Indian Railways to preserve five narrow gauge rail lines: Indian Railways has recently decided to preserve the five oldest, working narrow gauge lines dating back to the 19th century from complete extinction. These old narrow gauge lines are part of Asia’s largest narrow-gauge light railway system, according to an IE report. At present, commercially working narrow gauge lines are almost non-existent all over the world, apart from some hill railways in India. Originally, all the lines, which are in Gujarat and add up to 204 km, were owned by Gaekwad Baroda State Railway (GBSR). Recently, a letter was issued, which stated that the five narrow gauge lines would be preserved, the report said. Every day, almost two-three pairs of trains run on these lines with marginal footfalls, the report added.
One of these lines, Dabhoi-Miyagam line, which is 33 km long was the nation’s first narrow gauge railway stretch. In 1862, the line started functioning when coaches were pulled by oxen as steam engines came into functioning, the following year. The owner of the GBSR, Maharaja of Baroda, developed a network of light railways, linking many towns across his state. However, another arm of the railway network, from Dabhoi, which is still the focal point of the narrow gauge lines network to Chandod, is also a part of the gauge conversion project. As it still draws many foreign tourists every year, many policymakers at the Railway Ministry have been keen to preserve this key industrial heritage. The other lines are 38 km long Miyagam-Malsar line, 19 km long Charonda-Moti Karal line, 51 km long Pratap Nagar-Jambusar line and 63 km long Bilmora-Waghi line.
Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani, along with the Financial Commissioner and Member (Engineering) of the Board took the decision to preserve GBSR. Therefore, the Railway Board has asked Western Railway, under which the lines fall, to make a detailed plan identifying the resources required to preserve the lines and also to develop them for promoting heritage railway tourism.
According to officials, at present, gauge conversion is happening on lines that have been unused for 15-20 years, unlike the five narrow gauge lines identified for preservation. The officials said that these five lines in Gujarat are more or less “island lines” as they connect far-flung areas, and gauge conversion will not significantly add to the connectivity value for the local population.
In India, the narrow gauge lines are 2 feet, 6 inches apart and on the other hand the broad gauge lines are 5 ft, 6 inches apart. So, engines, coaches, machinery and maintenance apparatus that are required for the narrow gauge network are different from the rest of the broad gauge network.