Darjeeling Steam Train Is A Relic To Be Saved

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How Much Longer Will Steam Haul Trains on the Darjeeling Line?

When I went to Darjeeling back in 1988, the line was closed due to a major wash away. This is not uncommon and it hags by a perilous thread dependent on whether reparation work will be carried out following the next natural disaster.

There are many great pictures of this railway due to its longevity, albeit temporary. Here is one taken by renowned railway photographer Malcolm Holdsworth, included in the excellent book, “Heavy Metal

darjeeling

The terrain is absolutely stunning, and the 100 year old locos quaint.

Read the rest of this excerpt taken from the BBC news website.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway once took precious tea from the foothills of the mountains to the teapots of the world. But it’s become a victim of the colossal inefficiency of the state-run system and is facing a slow extinction through neglect, says David Baillie.

When a man who grows tea that sells for more than $2,000 (£1,300) a kilogram offered me a breakfast cuppa, I expected the golden rules of warming the pot and using boiling water.

But even though Rajah Banerjee owns the exclusive Makaibari tea estate near Darjeeling, golden rules are not for him.

“Good tea is like good wine and needs oxygen to breathe,” he insists. “Boiling suffocates the flavour.” So Banerjee lets the water stand in a pot without a lid for several minutes before he eventually spoons in the tea.

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Rajah Banerjee photographed in 2008

But Banerjee’s latest passion is the decaying Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – a narrow-gauge relic of the Raj that once took Makaibari tea from the Himalayan foothills to the Bengal Plains, from where it was shipped to the mainly lidded teapots of the world.

Built in 1879, the 48 mile (88km) line is now a loss-making anachronism that clings to life through the threads of its history and an aversion to the political bother of closure.

Banerjee’s view is shared by many who know the region. There are a couple of token tourist steam services optimistically called the Joy Trains. The most popular shuttles back and forth along the five mile (7km) litter-strewn urban sprawl between Darjeeling and neighbouring Ghum.The tatty cramped carriages have smoked plastic windows which have become so scratched as to be almost opaque. You can open them by sliding them back, but this merely adds your layer of scratched plastic to the already diminished view of a fellow passenger behind.

The steam locomotives thankfully have more charm than their carriages, but are now more than 100 years old and in need of expert and tender care rather than the desperate emergency repairs I witnessed involving the use of crowbars and sledge hammers.

So why is the Government Railway Board in distant Delhi so reluctant to hand the loss-making line to the likes of Rajah Banerjee, who would aim to offer tourists a ride along the whole 7,000ft (2,000m) climb into the mountains with hopefully a reasonable window to look out of?Almost everyone I spoke to believed that the answer is the political cost of privatising even the tiniest outpost of India’s monolithic state-owned railway. More than a million people work for Indian Railways and their unions fiercely oppose any privatisation.

It’s a fight no-one has the stomach for, preferring instead eventual closure by the attrition of old age and retirement, of both people and locomotives.

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