Bid to keep Darjeeling Himalayan Railways alive as functioning Heritage Site: NFR signs MOU with HECL

NFR signs MoU with HECL for supply of spare parts for steam engine!

DARJEELING: Maligaon-headquartered Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoU) with Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd (HECL), a Government of India enterprise under the Department of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, under which HECL has agreed to manufacture and develop items and equipment for the world heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR).

The MoU is for a period of five years for supply of items including spares of Narrow Gauge Steam locomotives and development of steam boiler for Narrow Gauge Steam locomotives to NFR. The MoU can be extended after completion of five years.

The MoU was signed by HECL Chairman-cum-Managing Director Avijit Ghosh and NFR Chief Mechanical Engineer (O&F) Boniface Lakra at N F Railway Headquarters here in the presence of Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain, NFR General Manager Chahatey Ram, General Manager – Construction Organization H K Jaggi and other senior officials.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee had declared DHR as a World Heritage Site in 1999. DHR comes under NFR.

Speaking on the occasion, Gohain said that the MoU will help in keeping alive the DHR as a “functioning heritage site”. He said that spare parts for steam locomotives are very rare to come by the MoU will ensure that such spare parts are made available to NFR by a public sector firm.
Ram, in his speech, described DHR as a “jewel” for NFR and added that it is the only working heritage railway in the world.

HECL would supply 41 critical spare components for the available steam locomotives and thus they would remain ever operational, Gohain said.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was bestowed with World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1999 for “bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty”, an N F Railway spokesman said.

Stating the UNESCO had observed that DHR “retains most of its original features intact”, the spokesman said the mission of N F Railway is to conserve the DHR Heritage by keeping steam traction alive for people to get a feel of the glorious past.

Since inception, the small Steam Locomotives, known as “B” class engines have been the mainstay of DHR and are also major tourist attractions, he said.

“NFR is lucky to have this asset and it is our responsibility to keep it running. The last steam locomotives were made in 1925 and the challenge is to keep them operating. So we approached HECL to save this pride of our nation and to ensure regular supply of spare parts for DHR,” Ram said.

The NFR GM added that earnings from DHR touched Rs 7.6 crore in the 2016-17 fiscal as against Rs 5 crore in 2015-16 and the target for the current financial year in Rs 10 crore. “Our aim is to make DHR financially viable by March 2020,” Ram said.

He added that NFR will start receiving parts from HECL within six months. “Within the next one week we also expect to introduce daily service from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling under DHR,” Ram said.

HECL’s Ghosh said that the PSU will soon send its design team to NFR to figure out the designs and requirements for DHR and ensured that a time bound action plan will be put in place.

“We are committed to meet the requirement of NFR,” Ghosh said.

There are 13 ‘B’ class steam locomotives available in DHR at present and majority of them are over a hundred years old. “Keeping them operational and keeping the original features of the locos intact pose a big challenge for DHR as most of the original manufacturers no longer produce such locos or spare. The mission of NFR is to conserve the DHR heritage by keeping the steam traction alive for people to get a feel of the glorious past,” said an NFR official.

As a solution HECL has agreed to manufacture/develop items/equipment for the steam locomotives of DHR in the following areas (1) Spares of Narrow Gauge Steam locomotives (2) Development of Steam boiler for Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives, and accordingly has decided to enter into an MoU with N F Railway for supply of the two items for five years.

The signing of MoU today will ensure steady supply of spares for the steam locomotive fleets of DHR, which in turn will ensure optimum and efficient utilization of the locomotives for sustainability of DHR, he said.

It will go a long way in turning around DHR towards making it commercially viable, the spokesman added.