A week ago, I decided to go to Darjeeling from Siliguri. So, I started sifting through various travel options. You know what I discovered? The Toy Train! It is a narrow-gauge railway that runs from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Do you know what is a ‘narrow-gauge’ railway? No? Let me then take you for a ride in it…
They are really narrow! The distance between two parallel rails in a narrow gauge track is 1067 mm (3 ft 6 in) or less (The Darjeeling Toy Train is a 2 ft or 610 mm gauge railway), as compared to Standard-gauge railroads, which are 1435 mm (4 ft 8.5 in) apart. Narrow-gauge railways operate in Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, USA, Mexico, and Switzerland as well. India has a large narrow-gauge network.
Building basis: They were used as ‘industrial railways’ for mining, logging, construction, tunnelling, quarrying, and transporting of agricultural products. They acted as links to various mountainous or difficult terrains.
Present purpose: They are still used in many parts of the world because of their advantages over the standard-gauge railways. These are:
They cost less to build, equip, and operate. They require smaller locomotives, bridges and tunnels.
They are put as temporary transport, which will be removed after a short-term need. Such as, for construction, logging and to a lesser degree in the mining industry.
In many countries, narrow-gauge railroads act as ‘feeder’ or ‘Branch’ lines to feed traffic (people and goods) to more important standard-gauge railroads.
Many zoos also use narrow-gauge railways.
Huge hitch: The main problem with narrow-gauge railways is that they cannot interchange traffic with the standard gauge railroads they link with. They cannot handle increased speed and loading either.
Project Unigauge: So in India, barring some hill stations, most of these are facing closure, or are being converted to broad gauge for uniformity as a part of Project Unigauge. Project paradox: Why? Because goods are now carried on trucks, which are faster than these slow moving quaint trains. The irony here is that while the trains do run packed with people, ticketless travel is so common in these remote tracks, that no records are available about actual passenger load!!!
But it is still a cheap and easy means of travel for the rural folks. They are also less polluting than trucks. Are the railway authorities listening?
If narrow-gauge railways are Toy trains for some, it is a link and source of livelihood for others. I feel that narrowgauge railways are very important... What do you think?