SILCHAR: Is there any ray of hope for the resumption of steam engine driven tourist coaches on the century old Hills track between Silchar and Haflong, the district headquarters of North Cachar Hills? This possibility has arisen in view of the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the trouble-torn Hills with the surrender of arms and ammunitions by Dima Halam Daogah outfit led by Jewel Gorlosa. It is to be recalled that the proposition of running such a heritage train on the pattern of Darjeeling and Shimla was mooted by the former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. In fact, there was trial run of such a train between Badarpur and Haflong which did attract both home and abroad tourists.
The Railway Ministry is for the revival of steam engines now lying idle in and outside the loco-shed of Badarpur. It were these engines before the advent of diesel locomotives on Silchar-Badarpur-Haflong-Lumding MG Hills section in particular which helped the rolling stock, passenger and goods, on the steepest gradient to move on the track in either direction. Significantly, two decades ago, Hills sections trains were hauled by the once famous heavy Canadian double faced engines introduced by the Assam-Bengal Railways of the British era.
At the rear of the trains, Indian made engines pushed with all force to gear up the Canadian engines while on the ascent and controlled the speed on the descent. There is now a ray of hope for the revival of steam engines since the Railway Ministry is against the idea of steam engines lying unused or kept as show-piece or sold as scraps. According to a railway official, the Ministry has directed that steam engines be repaired and revived for use.
According to the sources, there are 43 steam engines, most of whom are lying at the Rail Museum in New Delhi. Some others are lying abandoned on tracks of railway stations like that of Badarpur. The move to revive the use of steam engines comes in the wake of the recommendations of a committee headed by chief mechanical engineer of Northern Railway Narendra Gupta which is examining all aspects of sustainability and maintenance of the existing steam engines for hauling tourist coaches on select tourist destinations.
Silchar-Badarpur-Haflong-Lumding Hills section MG could be retained even after the completion of BG track for the convenience of hill population and for sight-seeing journey by tourists. Significantly, N F Railways not long ago introduced three coach tourist train to take the tourists through the Hills section with all the scenic beauties around. It did pulled tourists, but insurgency stood in the way. This rail track of 215 km meanders through hills, dales and valleys along which the trains chug on through 37 tunnels and 586 bridges, past 24 stations on the way.
Considering the immense tourist-potential of the North Cachar Hills, the running of tourist train can be considered, following the examples of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka-Shimla Railway hauled by steam locos which have been given world heritage status. Haflong with all the natural treasure-trove, Jatinga with its famous bird-hara-kiri mystery and Maibong with its historical ruins of Dimasa Kingdom could be developed as the best tourist resorts.
The MG rail track traverses through the highest levels in the hill ranges and the highest stations is Jatinga located at 2156.65 ft. The critical phase on this section is between Harangajao and Jatinga with the steepest railway gradient in the world. It is 1:37. It means on its ascent course towards Jatinga, the train after every 37 ft mounts up by 1 ft. In the reverse direction towards Harangajao, the train after every 37 ft descends down by 1 ft.
On this hilly section is the provision of “catch-siding” at the approach of some stations, located at the depressed ridge of hillocks to control an uncontrollable trains from speeding down the hill gradient from getting out of control. This “siding” is capable of pulling up an uncontrollable train entering at a speed of 45 and 75 mph. The steam engine at the rear end does the balancing act. A journey through this Hills section for tourists will not only be thrilling but also exciting and the best way to beat the summer heat or to retreat from the hurry, flurry and scurry of the pressing life.