News of the Central Railway's decision to give up on the iconic Neral-Matheran toy train, a major attraction among tourists and a source of livelihood for thousands at and near the hill station, had social media reacting in shock and dismay at the abrupt decision. Several people, including journalists, filmmakers, and citizens, while expressing grief over the decision have requested Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to keep the toy train alive and running. While it is true that the toy train suffered two mishaps in a week, people find it hard to believe that a train that has run from 1907 and has been on the tentative heritage list of UNESCO.
Citing the Committee report, a news report from Mumbai Mirror
, says, "the iconic Matheran toy train service needs an urgent overhaul to prevent frequent disruptions, but the railways do not have the technical expertise to redesign the Neral-Matheran network."
The Committee, which submitted its report to CR General Manage SK Sood, has recommended a tie-up with international consultants to revamp the network, including the design of tracks and rolling stock.
As per the newspaper, the Committee had said neither Indian Railways' Research Designs & Standards Organisation nor zonal rail centres had the expertise to redesign the hill line.
Rajendra Aklekar, journalist and author of 'Halt Station India", says the Neral-Matheran toy train has already entered in the tentative heritage list of UNESCO. "They don't have funds for maintenance. And shut down the train in vacations," he said in one of his tweets.
This is strange, since the local economy of Matheran seems dependent of the train to bring tourists to the picturesque hill station. In another report on 13th May, Mumbai Mirror details how over 5,000 peoples’ livelihood depends on the train
Sucheta Dalal, Managing Editor of Moneylife wondered why the iconic train cannot be repaired and made viable taking into account the higher spending power of tourists. As for technical expertise, she says, the Konkan Railways and the Delhi Metro has tunnels, viaducts and bridges across that traverse difficult terrain - it is hard to believe that there is no in-house expertise available to preserve this piece of heritage.
The history of the 109-year old train in important
. A post on Wikipedia says, “The Matheran Hill Railway is a 2 feet (610 mm) narrow gauge heritage railway in Maharashtra, India. The railways come under the administration of the Central Railways. The railway covers a distance of 21kms, over large swathes of forest territory connecting Neral to Matheran in the Western Ghats.”
The Neral-Matheran Light Railway was built between 1901 and 1907 by Abdul Hussein Adamjee Peerbhoy, financed by his father, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy at a cost of Rs16 lakh. Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy visited Matheran often and wanted to build a railway to make it easier to get there. Hussain's plans for the Matheran Hill Railway were formulated in 1900 and construction started in 1904. Consulting engineer was Everard Calthrop of Barsi Light Railway fame. The line was open to traffic by 1907. Originally, the tracks were laid with 30 lb/yd (14.9 kg/m) rails but now have 42 lb/yd (20.8 kg/m) rails. Ruling gradient is 1:20 (5%) with tight curves and speeds are limited to 12 km/h (7.5 mph).
The railway was closed by flood damage during 2005 and was not expected to reopen before April 2007. Contrary to those expectations, the first run on the repaired railway was on 5 March 2007. The line observed its centenary on 15 April 2007, Wikipedia added.
Journalist Suhasini Haider called the act (to stop the toy train) as 'Shame'.
Activist and transport expert Sudhir Badami too wondered why the toy train, which has seen 109 monsoon cannot be repaired.
This narrow gauge train service is popular among children as well as elderly, so much so that Matheran hill station has become synonymous with the toy train. Also Matheran is the only hill station near Mumbai, and thus frequented by tourists from the city. Filmmaker and noted photographer Atul Kasbekar said, if the current train cannot be repaired why not to have a new train.
However, the recent incidents of derailments since the beginning of this month have sent the tourists and the railway authorities into a tizzy.
Usually during monsoon, services of the Matheran toy train were suspended due to dangers of landslides. However, after conducting tests of the train air brakes, and obtaining necessary permissions from the Commissioner of Railway Safety, the services were run in 2012 monsoon for the first time.
In November 2012, CR added a special coach called a saloon to trains operating on the line. The saloons feature cushioned sofas and LCD screens showing images from outside the train.
It takes approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 21 km journey from Neral to Matheran. CR had plans to reduce the journey time to 1 hour 30 minutes.