How the Darjeeling Railway runs

An insider's peek into the workshop and locomotive sheds that serve as a tribute to a way with the machines that is as ingenious as it is ancient.

By Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is run by a group of steadfast engineers aided by several teams of junior technicians based in the Tindharia workshop, and the locomotive sheds in Siliguri (pictured) and Kurseong

Steam engine (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Tindharia workshop was completed in 1925. It took 12 years to build. It was preceded by a smaller set-up, built in 1881, for maintenance of DHR's locomotives and carriages

The Tindharia workshop is where all major repair and renovation efforts of the DHR take place. The workshop is also equipped to manufacture some of the components of the steam locomotives.

Steam loco test run (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling loco shed

The Darjeeling loco shed, situated  across the street from the Darjeeling station, is one of the more standout  landmarks of the hill town. It has seen several makeovers over the years. It was partly destroyed by a landslide in July 2007 before being renovated to its current form. Originally built in 1881, the shed was also rebuilt in 1950 after it was damaged by heavy monsoon rains. Here, a maintenance staff checks the steam locomotive ahead of a charter trip down the hill to Siliguri. There are many motion parts to be checked to ensure that it runs smoothly for the 80-km trip.

Loco shed (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

It's the steam-powered locomotives that make the DHR so unique. It's simple engineering really--steam generated by the boiler is used to slide the piston placed in a cylinder to set the wheels rolling.

Repair Work (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The steam generated in the boiler flows down into a cylinder near the wheels, pushing the piston back and forth. The steam comes in through a tiny mechanical gate in the cylinder, known as an inlet valve.

The piston is connected to the locomotive's wheels by a crank and connecting rod. As the piston pushes, the crank and connecting rod turn the locomotive's wheels and power the train along.

Loco shed (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

At the loco shed, engines are checked, cleaned and filled with water and coal before being declared fit for the journey back to the plains. On the left is the Darjeeling terminus station from where the locomotive will commence its journey.

Steam loco maintenance (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A steam locomotive is an external combustion engine, comprising a fire tube boiler with 61 fire tubes. Each tube is 3.035m long. Its outer diameter is 4.2 cm. It has a total heating surface of 29.40 m2 and generates steam at a pressure of 140 psi (pounds per square inch).

Technicians of DHR 'warm up' a steam engine. It is normal for steam locos to be 'warmed up' hours before the journey to ensure a smooth ride.

One can see the coal storage is full. It means the locomotive is now ready for the journey.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Saturated steam is sent to the cylinders located on either side of the engine from the throttle valve located on the dome above the boiler. Slide valves control the admission of steam into, and emission of exhaust from, the cylinder.

Whistle Queen stands at Darjeeling station. Behind it is St. Columba’s church (established in 1894), the loco shed (1881) and the rapidly growing town of Darjeeling which was gifted to the British East India Company by the Raja of Sikkim, in 1835.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Setting these valves in order and ensuring their upkeep is one of the biggest mechanical challenges for a DHR engineer.
The 788 B, a pre-World War I steam engine, is stabled at the loco shed while it awaits its turn to haul the Ghoom joy ride the next day. The 788 B was built in 1913 by North Brtish Loco Co., Glasgow, UK. It has a maker number of 20144 and the DHR sequence number of 30. The wheel configuration is 0-4-0 and it works on a 2-feet gauge.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The expanded saturated steam exhausted from the cylinders exits the locomotive through the blast pipe in the smoke box situated at the front as the locomotive

The pilot of 788 B steps on the brakes and pulls away seeing another engine reversing at the loco shed in Darjeeling.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

It is quite a task to keep the steam engines running. Some of them have been in service for over a hundred years. There are 14 working steam locomotives with the DHR, eight of which were built before 1917.

Diesel loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The pilots of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's steam and diesel locomotives are among the most skilful in the Indian railways.

Since each locomotive has its own unique set of needs, given the amount of repairs it has weathered over the years, piloting the DHR involves a deep understanding of individual engines as well as the difficult hill terrain.

Steam loco test run (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Pilots carry out a trail run of a steam loco ahead of a pre-booked charter trip, or to Siliguri.

Coal furnace (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

In the picture: A worker fires up the coal furnace of the B class 788.

