The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, Round 2
Part 11 - The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 2

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index, which includes many earlier Indian tales.

Kurseong shed, 782 displays a patriotic front adorned with flags on 26th December 1993.

Returning to Kurseong just over a year later and 782 now had a Buddhist face, 19th January 1995

On Christmas Day 1993, travelling with Graham Knight, we found the the line between Kurseong and Darjeeling closed due to a landslip and four locomotives were seen trapped at Darjeeling, together with sets of carriages. We had our Christmas lunch in Darjeeling, before returning to Kurseong which was to be our base for the next few days.

The early downhill working to Siliguri next day was no longer running, but 782 “Mountaineer” was in steam outside the shed. The crew were busy preparing it, although coaling was still done from the secure storage at the station. The engine was in excellent condition, the smokebox was decorated with painted flags and Hindu symbols, which may have been connected to the electioneering going on. Two other engines were here, 802 and 798, neither looked to have been used for some time.

The uphill train was running to the old 2nd section times and was not due at Sukna till 10.30. Here, the tracks in the yards were still in place but overgrown by vegetation. 791 appeared and we spent a pleasant three and three quarter hours chasing and photographing, enjoying the terrific scenery. The cross took place in the Mahanadi area although not in the station. We learned that the cross was still arranged locally, each of the stations still had signal equipment and were staffed. 

At Kurseong 791 took water, well that does not convey what happened! Watering consisted of a pipe run along the station roof which gently splattered some water into the open lid of the engine’s tank. Surely the injectors were beating the limited amount of water being added! Meanwhile a woman raked the hot ash, despite this being winter she was barefoot. A crowd had gathered to hear a politician’s election rant, blasted out at high volume. This was the first of many such audio outrages we were to hear whilst in the area. 

The next 3 days followed a similar routine we would pass the shed around 08.00 and the engine which had worked into Kurseong the previous day was usually being prepared for the downhill working. On a couple of days the uphill working had an engine change at Tindharia, on the 27th we found 805 (NB 1925) waiting in the small yard beyond the station. 782 took the train from the station and reversed it in the yard then was uncoupled to go to the shed and 805 backed on.

On the 28th we found 782 running downgrade from Tindharia shed to the works with a water tank attached. I filmed the engine passing young boys playing cricket on the road. The works is normally out of bounds, but our driver negotiated our entrance with the gate keeper. We were given a guided tour, but had to leave our cameras behind. It was fascinating as not only did they maintain the ng stock they were also working on mg stock, how did they get it to and from the works? They were also repairing diesel parts. The huge blacksmith shop still had tools belt driven, several boilers were here, but we were told they no longer had the ability to manufacture a new boiler. Engines noted were 794, 785, 800 and the frames of a fourth. All the floor was earthen, the carriage shop had two old carriages for VIPs, one of which was “Everest” the observation coach. All other carriages were of the new type, but no longer equipped with running boards, stripped to deter free riders?

The uphill train was worked by 804 (NB 1925) as far as Tindharia, but because it was on the same duty the next day it must have either worked back light engine or more likely taken over the downhill working. 782's repairs had been tested in time for it to take over for the Tindharia - Kurseong section.

782 waits to back into the Tindharia Workshops for some brake repairs, 28th December 1993.

The engines not only looked good but had to be hammered to reach Kurseong, where political rallies were in progress as the train arrived. The Gurkha National Liberation Front won the seats in this electorate. After years of armed struggle they had won at the ballot box.

29th December 1993 was our final morning and I was stunned to see one of the “wrecks” that I thought had not been used for a long time was missing from the shed. We found 802 and its de-railed coach further down the line. The crew had tried to raise the coach using the engine’s long shifting bar to jack it up get some stones underneath it. We gave the driver a lift to Tindharia, where he hoped to get a truck with lifting gear. We has seen two similar trucks on our first day. The trucks were equipped with small cranes and were on their way to Kurseong where a bus had toppled off the road and down the hillside, killing most on-board.

We found the uphill train at Sukna, 804 taking water and shortly after it was flagged away, we wondered if it would reach Kurseong. It had a parcels/guards van and two passenger coaches jam packed with Indian tourists, who were not amused at paying a premium fare for such transport. 

804 needed a few blow-ups en route, the crew told us they were only going as far as Tindharia, which fitted with the previous days practice. We had to give up the chase before Tindharia to reach the airport. We wondered whether the line was cleared in time and whether 802 had been used to take the train on. 

A lone crew member tries to re-rail the carriage. 29the December 1993

Sukna station still looked an impressive relic from the colonial period, it's 782 on 27th December 1993.

The train with 804 takes water at Sukna, but most of it misses the tank. Middle class Indians were the new tourists sampling the “Toy train”.

“Transports of delight!” a loose coupled permanent way trolley is conveyed upgrade out of Sukna on 23rd January 1995.

782 tops up the water and the fire is cleaned ready for the long climb, 27th December 1993

Tindharia sidings, 805 is ready to replace the train engine on 27th December 1993

To be continued...

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson