Ooty: The 106th anniversary of the heritage Nilgiris Mountain Railway (NMR) services was held in Udhagamandalam on Tuesday. Passengers alighting from the train were welcomed with red rose, cake and chocolate by railway officials. Rajya Sabha MP K.R. Arjunan said a proposal to increase the frequency of the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam service and additional coaches for NMR had been sent to the Railways. Built by the British, NMR train ran on steam engines for a long time. Running between Mettupalayam in Coimbatore and Coonoor covering 41.8 km, it now operates on an oil-fired engine. It has been given Heritage Status by the UNESCO. The train shot into fame after the song “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from popular film “Dil Se”, featuring Shahrukh Khan, was shot on its roof top.
Join hands to preserve, promote Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Heritage Steam Chariot Trust and railway staff celebrate NMR Day at Ooty Railway Station
When the Mettupalayam-Ooty train of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) chugged into the railway station here on Tuesday, it was greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm by a motley group of people representing various walks of life. The occasion was the celebration of NMR Day by the Heritage Steam Chariot Trust (HSCT) and railway staff.
Rajya Sabha member K.R. Arjunan who led the celebrations distributed sweets to passengers. Mr.Arjunan said that the NMR is a coveted possession of the Nilgiris and added that all should join hands to preserve and promote it. He assured that he would espouse its cause with the railway ministry.
The Managing Trustee of the HSCT, K.Natarajan, said that it was on this day way back in 1908 that the internationally renowned NMR line was extended to Ooty.
Described as “a marvel of engineering skill” in the construction of railway lines, the construction of the mountain railway between Mettupalayam and Coonoor had been completed in 1899 and traffic opened on June 15,1899.
It was extended to Ooty by 1908 and thrown open to traffic on October 15,1908.
Stating that the occasion was being commemorated without fail every year, he said that the objective was to highlight the importance of the NMR which has been recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The president, Public Awareness Association of Udhagamandalam, G. Janardhanan lamented that not many are aware of the NMR’s contribution in this hill station finding a place on the World Tourism Map. Toda Social Activist K.Vaasamalli Pothli said that more coaches should be added.
Station Master J.Baranidharan said that long queues at the station particularly during holidays and weekends reflects the growing popularity of the NMR. Some of the tourists said that they would remember for long their arrival by the NMR on a significant day. They hoped that the NMR would continue to thrill tourists for many more years.
About Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a railway in Tamil Nadu, India, built by the British in 1908, and was initially operated by the Madras Railway. The railway still relies on its fleet of steam locomotives. NMR comes under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Salem Division. In July 2005, UNESCO added the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as an extension to the World Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the site then became known as “Mountain Railways of India.” After it satisfied the necessary criteria, thus forcing abandonment of the modernisation plans. For the past several years diesel locomotives have taken over from steam on the section between Coonoor and Udhagamandalam. Local people and tourists have led a demand for steam locos to once again haul this section. The famous Hindi song Chaiyya Chaiyya from the film “Dil Se” featuring Shahrukh Khan was shot on the roof top of NMR.
Between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, the line uses the Abt rack and pinion system to climb the steep gradient. On this rack section trains are operated by ‘X’ Class steam rack locomotives manufactured by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur in Switzerland. These steam locomotives can be used on any part of the line (either with or without the rack section),but the newer diesel locomotives can operate on the entire section, between Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam.This signals the beginning of the process to phase out the coal-fired vintage Swiss engines that took scores of passengers on the rack and pinion track to Coonoor and Udhagamandalam, covering 41.8 km, 108 curves, 16 tunnels and 250 bridges
Hence, the Southern Railway decided to replace the coal-fired locomotives. The work was entrusted to Golden Rock Workshop of Southern Railway at Tiruchirapalli. Each of the new engines weighs a little over 50 tonnes and cost Rs.10 crore.
The new engine has been provided with pilot and primary burners with separate tanks to hold about 850 litres of diesel and 2,250 litres of furnace oil. The hauling capacity of this new engine is 97.6 tonnes and it can run at a speed of 30 km an hour in plains and at 15 km an hour on a gradient.
Officials hoped to put the engine to use by Sunday on the Mettuppalayam–Coonoor section. The arrival of the new engines raises hopes of eliminating the disruption in service that occurred frequently over the last two years.
For long, the X Class locomotives manufactured by Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur in Switzerland lent that distinct charm to NMR. These locomotives are six to eight decades old, railway officials said
The steam locomotives are always marshalled at the downhill (Mettupalayam) end of the train. The average gradient in this rack section is 1 in 24.5 (4.08%), with a maximum of 1 in 12 (8.33%).
Between Coonoor and Udagamandalam the train is operated by a YDM4 diesel locomotive using conventional rail adhesion principles. On this section the locomotive is always at the Coonoor end of the train as although the line is not steep enough to need a rack rail, the ruling gradient out of Coonoor is still very steep at 1 in 25 (4%).
As of 2007, there is one train a day over the rack section, which starts from Mettupalayam at 07:10 and reaches Ooty at noon. The return train starts from Ooty at 14:00, and reaches Mettupalayam at 17:35. The train is scheduled to connect to the Nilgiri Express, which travels from Mettupalayam to Chennai via Coimbatore. A summer special service is also run during the months of April and May, starting from Mettupalayam at 09:30 AM and from Ooty at 12:15 PM. Between Coonoor and Udagamandalam, there are four daily trains each way.
NMR issues old style tickets, keeping in line with the World Heritage Site status.
Even though the NMR stations have networked computerised ticketing systems for onward journeys, it still issues Edmondson style manual tickets for the Ooty-Mettupalayam journey to preserve the ‘World Heritage Site’ status of the railway. However, ticket booking is similar to other conventional trains and can also be done via the Indian Railways’ website. It is advisable to book tickets for this railway well in advance, especially during peak season.
The majority of repairs to the locomotives are carried out at the Coonoor shed but many of the steam locomotives have been rebuilt at the Golden Rock Workshops. Carriages are repaired at Mettupalayam but, like the locomotives, are taken to one of the big railway workshops for major work. Due to its popularity, a number of passengers using the NMR have requested that the Southern Railways convert the section from Coonoor to Udagamandalam to steam locomotive, extending the present steam traction between Mettupalayam and Coonoor.
The ‘Nilagiri Passenger’ train covers a distance of 26 mi (41.8 km), travels through 208 curves, 16 tunnels, and 250 bridges. The uphill journey takes around 290 minutes (4.8 hours), and the downhill journey takes 215 minutes (3.6 hours) It has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%.
Mettupalayam Station: Mettupalayam(Coimbatore) – 0 km (0 mi), 1,069 ft (325.8 m) above sea level – Junction with the 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) (Indian Gauge) line from Coimbatore city railway station. Passengers cross the platform to board the Nilagiri Passenger train (NMR). There is a small locomotive shed here and also the carriage workshops for the line. Leaving Mettupalayum, the line is adhesion worked and actually drops for a short distance before crossing the Bhavani River, after which it starts to climb gently.
Kallar Station: Kallar – 8 km (5 mi), 1,260 ft (384 m) – Closed as a passenger station, this is where the rack rail begins. As the train leaves the station, the gradient is 1 in 12 (8.33%).
Adderly Station: Adderly – 13 km (8.1 mi), 2,390 ft (728.5 m) – Closed as a passenger station but is still a water stop.
Hillgrove Station: Hillgrove – 18 km (11.2 mi), 3,580 ft (1,091.2 m) – Block post and water stop, also has refreshments for passengers.
Runneymede Station: Runneymede – 21 km (13 mi), 4,612 ft (1,405.7 m) – Closed as a passenger station but is still a water stop.
Kateri Road Station: Kateri Road – 25 km (15.5 mi), 5,070 ft (1,545.3 m) – Closed as a passenger station, trains do not stop here.
Coonoor Station: Coonoor – 28 km (17.4 mi), 5,616 ft (1,711.8 m) – main intermediate station on the line at site of the locomotive workshops as well as the top end of the rack rail. Trains must reverse a short distance before continuing their climb to Ooty. It is normal for the locomotive to be changed here with diesel traction, being normal for all trains to Ooty.
Wellington Station: Wellington – 29 km (18 mi), 5,804 ft (1,769.1 m)
Aruvankadu Station: Aruvankadu – 32 km (19.9 mi), 6,144 ft (1,872.7 m)
Ketti Station: Ketti – 38 km (23.6 mi), 6,864 ft (2,092.1 m)
Lovedale Station: Lovedale – 42 km (26.1 mi), 7,000 ft (2,133.6 m). From a short distance before Lovedale, the line descends into Ooty.
Featuring in Films
In the UK, the BBC made a series of three documentaries dealing with Indian Hill Railways, with the NMR being featured in the second programme shown in February 2010. (The first film covers the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway and the third the Kalka-Shimla Railway.) The films were directed by Tarun Bhartiya, Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly, and produced by Gerry Troyna. The series won the UK Royal Television Society Award in June 2010.
Coonoor station was one of two used as locations in David Lean’s film A Passage to India. You can also see Coonoor station and its heritage locomotive in many of the Indian films. Wellington station always finds a place in most of the films casting the Indian army or army training storyline mainly due to the MRC Indian Army Regiment, Defence Services Staff College, the Cantonment and the Cordite Factory. Ketti station was used as the location in a Malayalam film Summer in Bethlehem Lovedale station is very picturesque and has featured in many popular films including the famous Tamil hit, Moonram Pirai. Ooty station has featured in many of the Tamil and other South Indian language films. It is also prominently featured in some of the Bollywood films.