Shimla-Kalka (Heritage) Toy Train
Toy Train on Shimla-Kalka Railway Track
A Brief History
Shimla is located at 7,116 feet (2,169 m) in the foothills of the Himalayas. It became the summer capital of British India in 1864, and was the headquarter of the British army. Before the railway was built, communication with the outside world was by cart. Construction of the Kalka–Shimla railway on 2ft 6 inches (762mm) narrow-gauge tracks was begun by the Delhi-Ambala-Kalka Railway Company in 1898. The 96.54 km line opened for traffic on 9th November 1903. The line was further extended from Shimla to old bus stand in 1909 making it 96.57 Kms.
In 2007, Himachal Pradesh Government declared the railway a heritage property. For about a week, beginning on 11th September 2007, a UNESCO team visited the railway to inspect it for possible selection as a World Heritage Site. On 8th July 2008, it became part of the mountain railways of India World heritage site.
An interesting feature of this line was complete absence of girder bridges, multi arched galleries, like ancient Roman Aqueduct being the commonest mean of carrying the lines over the ravines between the hills. Initially there were 103 tunnels but 102 exists today, 864 bridges and 919 curves along the route. The Chief Engineer of this project was Mr. H. S. Harington. Its early locomotives were manufactured and diesel hydraulic locomotives began operation in 1970. One steam locomotive built in 1905 is still surviving on this track.
Schedule of Trains on Shimla-Kalka Railway Track
At present services of Kalka-Shimla trains are divided into three categories:
Economical are the cheapest and premium services are the costliest.
Himalayan Queen (52456)
It is an improved version with new coaches and is the most popular train. It has cushioned standard chair car seats with large windows for greater views and good ambience. It takes a little less time than the mail train.
Deluxe Rail Motor Car (72452)
Deluxe Rail Motor Car is a visual delight as it resembles like bus carrying 14 passengers at a time, it reaches its destination in 4.25 hrs. The car is fitted with a transparent fiber-glass roof, for a clear view of the sky.
Shivalik Deluxe Express (52452)
Shivalik Deluxe Express is a connecting service to Howrah-Kalka Mail from Shimla. It accommodates 120 passengers and reaches its destination in 4.45 hrs.
Train coaches are equipped with wall-to-wall carpeting, wide glass windows and reversible cushioned chairs. Improved lighting and a music system creates a pleasant atmosphere.
Shimla-Kalka special (52446)
Shimla-Kalka special coach provides a luxurious ambience for a dream holiday. It can accommodate a part of six persons and is equipped with folding cushioned bed, refrigerator, on-board-kitchen and dining table with cushioned chairs.
A comparatively late entrant on the Kalka-Shimla section is the Shivalik Queen, which is a luxury coach. It is divided into two portions consisting of two coupes each. The coach is equipped with ultramodern facilities and fittings like wall-to-wall carpets, altimeter, fancy lights, chrome plated luggage rack.
Shimla-Kalka Passenger Train (52458)
This train is an economic train. It departs from Shimla at 2.25 PM and reaches its destination at 8.10 PM
Shimla-Kalka special (52444)
Shimla-Kalka special coach provides a luxurious ambience for a dream holiday. It is also well equipped with modern facilities. It departs from Shimla at 9.25 AM and reaches its destination at 3.20 PM.
Video documentary on Shimla-Kalka Railway by BBC
Personal Experience of the Journey
All credit goes to my dear husband on insisting me to accompany him on an official inspection tour of Shimla-Kalka Heritage railway track. He needed to submit a report on the present condition of the same. So rather than being in a boring company of other officials he decided to take me along with him on the 6 hour journey from Shimla to Kalka by toy train.
The journey was rather quite enjoyable. We started with a great enthusiasm and the train departed from Shimla railway station at 10:15 am. The whole place was over-brimming with scenic beauty and my eyes couldn't rest to blink lest I would miss anything.
Spell-bounding Beauty of Nature
The journey was very picturesque with dense flora, beautiful curves, tunnels and bridges. The mesmerising tunnels and serpentine tracks along with fascinating valleys provide the classic feel of heritage journey. The sound of train hooter was exciting and soothing. Passing through the tunnels tunnels raised the excitement level.
Train stopped after every 20-30 minutes at small railway stops and it was great to see that all the stations have been maintained and renovated as per their historical architectural design which gives them a vintage look.
There is a rich vegetation surrounding the railway tracks which provides wonderful feeling of travelling through nature. Steps must be taken by forest department to grow stable and beautiful tree species in available spaces beside the track. It will add to the beauty and sustainability of this exciting experience of the nature. Further there should be periodical mandatory inspections by the forest department of the adjoining forest areas near the track for preventing forest fires and removing/lopping of branches of potentially dangerous trees (points noted by inspecting husband).
There are total 18 stoppages between Shimla and Kalka train route. Most of the stations were clean and well maintained except for surrounding areas near Tara Devi, Solan, Gumman, Taksal and Kalka Railway stations due to nearby habitations. Nallahs near Solan and Taksal stations are also heavily polluted.
Dear husband felt quite concerned about the need for strong steps to be taken to ensure cleanliness by making these areas polythene free. He kept on noting down all the points in the form of a long to-do list.
Barog Tunnel (Tunnel Number 33)
The two of the longest tunnels on this track are at Barog and Tara Devi.The tunnel near Barog is the longest and straightest tunnel. And Passing through this tunnel was the most striking point of journey for me. It is named after Barog, a British railway engineer. There are so many local stories connected to the history of this place.
At a speed of 25 kilometers per hour, trains take about 2.5 minutes to cross the tunnel. Colonel Barog was a British railway engineer who was in charge of creating this tunnel. Unfortunately due to his miscalculations, the alignments of the tunnels were wrong, and both the ends of the tunnel could not meet. British Government fined him with Rs. 1 as he was accused of wasting the property of the government. The British engineer could not digest the humiliation and while having a walk along with his pet dog, shot himself dead.
After the death of Colonel Barog, there were rumours of his ghost being seen lingering in the adjacent areas. People have so many stories of different accounts of meeting or seeing the ghost of Mr. Barog. For the same reason I also felt the darkness of the tunnel quite mysterious and scary with the cold silence and dampness.
There are similar stories of encounters with ghosts in the tunnel no. 103 as well. For me credibility of such stories is not important. What is important is how these stories build an air of suspense and mystery about some place and increase our curiosity manifolds.
Point of Concern
Around 2-3 kilometres of both sides of Koti station the widening work of four lane is in progress. At many places the cutting of land has reached near the track. There is a great need of conscious and concrete efforts to be made to protect the heritage property from the severe risks created by the non-mechanised work below and nearby the railway tracks. The matter is to be taken up with officers of the National High Authority India for immediate action.
The quality of work of this narrow gauge gives marvellous glimpses of the architectural and engineering excellence of the times. These great structures are still intact and in good shape. Expertise craftsmanship compels one to appreciate them profoundly. The repair and maintenance of track seems satisfactory.
Since this is a narrow gauge line the toy train runs at a speed of 20-22 km per hour. The idea of increasing speed of this toy train track is not feasible due to curves on the entire track. The journey by train takes about five to six hours, while the road journey takes three hours for the same journey. Hence majority of travellers are first time tourists. The traffic in train is good during season time.
There is plan of Railways to start Joy-ride between Shimla to Shoghi which is a great step for tourists and fun loving locals as well. For smaller the journey, more people to plan short picnics.
The HP TDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) is discussing plan to serve food in train and special package for joy rides. Serving good food would be a great plan as right now there is no such facility in any of the trains running on the Shimla-Kalka railway track.