A good 105 years back, the first toy-train, which started in 1907, powered with steam engines was pressed into service on the Neral-Aman Lodge-Matheran stretch. For over a century these trains only ran at a minimal speed during the day with it being mandatory for all passengers to sit inside the coaches, as no standees were allowed. Now, finally, the Central Railway (CR) is looking at changing things, which until now seemed impossible on this 21-km long hilly, steep and curvy rail narrow gauge terrain.
Trains after sunset
Presently, five pairs of toy trains run between Neral and Matheran, and at least three pairs ply on the Aman Lodge-Matheran stretch. The last train departs Neral at 5.05 pm, while it leaves Matheran at 5.30 pm. This creates a lot of problems for tourists and locals visiting Matheran, as time-and-again there are technical problems with the engines, which often cause delays, sometimes for hours.
“We have been stranded at Neral station for over two hours now, as there were no seats available in the train,” said Karjat resident R Jadhav, who along with his family was visiting the hill station. Many others like him often complain of the few toy trains plying. Looking at these constant complaints, CR authorities are looking at plying trains after sunset.
“We would be requesting to add two more services after sunset, which would operate till 9 pm,” said Subodh Jain, General Manager, CR. Sources added that presently the terrain is quite risky to be operated after sunset, as the turns are quitesharp.
It has also been observed that rail employees whose job is to continuously apply brakes using a lever and manage the train speed, especially while coming downhill, stand precariously between two coaches of the eight-coach train.
Passengers inside these toy-trains often get down and board the train during the journey, as the average speed is not more than 12-13 kmph. Since the Commissioner of Railway Safety has permitted a speed of not more than 16 kmph, the diesel engines struggle to pull the coaches at the steep slopes. Rail officials add that quite often this is the reason behind constant failures of engines. “We are looking at increasing train speed, but it is in a very nascent stage,” said a CR official. Meanwhile, officials are looking at procuring an engine that is used on the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and add it to their fleet.
Never in the history of the service have railway authorities allowed people to stand inside the coaches of these trains, as there is a danger of tilting in case of a shift in weight. Officials said that it being narrow gauge, the breadth of the two rails is narrow and could easily tilt if there is any imbalance. It is more dangerous on curvatures where there are deep valleys.
With local residents approaching CR to permit people to stand inside coaches at least after crossing the hilly region, authorities are considering the proposal. “We have told railway authorities to allow standees at least on the Aman Lodge-Matheran stretch that is 3-km long,” said Arvind Ranjane, a local resident and representative of the business association there.
CR authorities have verbally told residents that they will check the probability of it happening in the near future. However, sources said that it is technically not feasible, as it would put the trains and the passengers at risk.