Everyday Heroes: The Station Masters that keep Indian Railways running

Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Meet Mr. Kundan Singh and Mr. Pramod who work as station masters at Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway line, scaling an elevation of 326 m to 2,203 m, represented the latest technology of the time. The construction of the NMR, a 46-km long metre-gauge single-track railway, in Tamil Nadu State, was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. In July 2005, UNESCO recognised the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line as a World Heritage Site. The site came to be known as 'mountain railways of India'. We take a peek into the lives of those who help and often risk their lives, to maintain the smooth functioning of the NMR.
Mr. Kundan Singh, Station Master at Hillgrove Railway Station
Mr. Kundan Singh works as a Station Master at Hillgrove Railway Station. Hillgrove station is roughly the middle of the journey between Mettupalayam and Coonoor. The train has to stop here to refill its boiler with water. This is a chance for the passengers to get down and enjoy the scenery. 

Mr. Kundan Singh, introduces himself as the Station Master of Hillgrove railway station.

In the video, the Station Master explains what his duties are at work and why he likes what he does.

This station is one of a kind because of its location.

Hillgrove station is also one of the picturesque places where one can get their photographs shot alongside the train and steam locomotive.

At the station, a small stall sells locally made 'vadas' and tea along with other packed food. This not only attracts the passengers but also a troop of bonnet macaque monkeys who beg or steal food.

The trek to Hillgrove station
The stations masters of Hillgrove have an early start. They are up before sunrise to catch a bus that will take them to a place called "Icchi Maram". From here, they trek up hill for about 3/4th of a kilometre and then for another 2 km over the tracks, to get to the station. 

The trek to Hillgrove station is about 2 km and is through the thick jungles of the Nilgiri Mountain range.

A view of the Hillgrove station nestled in the jungles of the Nilgiris.

There are 16 tunnels, in total, along the route. Mr. Singh passes through three of those tunnels everyday while trekking to his station.

Mr. Kundan passes through the rail tracks that are surrounded by massive rock structures.

Many of the 250 bridges on NMR are between 20 to 100 feet up high. Interestingly, the railway bridges are the only source of protection to employees if they are chased by elephants.

Mr. Kundan walks through the rail tracks.

The NMR was completed in 1908 and part of the process of building the tracks meant carving a path through the heavy and solid granite rocks. One can only imagine how hard it must have been to build this engineering marvel.

The majestic Nilgiri Mountains can be seen in the background as Mr. Kundan Singh and his staff make it to the highway, which is over a kilometre away.

Riddled with narrow pathways and wild animals, like elephants and bears, the staff of Hillgrove station put their lives on the line everyday.

The dense jungle, in the late afternoon light, is the only safe time to trek here. After sunset this is not an advisable terrain.

The employees of Hillgrove station leave as soon as the train from Coonoor departs their station, because there is always higher chances of encountering wildlife after sundown.

The days on which the train arrives late to their station, they travel down to Mettupalayam on the train and then take a bus uphill to Coonoor to reach their homes.

Having completed the trek through the jungle, the employees wait by the side of the road, hoping the buses going up to Coonoor will be kind enough to stop and ferry them home.

Mr. Pramod, Station Master at Udhagamandalam Railway Station
With a work experience of 16 years in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR), Mr. Pramod is one of the oldest station masters at NMR who works at the Udhagamandalam railway station. 

This station was opened in the year 1908, when Nilgiri Mountain Railway line was extended to Udhagamandalam.

In the picture: Mr. Pramod, the Station Master of Udhagamandalam, poses with the Neale's Ball Token system which is used by the NMR for its operations.

Designed by Neale, an engineer with the GIP Railway (presently known as Central Railway), it is an electro-mechanical instrument provided at each station on single line railway sections.

It ensures safety in train operations by dispensing tokens which are handed over to the train drivers as authority to enter a block section.

The tokens are spherical steel balls, which are issued in such a manner that only one token can be issued for one direction at a time after ensuring that previous train has already cleared the section and there is no other train between the stations.

Each station has one such instrument for each direction which are electrically connected to similar instruments provided at the adjoining stations on either side. This ensures that only one train can enter the block sections at a time.

The Udhagamandalam station has most number of VIP visitings, and Mr. Pramod is NMR's most trusted and experienced station master on duty.

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