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RyPN Briefs November 12, 2006
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India's Centenary-Old Narrow Gauge Line to be Restored

A year after the charming 2 feet narrow gauge Neral-Matheran mini railway was washed away in heavy rains, the line still remains dead and the railways are trying hard to get it back to life by early next year when the line celebrates its centenary. Officials said the narrow gauge line should be restored by March next year.

The narrow gauge Neral To Jummapatti rail pulled by a steam loco during a recent charter run by British tourists. Photo by Santosh Perne.

The 99-year-old railway link connecting Neral and Matheran, located more than 80 km from Mumbai city, was completely washed away on July 26, 2005, when it rained extremely heavily in the region. Work on the five-km stretch between Neral and Jummapatti, a middle station, was completed in December, but passenger traffic will only begin once the entire line is operational and certified safe.

"The damage has been colossal. In some parts, the track dangles from the cliffs and edges as the land beneath has been washed away. This is the first time this line has suffered such huge damage. On July 26, a train that delivered materials to Matheran was returning to Neral when a boulder fell on the tracks.

The guard of the toy train saw it falling. Luckily, it didn't fall on the train. That was the last train on the line," a top official at Neral station said.

"We have called for tenders and work shall begin only after the monsoon in August. The entire work and restoration of line will take seven to eight months and the line should be up and running by March next year," RS Virdi, CR Mumbai's chief, divisional railway manager, said.

Meanwhile, as the line completes 100 years next year, India's railway board is trying to get it nominated for UNESCO's World Heritage List. "As long as the Central Railway is committed to rebuilding it to its original grace, there will be no harm to the heritage listing nomination," a senior railway board official said.

"The Railway is about 19.97 km long and has a gauge of only two feet. The construction of the line, built by Abdul Hussain Peerbhoy, began in 1904 was finally opened to traffic on 22nd March 1907," he said.

Justifying that the line is of outstanding universal value -- one of the criteria for the nomination - the official said, "The Matheran Light Railway (MLR) is one of the best preserved heritage Railways in India and remains much as it was at the time of its completion in stations, signals, rural environment.

Such railways are rare and it deserves conservation and global recognition of its qualities."