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Mountain Railways of India (Extension)

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh
Ref.: 5919

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Matheran Light Railway: N18 59 20,27 - N19 01 41, 35 and E73 16 16,7 – E73 19 38.7

Kangra Valley Railway: N30 58 18 - N31 22 50 and E77 07 25 - E77 43 20

The two components of Matheran Light Railway and Kangra Valley Railway are proposed as extension to the inscribed series, the ‘Mountain Railways of India’ that has three components namely the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (1999), the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (2005) and the Kalka Shimla Railway (2008). The proposed extension contributes to the OUV of the inscribed property and serves as an example of the interchange of values on developments in technology, and the impact of innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of multicultural regions,

Matheran Light Railway (MLR):

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 an 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 8kmph.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 127° equal to 18.25 m is 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.

Kangra Valley Railway

The Kangra Valley Railway (KVR) is a linear Property 163.720 Kilometers long and 0.762 meter wide, which runs from Pathankot (located at an elevation of 383.820 m) to Joginder Nagar (located at an elevation of 1184.160 m), in the Kangra Valley, in the states of Punjab (Gurdaspur District) and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra & Mandi districts), India. The difficult mountain terrain involved the bridging of ravines through which flow the mountain torrents and some of these are noteworthy as engineering marvels. There are also two tunnels. Over its length of 163.720 Kilometers, the KVR ascends at a maximum gradient of 1 in 25, crosses over 993 bridges, runs through two tunnels and winds through 484 curves (sharpest being 300 equal to 58.33 m). This unique line has been constructed skillfully to present to the traveller, a chance to gaze on the ever present panorama of snow-clad ranges and the gold green fields.

The Kangra valley is the region between the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas to the north (a low chain of ridges about 2500 metres high in front and peaks 5000 meters tall behind) and the foothills to the south, about 50 kilometers wide, ascending from West to East and the KVR runs through its entire length. It remains a well known tourist attraction in Northern India. The portion of the line in Gurdaspur and Kangra districts forms the lower section (smoother gradients and curves) and the portion in Mandi district forms the upper section (steepest gradients and curves). The route of the KVR, developed as a cultural corridor and provided access to the Kangra Valley; linking important towns, very holy Hindu pilgrimage centers & settlements. It also, provides access to the Dalai Lama's abode at Mcleodganj.

The construction of KVR began in 1925 and it was opened on 1st December 1928 for freight traffic for the Uhl hydroelectric project due to which this Railway was constructed. In April 1929, it also, became a passenger Railway. It suffered a disruption during World War II (1941-42) when a portion of its track was dismantled for war material supply but it was restored twelve years later in April 1954. A short portion (about 25 kilometers) of KVR also had to be realigned in 1973 due to the construction of the Pong Dam resulting in a disruption for three years. Despite these disruptions, other natural / technical calamities in high mountainous areas and although the KVR has never been remunerative; it has survived as a cultural asset and the Indian Railways is committed to its conservation for posterity.

A trip on the KVR is a thrilling experience and the best way to savour the beauty of the Kangra Valley. Pathankot is the interchange station, of the broad-gauge main line in Northern India.  Broad Gauge trains are connected at Pathankot, and have about 7 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services. The KVR was opened with steam traction and it now being run with diesel locomotives based at Pathankot. However, one original steam locomotive has been restored for KVR and this is also based at Pathankot for heritage steam train service available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 45 kmph in the lower section and 20 kmph in the top section (steepest portion).

The railway can be divided into three sections as follows:

i) The first section is 12 kilometers long from Pathankot (elevation 383.820 meters) to Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters); in Gurdaspur district, in the state of Punjab. Pathankot has the locomotive shed, carriage sub-depot of the KVR. Starting from Pathankot, the narrow gauge line runs out of the town and crosses the Chakki river in a scenic manner. Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the Pathankot station and Chakki bridge. The maximum gradient is 1 in 40 that is the maximum gradient in the lower section of KVR.

ii) The second section is the pilgrim section, 130 kilometers long from Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters) to Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations, Reyond Khad bridge, Bathu Khad bridge, both the tunnels of KVR (Dhundi tunnel and Daulatpur tunnel) and the heritage bunglow at Palampur. Kangra is around midway along the KVR. The KVR passes just away from Kangra town separated by a gigantic cleft in the hills at the bottom of which runs the picturesque Ban Ganga River and provides spectacular views of the ruins of the historic Rajput Fort. Onwards along KVR, approaching Palampur, the ever present background of snowy peaks (about 5000m high and about 15 kilometres away) run parallel. The spectacularly beautiful area around Kangra & Palampur is famous for very significant Hindu pilgrimage temples (attracting millions of pilgrims each year), Tibetan monastery of Dalai Lama, Tea gardens and numerous popular locations. The best access to this beautiful area is provided by the KVR.

iii) The third section is 22 kilometres long, from Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters) to the end of the line i.e. Joginder Nagar station (elevation 1184.160 m). Ajhu station is about midway and is the highest point of the line (elevation 1290.230 m). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations and flume bridges. Here, the KVR threads its way among the pines of the Bhir gorge and the journey in wilderness in far superior to the journey by road.

Trains on KVR run efficiently offering an enchanting ride with the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Mountains on one side, lush green fields on the other side, tea gardens, and significant pilgrimage centers; for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Mountain Light Railway (MLR) & Kangra Valley Railways (KVR) are outstanding, example of hill passenger railways. Opened in early in the 19th century, these Railways applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions, to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty and also, they are still fully operational as living example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century.