The loco was built in 1913 by the North British Locomotive Company. The company was created by merging Sharp Stewart, the original manufacturers of locos for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, with two other British locomotive companies.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A brass plate gives specifications of the boiler that was made in 1913. It says the 140 pound boiler was last overhauled/refurbished on May 31, 2009.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The engines are placed over a pit line so that maintenance staff can go down and inspect the undergear of the locomotives.

Steam engine (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Coal, crushed to a size of 3-5 centimetres, is manually fed into the firebox. Ash is collected at an ash pan located below the fire grate through which the combustion air is also taken in.

The boiler of this coal-fired locomotive was renewed in 2006. The boiler replacement was done at the Golden Rock Railway Workshop in Tiruchirappalli in the Tamil Nadu state of India. The Golden Rock workshop has renewed boilers of many DHR B-Class locomotives. The workshop has also manufactured one new B Class locomotive, now numbered as B-1001.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The water that is put to boil to produce steam, is carried on a saddle tank. The tank has a capacity of 1818.36 litres. The water is transferred to the bottom tank before being fed into the boiler through an injector.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A locomotive pilot keeps track of boiler pressure and the level of water in the boiler through a pair of long, cylindrical watch glass located next to where he stands.

Traditional skills and knowledge passed on from generation to generation make DHR a perfect example of industrial heritage.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Above: A workman climbs onto the engine for inspection or perhaps to discipline a particularly stubborn screw.

The B class engines, which were introduced from 1889, are simple and easy to maintain compared to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's diesel variants.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Devnagari letter on the loco (right corner) is equivalent to N or North in the acronym NF (North Eastern Frontier Railway). A roll-up canvas is the only protection against rain and wind for pilots but who cares when there’s fire in the furnace.

Wash (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The windows of the down train are cleaned at the Darjeeling station ahead of the eight-hour journey to the dusty plains of North Bengal.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Fitters, who have learnt to fix the engines on the job, play an important role in the running of DHR. Engine parts such as pistons and cylinders are mostly tuned using techniques passed down from the older generation of technicians.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Above:A worker carries broken coal in a bucket at the loco shed.

The engine also carries big chunks of coal which are broken into smaller pieces by a ‘coal breaker’, who is seated on top of the stack while the locomotive is on the run.

A Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A worker takes a breather after loading coal on a steam locomotive. He has to sit on top of the coal storage and break the coal blocks into smaller pieces.

Hill Cart Road (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The pilot has to keep a steady eye as the train runs alongside a busy thoroughfare with houses all along the track. The train is almost crawling at this point. The pilot must also keep an eye on other parameters such as water level and steam pressure so that the locomotive does not stall on hitting a steep gradient.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway workers (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Women porters carry coal from a tractor to the loco shed. Generations of Darjeeling women have toiled (happily in this case) side-by-side with their male counterparts.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The last-minute loading of coal into the engine is labour intensive and is carried on bamboo baskets, locally called as 'doko'.

A local labourer (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Once the mainstay of the hill economy, DHR continues to reflect the spirit of the industrious people of Darjeeling.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Above: A porter hauls a basket of coal into the 792 locomotive.

The B class tank engine does not have a separate tender for coal.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway worker (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Above: A porter hauls a basket of coal into a locomotive.

While all operating steam engines are coal fired, an effort was made to convert one locomotive into oil-fired but the move did not succeed.On the contrary, the steam locomotives of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway run smoothly on oil-fired engines.

Darjeeling station (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A pointsman, with red and green flags tucked under his arm, shifts tracks on a crossing as he waits for the oncoming train to arrive at the Darjeeling station.

Darjeeling station (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A sanitation worker cleans the tracks at Darjeeling station.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

In the picture: DHR's B792 enters Darjeeling town at dusk.

The steam engine takes eight hours to complete its uphill journey from New Jalpaiguri station in the plains.

However, steam locos now operate only between Ghum and Darjeeling – a distance of 8 km. It takes an hour for the heritage engines to complete the trip.

Steam loco (2018-03-01)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Above: The loco pilot of 729 waves a green flag as it reaches Darjeeling station.

A green flag is used to indicate a ‘pass through’ which is exchanged with the station master to proceed further. At night, a torch is used to signal a pass through.

The 792B was built in 1917 by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, USA. It is the only surviving B Class made in the USA.

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