Thursday, 21 July 2016

Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) celebrated its 11th anniversary of its UNESCO heritage status

 NMR track going to Ooty, Tamil Nadu


Nilgiri Mountain Railway crossing a
 Among the Indian mountain railways, the Nilgiri Mountain railway occupies a pre-eminent  place. A legacy of British Raj, it is a monumental work done by the British engineers on the hills of western Ghat. Then in the by-gone days, the Nilgiri mountain was difficult to approach and to lay the railway track, the technicians had to deal with numerous bottlenecks such as variation in  angular gradients, dangerous curves, tunnels, etc., not to speak of mosquitoes, vicious animals and snakes. With indomitable spirit, for which they are known for, the British achieved a great feat in this subcontinent that will go down in history as a highly accomplished work ever under taken at a time when modern technology in railway engineering was in its infancy.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway connecting, Mettupalayam and Ooty is a popular one in the southern state of  in Tamil Nadu, India, Built by the British railway in 1908, on July 15, 2016 it celebrated the 11th anniversary of its World Heritage site status. The track line was proposed in 1854, however, the work began only in1891after several surveys, etc. The work was successfully completed in 1908. The credit certainly goes to the British engineers of pre - independence India and the skilled Indian engineers of Southern Railway who keep the age old mountain railway in good nick, using  special technology without tampering with its heritage value, in spite of various hurdles. It was initially operated by the Madras Railway that relied on  its fleet of steam locomotives. Presently NMR comes under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Salem Division, HQ at Salem.

The YDM Diesel Loco (NMR).
Nilgiri Mountain railway, Tamil  

 NMR,.An X Class Steam

Above image: The engines were specially made to pull the carriages and and tackle gradients.

The Train through Tunnel 16
NMR had made yet another landmark in its arduous long history. On July 15,  2005 NMR, received the World heritage Site status by UNESCO that took the final decision at the 29th session of the World heritage Committee  meeting in Durban, South Africa, thus adding  the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as an extension to the World Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the site then became known as "Mountain Railways of India". This recognition was given by the authorities concerned upon satisfaction with various  necessary criteria, including use of only authentic old technology without using modern one. The UNESCO Committee commented  " DHR was a roadside tramway with no notable;e structures and experimental in nature, the NMR was altogether more substantial nature". an interesting fact is  though the NMR stations have networked computerized ticketing systems for onward journeys, it still issues Edmondson style manual tickets for the Ooty-Mettupalayam journey  with a view to preserving the prestigious 'World Heritage Site' status of the railway.   

Nilgiri Mountain railway, Tamil

 Above image:  Nilgiri Mountain railway; rack between two tracks to negotiate uphill journey and gradient.  ...................

How does NMR differ from other mountain railways? The NMR makes the climb quickest on stepper gradient with (Abt) rack system in place. Further, the abt rrack system used by NMR is an authentic one and none of the railways across the globe has this kind of unique operational rack system.

The NMR track is 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) meter gauge single track line and  is isolated from other meter gauge lines.

Between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, the line uses the Abt rack and pinion system to climb the steep gradient. On this rack section trains are operated by 'X' Class steam rack locomotives manufactured by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur in Switzerland. 

For the past several years diesel locomotives have  been used in the place of  steam engines on the section between Coonoor and Udhagamandalam.  There has been a demand by the people and heritage freaks  for steam locomotives to once again haul this section. The advantage is these  steam locomotives can be used on any part of the line (either with or without the rack section), but the newer diesel locomotives  lack this and can operate on the entire section, between Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam. The  southern railway, parent company wants to phase out the coal-fired vintage Swiss engines. Each of the new  diesel engines weighs a little over 50 tonnes and costs Rs.10 crore and the railway workshop at Golden Rock, Tiruchirapally is entrusted with this work.  

The old steam locomotives  took thousands of passengers  on the rack and pinion track to Coonoor and Udhagamandalam,  a tough and difficult terrain, covering 45.8 kilometers (28 mi), 108 curves, 16 tunnels and 250 bridges across valleys and  riverlets or nallahs.

According to International Comparative Assessment, NMR is the most original with the  largest rack - pinion  track in the world; a perfect model of Abt rack system yet to be designed.   It has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%.
The BBC made a series of three documentaries on Indian Hill Railways. The NMR  was  featured in the second program shown in February 2010. (The first part covers the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway and the third the Kalka-Shimla Railway.) The films directed by Tarun Bhartiya, Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly, and produced by Gerry Troyna got  special awards.

 Now popular, Ooty hill station was not known until 1820. Before that it was a vast wooded land  and people were scared to go uphill because of bandits, wild animal, etc. Some how the British got the information that  on the hill the weather was cool and congenial, quite suitable to the Europeans who did not want to sweat it out on the plains in the summer. The credit goes to the district collector (of Coimbatore) John Sullivan who was instrumental in developing Ooty as a hill station. Literally he was the founder of Ooty; he migrated there and  and   built two stone-houses-one, called Kal Bangla (stone house) which later became the official residence of the Principal of the Government Arts College. Later it led to the development of numerous coffee and tea plantations on the hills of Nilgri ( meaning blue mountain), mostly owned by the Europeans. 

The Tamil word Udhagamandalam shortened to Otacamund and later to Ooty. It is now India's famous hill resort, once the home of first European - John Sullivan, the bright  Englishman who had close rapport with the hill tribes of Thodas and Erulas and saw to it the Government did not interfere with their culture and tradition.