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The MLR is a linear Property about 19.97 Kilometers long and 0.61 meter wide, which runs from Neral (located at an elevation of 39.31 m) to Matheran (located at an elevation of 803.98 m), in the Sahaydri Range, entirely in the state of Raigad district in Maharashtra, India. Neral is the interchange station, near the city of Mumbai, of the broad-gauge main line in Western India running towards the south and central parts of India across the Western Ghats. Trains run via Neral from Mumbai, and have about 3 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services to Matheran. Matheran means “The Wooded Head” or the jungle topped. It is a mountain table top in the Sahaydri Range of about 20 square kilometers with two thickly wooded ridges, rocky promontories jutting into mid air and commanding views of valleys over 2000 feet below. As the morning mist clears, these are revealed gradually. The native inhabitants were wild forest races of non-aryan origin and predatory habits such as Dhangars, Thakurs & Kathkaris. Matheran was explored as a summer resort at the same time as India’s first railway company (the Great Indian Peninsula Railway now the Central Railway) was formed in 1849. After the construction of the MLR, it became a popular resort of the British Raj in India and still remains a well known resort near Mumbai (India’s financial capital).
The MLR ascends at a average gradient of 1 in 25 (maximum gradient of 1 in 20 i.e. limit of an adhesion railway and any steeper gradient will lead to slipping). The MLR has over 121 bridges (mostly minor), only one tunnel (the one-kiss tunnel), a steep winding gradient and incredibly sharp curves and in the longer trains, the train can be in the form of a semi circle. There is a signage on one of the curves “Ah, what a sharp curve”. Over its length of 19.97 Kilometers, there are 221 curves, the sharpest being 1270 equal to 18.25 m. This little railway was inaugurated on 22nd March 1907 to enable visitors to avoid the heat of Mumbai area and escape to Matheran (elevation 803.98 m). It is still extensively used for this purpose today. There is also a heritage steam train services available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 20 kmph but on the sharp curves, their speed may be restricted to 8 kmph.
The railway can be divided into three sections as follows: -
i) The first section, about 5.57 kilometers long from Neral (elevation 39.31 meters) to Jumapatti (elevation 241.81 meters). Neral was a small village and it gained importance as a railhead only after the MLR was envisaged. Neral has the workshops, locomotive shed, carriage depot and wagon depot of the MLR and all the locomotives, carriages and Wagons are maintained there. Starting from Neral, the narrow gauge line runs parallel to the main broadgauge line, leaving the road to the west of a hill, then turning sharply east and the ascent begins. The road and the rail almost meet at Jumanpatti station. This station is of heritage significance. The sharpest curve 1270 equal to 18.25 m located in this section.
ii) The second section is about 11.57 kilometres long from Jumapatti (elevation 241.81 meters) to Aman Lodge (elevation 758.95 meters). Significant locations along this route include inter-alia Bhekra khud, horseshoe embankment, One-Kiss tunnel, Water-Pipe Station (elevation 484.63 m), backward-forward curves under Mount Barry and panorama point. The tunnel in this section is located at 10.25 km to 11km. The stations are all of heritage significance. This is the curviest section. There are also four ordinary sidings and four catch sidings as safety precautions against runaway trains. The road to Matheran terminates at Aman Lodge and no motorized road vehicles are permitted entry to Matheran beyond Aman Lodge.
iii)The third section is about 2.83 kilometres long, from Aman Lodge (Km. 17.14) to the end of the line i.e. Matheran station. Matheran, being the highest point of the line (elevation 803.98 m), is a sought after destination for tourists. There are no intermediate stations along this route. The Matheran rest house, Matheran railway stations and turnaround shed at Matheran are structures of special heritage significance.
Trains on this Railway run efficiently for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the Mountain area and its associated eco-sensitive zone.