Constructions pose threat to Kalka-Shimla rail track

July 4th, 2008 - 10:08 am ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, July 4 (IANS) The railways may be working overtime to get World Heritage status for the Kalka-Shimla rail section in Himachal Pradesh, but haphazard constructions along the track are posing a serious threat to it. Indian Steam Railway Society’s (ISRS) executive member P.J. Singh told IANS that excavation work at different sites along the track was a threat to the rail line, which was opened to traffic by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, in 1903.

ISRS is at the forefront of preserving the steam heritage of India’s railways.

“Every day a convoy of trucks moves up and down in various areas, especially the Kumarhatti and Barog towns. Massive digging has been going on for many months,” Singh said.

These are private constructions, mostly houses, small hotels and even a petrol pump.

“Huge craters are dug to lay the foundation of the buildings. The movement of trucks has weakened the embankments along the track at various places,” Singh, who last week walked along the track from Barog to Kumarhatti towns, pointed out.

The Kalka-Shimla track is rich in railway heritage.

For instance, some semi-porcelain hand-painted crockery, made in England, and furniture has been well preserved at the Barog railway station.

Last year a two-member team of Unesco examined the railway track. The team was impressed to see an ancient track-control system, called the Neals Token Instrument System, which is still in use on this rail section.

Block phones are also used to establish links between two stations. Lanterns, like the ones used in the last century, are still being used to signal trains to stop or move.

But the constructions have put the rail section in danger.

A senior official of Northern Railway said on condition of anonymity: “It is a serious matter and prompt action should be taken. As per rules, no construction activity can be allowed up to a distance of five metres towards the valley and three metres towards the hill top.”

A structure has come up right on the top of tunnel number 10 at the Kumarhatti railway station. Massive digging is going on near the Barog railway station, SIngh said.

The rail track has 102 tunnels, big and small. Initially, there were 103 tunnels, but tunnel number 46 does not exist any more. A train takes about three minutes to cross the longest tunnel at Barog.

Singh said the ISRS had petitioned the railways a number of times, demanding a ban on construction activity. Even pictures of the construction activity were provided to press the point.

“Due to the dumping of debris at various places, a landslide could block rail tunnels,” he said.

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