Who's to blame for derailing the iconic Matheran Hill Railway?

Updated: Dec 11, 2018, 13:42 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

Great-grandson of man who started Matheran Hill Railway offers conspiracy theory; others also suspect the same

The toy train at Matheran which completed 100 years of service in 2007
The toy train at Matheran which completed 100 years of service in 2007

Are the frequent derailments of the iconic Matheran Hill Railway due to technical faults, or is there something more to it? After the train derailed once again on Sunday, Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy, great-grandson of Adamjee Peerbhoy, who started the railway in 1907, offered a conspiracy theory, suspecting the Central Railway (CR) of having a hand in it.

"There must be something more to it. The railways could be doing it deliberately to show that the train is making losses. We have been fighting against the CR as they didn't give us proper compensation for taking over the railway line (Neral to Matheran). Showing that the Matheran railway does not make a profit benefits the Central Railway," Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy said. In 1952 CR bought the railway line from the Peerbhoys for Rs 4 lakh. But they claim the amount was not given entirely.

The frequent derailment of the Matheran Hill Railway is dampening the spirits of tourists, forcing them to use vehicles. Just a day after the Central Railway introduced an air-conditioned train on the route, there was a derailment on Sunday evening, making passengers angry.

Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy. Pic/Nimesh Dave

More suspect conspiracy
Peerbhoy's conspiracy theory has supporters in tourists, many of whom suspect the local transport mafia. "The train has run well for over a century. Suddenly what has gone wrong that it derails every two weeks? There is something seriously wrong with the maintenance of the train, tracks, or it might simply be sabotage by the local transport mafia. The railways must investigate and fix this before more damage is done," Pravesh Kumar, a tourist, said on social media.

Railway officials said Sunday's derailment was not major as just one wheel of the locomotive was off track. But the inconvenience to commuters was massive, as the train was stranded for almost four hours. Officials said 70 passengers in the second class and 15 in the first class took refunds. When the services reopened after the monsoon in late October, the train was greeted with derailment as the coach next to the locomotive toppled. Such incidents lead to detention of the train for a long time, with passengers having to walk along the tracks.

"If the train service is not reliable, people won't take it. Every time there is an attempt to run the train, such an incident occurs. I fear the taxi mafia might be behind this. They had burnt down an MSRTC mini bus previously," Ninad Acharya, a tourist said.

'Poor maintenance to blame'
However, some said there is no conspiracy. "No I don't think so. I too heard about a conspiracy but so far there is not evidence. The Railways can investigate if they think so. Maintenance may be the real reason. I think Railways should not be under pressure from locals to increase services. This train has to be preserved as a unique one, " Sunil Shinde, a teaching professional and long-time resident of Matheran, said.

CR speak
Central Railway Chief Public Relations Officer Sunil Udasi said, "An officer level committee has been nominated by the Chief Safety Officer to enquire into the derailment on December 9. Necessary remedial measure will be taken on receipt of report."

Railway's make over
The railway line is already in the tentative UNESCO world heritage list and once it reopens, the trains will run at 13kmph. The railways have put up gabion walls and also upgraded old locomotives with digitised controls and double the horsepower.

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