The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
The Kalka to Simla Narrow Gauge Railway, January 1985

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

The two most famous narrow gauge lines in India would have to be the Darjeeling Himalayan and the Kalka to Simla. Diesels came early to Kalka-Simla, by the mid sixties steam was a thing of the past but it was one of those lines that had always fascinated and I wanted to add it to my 'been there, done that' list. My chance came in January 1985 when it seemed like a convenient stopover between Delhi and the Pakistan city of Lahore.

Note I say 'seemed' as the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had been assassinated two months previously and there was some doubt when I left New Zealand whether I would be able to travel overland through the Punjab to Pakistan due to civil unrest. Enquiries as I passed through Delhi, Kalka and then Simla had reassured me that all was good and overland travel permitted but I digress from my Kalka - Simla tale.......

On the journey up to Simla train 15KS stopped at Barog for refreshments so I used the time to photograph the train alongside a relic of steam days: the water stand. Loco 156 is of the ZDM3 class and was built by Chittaranjan in 1971-72.

I spent three days at Simla doing touristy things. On a particularly fine morning though I reverted to being a railfan and headed to Taradevi: a station 11km away by train, 7km by road or about 2 as a crow would fly. First picture was of RMC9 on 1KS accelerating away from its station stop. I assume RMC stands for Rail Motor Car but then again it could mean Royal Mail Car. Either way it was a first class only service, and depending on demand, either one or two return services would run daily.

Next train through was a downhill working. Built as recently as 1981-82 the loco in charge, 185, was another product of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works as were all locos seen on the line.

Soon RMC9 reappeared again on the downhill run.......

That's Simla in the background and shows just how close to Taradevi it is as the crow flies.

Last year I saw a piece somewhere that the railcar service had been withdrawn due to worn wheels and in trying to confirm this was pleased to find, on the Times of India website, that it actually resumed in January this year. The same website tells that although four railcars were introduced between 1927 and 1930 only one remains in use today.

Having decided I had enough station shots and that something more rural would be good I walked back along the track towards Simla. Next train through was Simla bound 13KS with 187, built in 1981-82, in charge.

Next station along was Jutogh where 13KS must have crossed a downhill train as soon after 156 came rattling out of tunnel 96.

The highlight of the day's efforts though was when a totally unexpected goods train came along. Luckily I was close to a reasonable position and scored a pleasing shot of 151 coming through the trees.

The next afternoon I took the little train back down to Kalka and waited for the night train to Amritsar leaving at 11pm. Travelling through the Punjab now took on a more serious note with staff telling me I would not be allowed to proceed beyond Ambala and could be risking arrest if I attempted to go further. It was then decided I could travel to Ambala with onward travel dependent on the army escort that would be joining the train there. Quoting from a letter home: ' The conductor woke me just before Ambala (1.00am) and we both climbed down to watch the army escort join the soldier per carriage plus guns plus tin hats. The Conductor talked to the Officer in Charge, a big burly Sikh, and then delivered the decision: "I could stay on the train to Amritsar, but would be arrested on arrival, held for three or four days and then be sent back to Delhi." OK, I know when I'm beaten!'

It all ended up OK though as within an hour I was ensconced in a first class sleeper on a steam hauled express heading to Delhi where, after a three day wait, I flew on to Pakistan. 

Rob Dickinson