Tunnels & Bridges - the Kalka Shimla Railway

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, the line has 919 bends, 107 tunnels, and over 850 bridges. On this Expedition, we’ll explore some of these remarkable engineering feats.

By Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The Kalka Shimla Railway was built in the late 19th century by the British government to connect Kalka— already accessible by train from New Delhi—to Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj. This 96-meter long, single track line is important for its engineering achievements and the cultural and economic developments it made possible.

Located near Kanoh, Bridge 541 is a curved, multi-arched bridge that winds along a mountainside. Made of stone and brick, the bridge extends 52.9 meters across a ravine and stands 23 meters tall at its highest point. There are hundreds of bridges along the Kalka Shimla line, and each is numbered and labelled on both ends. This helps engineers easily find a specific bridge for inspection or repair.

The multi-arched gallery construction, which you might recognize from ancient Roman aqueducts, is a design commonly used for bridges on the Kalka Shimla line. Bridge 541 has 34 arches on 4 levels.

This informative sign provides important information about Bridge 541 such as, including the date of its construction—1898—and the fact that it is the tallest bridge on the Kalka Shimla route with a reverse curve of 48 degrees.

Bridge 541 extends through a mountainous landscape that is covered with scrubby grasses and a variety of trees. Parts of the mountain have been blasted away to make room for the tracks, and the train passes by several tall rock walls.

Built in 1898, Bridge 493, also known as the Arch Gallery, extends between the stations at Kandaghat and Kanoh. Measuring 32 meters long and 16.4 meters high, this multi-arched gallery bridge is similar in design to many other bridges along the route, including Bridge 541.

The two main materials used to construct Bridge 493 are stone and brick. This bridge has 15 arches in 3 span stages or levels.

Braces help strengthen the upper most arches. Despite being over 100 years old and bearing the weight of modern diesel-powered passenger trains, all bridges along the route are strong due to routine inspection and repair.

Informative signs such as this are commonly found at bridges and tunnels along the Kalka Shimla Railway route. Note that the last line on the sign kindly asks visitors to not deface the bridge in any way.

Tunnel 33 is famous not for its design, but for its history. British Engineer Colonel Barog decided that, to save time, two teams would simultaneously dig from either side of the mountain and meet in the middle, cutting the digging time in half. Unfortunately, Barog’s calculations were off, the teams did not meet up, and the project failed. As punishment, Barog was fined 1 rupee. Humiliated, the Colonel killed himself near the project site. Legend has it that his ghost haunts the tunnel and surrounding area.

Although this tunnel is named Barog Tunnel, it was built by British Engineer H.S. Harrington with the aid of a local sage named Baba Bhalku about a kilometre from Barog’s failed tunnel.

At 1,143.61 meters in length, Barog Tunnel is the longest tunnel on the Kalka Shimla line. It takes the train, which travels at 25 kilometres per hour, approximately 2.5 minutes to pass through.

Today, electric lines extend through the tunnel and power railway signals at either end. While the tunnel was being constructed, workers used a series of mirrors and acetylene gas torches to light up the dark interior.

This railway signal, an important part of railway safety, is electrically connected to the track. When the track is clear, the green light is lit. If a train is approaching, the red light is lit.

Tunnel 103 is the last tunnel on the way toward Shimla. Like Tunnel 33, Tunnel 103 is believed to be haunted. The supposed ghosts include a British man who, reportedly, has conversations with people walking nearby; a mother dressed in a black sari and cradling her sick baby; and a young woman who walks through walls, trees, and even people, before she plunges into a nearby well. Some claim witches living in the surrounding forests follow people walking the paths at night.

Like other tunnels and bridges along the Kalka Shimla Railway, Tunnel 103 is clearly labelled with its identifying number. This identification system is extremely helpful considering that there are over 100 tunnels and over 850 bridges along the route.

Tunnel 103 passes through Inveram Hill, which is how it got its second name—Inveram Tunnel.

The tunnel is equipped with weeps, or openings, in the brickwork. Weeps act as a drainage system, allowing rain water to freely “weep” out of the earth behind the wall.

Tunnel 91 was built beneath sacred ground dedicated to a local goddess, and this caused the Indian workers great distress. They didn’t want to get fired from their jobs, but at the same time, they didn’t want to anger the deity. Their anxiety caused several workers to mistake a long “hissing” breathing pipe in the tunnel for an enormous snake, sent by the goddess to punish them for their disrespect. The men refused to continue digging for some time.

At 992 meters in length, Tunnel 91 is the second longest tunnel on the Kalka Shimla line.

This no trespassing sign warns: “ANYONE PASSING THROUGH THIS TUNNEL IS LIABLE FOR PROSECUTION.” Railway tracks, bridges, and tunnels can be extremely dangerous places, and safety rules should always be followed when walking near any area of a railway.

A thick forest surrounds the track and tunnel in this area. The Kalka Shimla Railway is well known for its beautiful landscapes. Passengers enjoy panoramic views of the area’s lush green forests, steep mountainsides, and deep valleys.

The adjacent track that ends abruptly at the tunnel wall is a kind of temporary “parking place” for rail cars that are not in use.

Tunnel 10 is an arched tunnel that passes through the lower portion of a steep mountain. There is no adjacent railway station. Note that the landscape here is very different from the flat plains of Kalka, which is 655 meters above sea level. As the train weaves through the Himalayan foothills toward Shimla, the landscape changes and the elevation increases dramatically. When the train arrives at Shimla, it is 2,076 meters above sea level.

A brick retaining wall helps keep falling rocks, soil, and debris from falling onto the tracks below and possibly blocking the tunnel entrance.

Power lines extend all along the Kalka Shimla Railway, even in remote and wild areas such as this. Electric railway signals are essential to keep the railway safe and in operation.

Tunnel 10 is surrounded by a thick forest. This forest contains a wide variety of plants and trees, including creeping vines, flowering bushes, tall grasses, and birch and palm trees.

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