A look back at DHR locomotives

Less than ten types of locomotive have ever been trialed or accepted for use on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Here's a look at some of them.

No.12 DHR ?A? Class (1890) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The Darjeeling Himalaya Railway's (DHR) first locomotives proved to be barely capable of working the line.

A new design, later known as the ‘A‘ Class, was produced by Sharp Stewart of Manchester. Eight of them were built in 1882 and 1883.

Seen here in the picture is locomotive No.12, at Mahanadi, with a mixed train.

A Class No.12 (1898) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

In the picture: ‘A’ class No.12 is shown on a passenger train, probably in the 1890s.

The new designs for the locomotives were far more successful. A saddle tank and coal bunker were added soon after.

By 1888, increasing traffic and track improvements allowed the introduction of the first of the larger ‘B’ Class, which are still in use today.

All but two of the ‘A’ Class were withdrawn by 1910. The last one remained in service until 1954.

C Class 808 (1970) by Bob FrancisDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

DHR ‘C’ Class Pacific No. 808.

This is one of two 4-6-2 locomotives delivered to the DHR by North British in 1914. They were obtained to work on the company’s new branch to Kishenganj.

This was very different to DHR’s main line running across the flat plains with less severe curves and no steep gradients.

The Kishenganj branch was replaced by a metre gauge line as part of the Assam Rail Link, after which there was little use for the Pacifics as they were unable to travel North of Sukna on the DHR main line. They continued to find some use for shunting throughout 1960s.

Both the locomotives survive today as static exhibits.

Garratt (1920) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The unique ‘D’ Class 0-4-4-0 Beyer-Garratt delivered to the DHR in 1911. It is seen here in the photo-grey livery at the Beyer Peacock works in Manchester just prior to shipment.
Designed for the hills and said to be capable of hauling the loads two ‘B’ Class, it was not a success. Its haulage capacity exceeded the length of the Reverse (Zig-zag) headshunts and sidings and one occasion pulled a wagon off the rails while hauling its train round the tight curves. It was found to be better suited to the Kishenganj branch – though its appetite for coal made it rather uneconomic. It was eventually withdrawn on 30 November 1954.

Garratt (1911) by Mancheser MuseumDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

Another works photograph of DHR ‘D’ Class 0-4-4-0 Beyer-Garratt locomotive. The grey livery was applied for photographing, locomotives would then be repainted in the customer's livery and prepared for shipment.
The ‘D’ Class was not as successful on the DHR as Garratt used elsewhere in the world. The particularly severe curves and undulations (often encounted at the same time) were too much for the steam pipes and reverser linkages. over the years, modifications were made at Tindharia in an attempt to improve things.

Garratt (1920) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The DHR 'D' Class 0-4-4-0 Beyer-Garratt hauling it train around Chunbhati Loop

The Walford diesel (1930) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

In 1941, the DHR ordered a bogie (Bo-Bo)diesel locomotive from Walford Transport of Calcutta, who had previously built smaller diesel locomotives for other Indian narrow-gauge lines.

It had a 165hp General Motors six-cylinder engine, looked modern and was fitted with Westinghouse air brakes. But on trials it suffered from lack of adhesion. Its power to weight ratio would not have been a problem on level track nor would its mechanical gearbox - which renders a vehicle unpowered during gear changes - but on the hills of Darjeeling the Walford diesel struggled and at best could only haul two coaches on dry track.

Trials and modifications continued until 1945 as the DHR management tried to find a use for the locomotive but it was eventually abandoned and it was returned to Calcutta in 1950.

Streamliner (1940) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

In 1942, the DHR rebuilt ‘B’ Class No. 28, as a ‘streamliner’ in the style of some mainline express locomotives of the 1930s. One cannot even imagine the reason for this totally impractial idea, probably the aim was to try to give a modern image to the line, with the then new coaches. For many years it was thought to be a myth, but the newly-formed DHRS discovered a photograph!
It was a significant work of engineering and it is now believed that the already long frames of the ‘B’ Class were lengthened by a further three feet.

With a maximum speed of 15 mph, any gain from reducing air resistance would have been negligible. The streamlining only lasted for a couple of years. Its livery was probably a light blue or grey and would have been a striking sight, especially running to Kishenganje, with a train of the similar coloured new coaches built during the same time.

Streamliner (1940) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

However, this DHR locomotive would have been difficult to operate.

Streamliner (1940) by DHRS ArchiveDarjeeling Himalayan Railway Society

The improbable 1940s streamliner, a rebuild of ‘B’ Class No. 28, approaching Kurseong station.

The picture proves that the locomotive was actually used to work trains on the DHR. There is a story that, on one occasion, it reached Kurseong with the front of the streamlined housing open as a man inside was applying sand to the rails from a bucket.

Centenary celebrations of the DHRHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

A stamp issued in 1982 for the centenary celebrations of the DHR. The illustration shows a train on Batasia Loop with a parcel van in Passenger Blue livery. This indicates an early 1970s scene where the 1950s red livery of the locomotive would be wrong.

Locomotive B 777 of the DHR on another stamp issued on 16th April 1993Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Locomotive No. 777, illustrated in the green livery used up to the mid 1940s, was featured on a stamp, issued on April 16, 1993.

Locomotive Nos. 788,795 and 806 at Darjeeling. The station is the cream building with red-striped platform roofs.

NDM6 diesel locomotives first appeared in 2000. 603 is on a Down train at Darjeeling Station.

Credits: Story

Compiled by David Charlesworth GRA. Editor of The Darjeeling Mail and a Director and founder Member of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society. Technical words were by David Churchill, the Society's technical Officer.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Indian Railways
151,000 km of laid track, 1 billion people, and an infinite source of memories
View theme
Google apps