These Railways are spectacular example of technology transfer. The coming of MLR & KVR resulted in development of transport in those areas which otherwise were used on foot or with animal transport (virtually no access).  Indeed, one of the interesting effects of these Railways has been the way they have contributed to the creation of a cultural corridor made by human intervention.  The technological and social interchange is also evident through the application of steam engine technology. These Railways are outstanding and possibly the longest surviving heritage railways in the world.

As an outstanding example of a technological ensemble illustrating a significant stage in human history, these Railways are unique example of the construction genius employed by Railway engineers of the 19th century. Today, MLR & KVR stand out as heritage symbol of the regions.  As ensemble with their impeccably maintained track, their elegant original stations and their old rolling stocks; they are genuinely outstanding and unique type of a 19th century development that is preserved over time.  Thus, it is clearly and spectacularly illustrative of a significant stage in human history that saw pioneering rail construction and its extension for socio-economic development in a mountainous region.

Also, these Railways have been constructed with great technical skill in harmony with the beauty, serenity and grandeur of the surroundings and also; led to the social, cultural and economic creation and development of the areas. These Railways are the best preserved heritage Railways in the world and remain much as they were at the time of their completion in: stations, signals, rural environment. Such railways are rare and deserve conservation and global recognition of their qualities.

Criteria (ii): The Extension to the Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology and the impact of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multicultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world. The Mountain Railways of India exhibit an important cultural and technological transfer in the colonial setting of the period of its construction.

Criteria (iv): The Extension to the Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of a technological ensemble, representing different phases of the development in high mountain areas. The Extension to the Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of how access has been provided to the plains and plateaus of the Indian mountains. They are emblematic of the technical and material efforts of human societies of this period to disenclave mountain populations through the railway that are still well maintained and fully operational living lines. They are used in a spirit and for purposes that are the same as those at their inception.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Matheran Light Railway and Kangra Valley Railway are surviving example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century. These Railways retain their original features of early 19th century when these lines were opened. It is also noteworthy that these lines, besides being a tourist attraction, are also a regular mode of transport for pilgrims and the neighboring communities. Maintenance standards on these Railways are good, as the railway is used fairly intensively but no more intensely than it was designed to be used. The stations are being well maintained as in the original construction and are still in use. They are pretty structures constructed like cottages. They have thin walls, wooden trusses, decorated sloping roofs, large verandahs, wooden pillars, simple & elegant looking and with flowering trees / shrubs around. These have been conserved in the same style. The locomotives and rolling stock are old and of heritage value. The signaling system of these Railways is original of 19th century. Rod operated switches for tracks, kerosene lamps, token instruments are still maintained on these Railways.

The Ministry of Railways, Government of India place great emphasis on the preservation of the entire railway system including the line, rolling stock and all associated buildings in their original shape to the extent possible. The countryside served by the Railway also retains the charm that over time. The natives look upon the Railway as a friendly symbol of the mountains rather than as a harbinger of change. Overall, these Railways are authentic and well preserved.  These Railways play an important economic and social role serving the people of the district. They also have the necessary legal / management protection.

Comparison with other similar properties

The property can be compared to following World Heritage Sites:

Semmering Railway, Austria. Inscription: 1998, criteria: ii iv

Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes. Inscription: 2008, criteria: ii iv

Semmering Railways Austria is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from this pioneering phase of railway building between 1848-1854. However, Mountain Railways of India is much later example (1881-1926). Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes is a site of early 20th century only. Hence, Mountain Railways of India represents the technological advancements in the period.

Mountain Railways in India began with the DHR in 1881, NMR in 1899, KSR in 1903 and the MLR in 1907. KVR followed and its construction began in 1926. These railways are all living example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century. These railways were constructed with significant engineering at a very early stage of railway development and overcame the challenges of the steep terrain in distinct innovative ways; to provide access and socio-economic development in the mountains. The DHR used zig-zags & spirals, the NMR used rack & pinion, the KSR used very heavy engineering with significant and numerous roman multi-arch aqueducts & tunnels, the MLR used floating axles (special design of articulated wheels and axles to negotiate the sharp curves and take misalignments) to negotiate the sharp curves and the KVR came last based upon the successes earlier to become the longest of the lot. They provide spectacular panoramic views to travellers. These are all outstanding examples of the earliest hill passenger railways constructed one after the other that are fully operational with most of their original features intact; as tourist attractions as well as a regular mode of transport for the local population. Following the inscription of the DHR, inscription of the NMR and inscription of the KSR; application already made for MLR; KVR is proposed as a World Heritage Site as an extension to Mountain Railways of India.

Internationally too the KVR is unique and an immensely long heritage railway. The Narrow Gauge Heritage Railways of the world date back to 1850. These are of short lengths (average length is less than 10 kilometers as compared to about over 160 kilometers in KVR). Most of the narrow gauge railways, were earlier used to transport freight and passengers but were later abandoned and restarted as heritage railways that have become tourist attractions. However, the KVR was built for transport of construction material and then patronized by passengers to create a new mountain settlement for tourism and has been in continuous service as such from its inception, now for over 80 years. Also, the closure and subsequent re-emergence of the old railways in Europe as heritage / tourist railways has resulted in loss of authenticity (railways have been converted to modern railways) whereas the KVR has remained almost original while continuing to remain in service with minimal change. Added to this, the KVR is not only a major tourist attraction, but is also one of the main means of transportation and pilgrimage.