeed there is provision for the ng to return to both stations although no indication of when this will happen. At NJP they have built a new island platform just for the DHR.

My Visit 19-29 January 1997

My visit to Darjeeling with fellow enthusiast Ted Talbot fulfilled a boy-hood dream.  I'd seen my father's books entitled 'Great Railways of the World' or similar and marveled at the switchback and spirals and the wonderful mountain views.  We were lucky to choose a time when the railway was running throughout, no-one was on strike and the B class tanks were the sole motive power.  Despite some damp and foggy weather on the top section, we were also two of the few visitors to see the railway operating in snow!  

Video still: Train 9D at a water stop (All illustrations in this report marked video stills are from 'Darjeeling in Steam and Snow' video.)

Since our trip, the line has been awarded World Heritage Site status and some stations have been spruced up.  Sadly, the diesels have arrived and the through trains are now normally diesel.  The B tank locos are in need of a total restoration which would include new frames and boilers.  Despite this, some are still in working order and work the morning Kurseong - Darjeeling 'school train' and afternoon return and a tourist train from Darjeeling - Ghum.  For this latter working, a loco has been turned to face chimney first to Ghum.

Darjeeling is still worth a visit although sadly your chance of riding a train pulled by a B tank from New Jalpaiguri - Darjeeling or chasing it are slim.  Your best chance would be to join an organized tour.  Annual tours are run by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (Nov 2002, Feb 2003) and you may be interested to join this organization and keep up-to-date with what is happening and possibly have some influence of the course of events.

I produced a video of my trip (running time just under 60 minutes) and even if you already have a DHR video you may want this one as well.  Details of what you can expect on the video are at indiadvd.html  Email me:

 

for details of how to order.  You may also want to check out my DVD catalogue for details of my other videos.

Video still: Train 1D departing New Jalpaiguri

Weather

Video still: Train 9D in a snow storm

Our trip coincided with the largest snowfall for 10 years on the upper stretches of the line from Sonada to Darjeeling. Unfortunately, the snow was followed by days of mist. During this time, the section from New Jalpaiguri to the waterstop at Gayabari (below Kurseong) had noticeably better weather including bright or hazy sunshine.

Locomotive allocations

No. Builder(1) Date(1) Notes

777 SS 3517 1889 preserved Delhi Railway Museum (1)
778 SS 3518 1889 preserved USA (1)
779 SS 3882 1892 working, Darjeeling (2) Himalayan Bird
780 SS 3883 1892 oou, Darjeeling Green Hills
781 SS 4560 1899 transferred Coal India, Tipong, Assam (3)
782 SS 4561 1899 working, Tindharia Mountaineer
783 SS 4562 1899 frame only, Tindharia Works
784 SS 4977 1903 to Coal India (3)
785 SS 4978 1903 condemned, New Jalpaiguri
786 NB 16212 1904 working, New Jalpaiguri
787 NB 20143 1913 repair, Tindharia Works
788 NB 20144 1913 working, Kurseong, boiler 1928 (4)
789 NB 20638 1914 Coal India (3)
790 NB 20639 1914 in pieces, condemned, Tindharia Works
791 NB 20640 1914 in steam, New Jalpaiguri
792 BLW 44912 1917 working, New Jalpaiguri (failed 22/1/97)
793 BLW 44913 1917 not seen (6)
794 BLW 44914 1917 oou, Kurseong
795 DHR 1919 oou, New Jalpaiguri (5)
796 DHR 1923 Coal India (3)
797 DHR 1925 condemned/kept (7), Tindharia Works
798 NB 23291 1925 derelict, Tindharia Works
799 NB 23292 1925 not seen (6)
800 NB 23293 1925 condemned/kept (7), Tindharia Works
801 NB 23301 1927 not seen (6)
802 NB 23678 1927 oou, Tindharia, boiler 1944 (4)
803 NB 23304 1925 derelict, Tindharia Works
804 NB 23302 1925 working, Tindharia, Meghdoot, boiler 1928
805 NB 23300 1925 working, Tindharia
806 NB 23303 1925 repair, Tindharia Works

Notes

  1. information from Exotic Indian Mountain Railways, R.R. Bhandari, Indian Railways Publication, 1984 place name in notes refers to home depot; Darjeeling, Kurseong, Tindharia or New Jalpaiguri
  2. information from Eastern Exiles India by Ron Cox, pp144-7, Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review, Issue 28, October 1996
  3. all locos have new Indian Railways boiler plates showing year of origin of boiler and the dates of the last 5 services, most/all locos do not carry their original boilers
  4. in addition to this loco, another loco (separate frames and boiler) under repair at Tindharia was painted up as 795. The loco in Tindharia must be one of the missing loco 793, 799, 801
  5. in addition to the mystery loco at Tindhari Works (5), one set of frames and a separate boiler are in the loco shed at Tindharia and one long abandoned set of frames plus wagon on frames are in the disused transhipment sidings north of Siliguri Junction Station. Does this account for all the current fleet?
  6. two locos kept in as complete a condition as possible for preservation, sale as historic relics

Video still: Pacing train 1D above Sukna

Trains

The railway tries to operate three return working a day. The Kurseong - Darjeeling - Kurseong school train 9D/10D ran daily. The train regularly left Kurseong around one hour late at 7:30 and returned on time 15:45. The New Jalpaiguri - Darjeeling - New Jailpaiguri through train 1D/2D did not run for 4 consecutive days during our visit but then resumed daily operation. The first cancellation (22/1) was caused when 792 dropped a fuseable plug on the first reversal and was eventually rescued by 805 from Tindharia. Both up and down trains were terminated at Tindharia that day. Why no trains ran for the next 3 days is unknown as spare locos exist to run the service and spare stock is at New Jalpaiguri. Departure times from station of origin were usually on time but the up train often took longer than the booked time and would arrive Darjeeling closer to 19:00 (instead of 17:30). We did not go looking for the New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Junction - New Jalpaiguri early morning train 5D/6D but this is assumed to run as New Jalpaiguri has more locos in steam (3) than it otherwise requires. The other service; 3D/4D is not usually run.

Video still: Train 1D at Agony Point

Switchback

Hotels

We stayed at The Windamere in Darjeeling. The Windamere is fine if you like the old British touch although be prepared to pay US$120 for a double with compulsory full board. However, Darjeeling is not necessarily the best place to base yourself, both Kurseong and Siliguri being better for chasing trains. The Tourist Lodge in Kurseong was not tried but was generally recommended and is the best base for the early morning school train from Kurseong followed by a drive down to Tindharia for the afternoon up through train. Sinclairs Hotel in Siliguri now has competition from a newer Tourist Lodge. Sinclairs was OK but the Tourist Lodge should be checked out. This base was good for chasing the up through train from New Jalpaiguri to Tindharia and beyond.

Video still: Train 9D departing Kurseong

Drivers

This is a plug for our taxi driver Gyatsu Bhutia, a careful, considerate Tibetan. He drove well and nothing was ever too much trouble. He is Darjeeling based but was happy to stay in Siliguri for a few days. Contact him at:

Khaling Niwas 18A, Holmdene Lower Harmentage Darjeeling W.B. India 734101

He can be contacted by phone on 52321. This phone belongs to the owner of the house where he has a flat/apartment.

Leaving Tindharia

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