Making "Bombay-Poona" a reality: Trains across Maharashtra's Bhor Ghat

An insight into the making of and the romance of travelling through the Bhore Ghat

A view of the Bhor Ghat, of the Western Ghat ranges, during monsoonHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The Western Ghats of Maharashtra, starting from the Satpura Range in the North, sweep towards the South, past Goa into Karnataka. The principal hill range of the segment is the Sayadhri range. There are a number of passes or 'Ghats' in this range, notable among them being the Thal Ghat and the Bhore Ghat. It was through the latter gap that the rail line from Mumbai cut through the range and reached Pune, the city South-East of Mumbai.

A train passing through the Bhor GhatHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Within a few years after its debut, the line from Thane was extended at a rapid pace till the foothills of the Western Ghats.

From Kalyan, one line towards the North- East was laid till Kasara and another towards the South- East was built till Khopoli. Simultaneously, another railway line on the plateau at the top of the Bhore Ghat was laid from Poona (now Pune) to Khandala.

With the rail link between Khopoli and Khandala missing, passengers travelling between Bombay and Poona were required to cover the distance of 21 kilometres between the two lines in a palanquin, by a cart or on horseback or on foot.It took one full day to reach Poona from Bombay in those bygone days!

A view of a train passing through the Western Ghat rangesHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Between Khopoli and Khandala, the Western Ghats rise to a height of more than 600 meters. Laying a railway line that would conquer these mountains was the first major challenge that railway engineers faced since they first started laying lines in India.

Using the very basic technology and tools at their disposal, the engineers began by surveying the mountains to find the best possible path for the line while also making sure that the ascent does not exceed the prescribed gradient limit.

Eventually, the engineers came out with a brilliant solution: constructing a reversing station, which was considered the best arrangement for overcoming the last great difficulty on the incline, the ascent of the scarp on the Sayadhri mountain's face.

The reversing station was to have an arrangement where an additional line was to be provided so that the train left the station in the direction opposite to which it entered.

This allowed the line to be laid in a way so that the level of the line climbed gradually at the steepest part of the Bhore Ghat.

Construction of the reversing station included construction of a bridge with twelve arches, with the tallest one being sixty feet high.

The line left the reversing station through a U-curve followed by a long tunnel and keeping along the edge of the great Khandala ravine, it reached Khandala station.

The Deccan Queen at one of its stationsHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The steep gradient in the Bhore Ghat poses a unique challenge to operate heavy trains and the power of a single locomotive in the front is insufficient. Thus, two or three additional locomotives are added to the rear of the train to provide the extra push to move a train up the ghat.

Similarly, for a heavy train going down the ghat, the challenge lies in moving it slowly with the help of constant braking. To ensure safety, there are three brake testing halts along the route, where every train has to halt for 2 minutes.

Train passes through a tunnel on the Bhor GhatHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

In case a train fails to halt, it is treated as a runaway and is diverted to a short railway line called a 'catch siding'. These catch sidings climb a nearby hill on a very steep slope and their job is to “catch” the runaway train, first by reducing its speed and then bringing it to a complete stop.

The arrangement of the reversing station was abandoned in the year 1929 when the Bombay-Poona line was electrified and a straight line was laid from Monkey Hill to Khandala.

The Deccan QueenHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

June 1, 1930 was a big day for the Indian Railways, when the erstwhile Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIP, now Central Railway) flagged off the Deccan Queen, to run between Bombay and Poona.

The Deccan Queen has several firsts to its credit - it is the first superfast train of the Indian Railways; it is the first train to be powered by an electric locomotive; and it is one of the first trains to have a dining car!

The Deccan Queen made it possible to cut down the travel time between Bombay and Poona from 6 hours in the steam days to 2 hours 45 minutes.

Initially it ran only on weekends exclusively for Europeans travelling between Bombay and Poona for the horse races. It was only in 1943 that Indians were allowed on board and service was made daily.

The Dining Car of the Deccan QueenHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Even today, the Deccan Queen's dining car is famous for serving the best food there is to be had on the Indian Railways. That, along with the breath-taking views of the Ghats, make this one of the favourite journeys of train enthusiasts.

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