Chennai, Oct 12: Tucked in lush green mountain ranges of the Western Ghats, the 46 km-long Nilgiri Mountain Railway System (NMR) is the heritage piece of the rugged Indian Railways and one of the world's largest rail networks, a section of which has turned 100.
The NMR is the steepest and longest metre gauge mountain railway and the technological wonder has carried passengers over some of the most beautiful landscapes, nestled in greenery in the last 100 years, and earned its spurs by getting the coveted World Heritage status.
It took over three decades for a dream to come true.
Since 1854, proposals had been mooted for the construction of a railway line from the foothills of Nilgiris at Mettupalayam to the Udhagamandalam Peak.
The proposals for the Mountain Railway became feasible in 1882 after opening of a branch line between Podanur and Mettupalayam.
Swiss Inventor M Riggenbach's proposal for construction of the NMR of the Rigi pattern got acceptance.
The 'Nilgiri Rigi Railway Company Limited' was formed in 1885 with a capital of Rs 25 lakh. The rest as they say is history.
The Niligiri Rigi Railway Company Limited mandate was to undertake the construction of the Mettupalayam-Coonoor Railway Line. Work on this line was inaugurated by Lord Wenlock, the then Governor of Madras, in August 1891. The Mettupalayam-Coonoor Section was thrown open to public on June 15, 1899. But it was extended up to Udhagamandalam only in 1908 after the ownership shifted to the Indian Government in January 1908.
The Coonoor-Fernhill Section was opened on September 15, 1908 and the Coonoor-Ooty Section on October 15, the same year.
The extension of the line from Coonoor to Ootacamund cost Rs 24.4 lakh and took 60 months for construction.
The loco shed in Coonoor is the only functioning steam loco shed on Southern Railway and came into existence in 1899.
Twelve X-class steam locomotives had been procured from Switzerland and were being maintained in this shed for operation on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor Section.
While 'X' class steam locomotives push up the toy train on the steep incline between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, traction changes to diesel locomotives from Coonoor on the section between Coonoor and Udhagamandalam. On the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam Section, the toy train runs at a speed of 30 kmph and covers the distance in 75 minutes.
This metre gauge toy train, which is a very popular tourist attraction, operates with four coaches each of which are 11.516 m in length and 2.15 m wide.
The unique feature of these bogies is that each coach is provided with two separate hand brakes, one for adhesion and the other for pinion brakes.
A brakesman travels in each coach and applies the hand brake to give additional braking effort, which is required as the train traverses the Mettupalayam-Coonoor Section on its rack and pinion arrangement.
The rising in passenger numbers on the NMR stands testimony to the popularity of this railway system.
In the last five years, there had been a 44 per cent increase in the number of passengers on the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam Section with a corresponding hike of 18 per cent in earnings.
Last year, Coonoor Station had an annual earnings of over Rs 20 lakh and Udhagamandalam Station of over Rs 35 lakh.
The Indian Railways decided to celebrate the centenary of the 18 km-long Coonoor-Udhagamandalam Section of the NMR in a fitting manner with events spanning 45 days which includes a heritage steam run, release of postage stamp and cultural shows.
Union Minister of State for Railways R Velu will flagg off and travel by the Heritage Special, which will start from Coonoor Railway Station on October 13.