Heritage Management at Mountain Railways of India (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Theme: Management of Tangible Rural Heritage

By Ms. Sukanya Sharma
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from NewDelhi , India
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Bachelors in Architecture, School of Built Environment and Design, Lingayas University



Our heritage is the shared wealth of mankind. Preserving such valuable assets demands our collective efforts. India is wealthy of such heritages. Apart from our rich connections with past’s cultures, monuments, and buildings, India’s heritage railway tells a lot about our nation and its history. They have added to our country’s glamour quotient and draws tourists from across the world. Such rails time and again, seek to re-create scenes of the past. The Mountain Railways of India are the best example of bold, ingenious engineering solutions for the problem of establishing an effective rail link through rugged, mountainous terrain. This is the only reason- the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and the Kalka–Shimla Railway, are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Brief Introduction:

The Mountain Railway of India consists of three railways: the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway located in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal (Northeast India) having an area of 5.34 ha., the Nilgiri Mountain Railways located in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu (South India) having an area of 4.59 ha. and the Kalka Shimla Railway located in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh (Northwest India) having an area of 79.06 ha. All three railways are still fully functional and operational. The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of hill railways. Opened between 1881 and 1908 they applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. They are still fully operational as living examples of the engineering enterprise of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (World Heritage Centre, UNESCO). The railways are outstanding examples of rural transportation system which comes under certain criterion: Criterion(ii) & Criterion(iv) which explains about the significance of the respective regions.

Darjeeling Himalyan Railways of India (India). Source : © OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection
Kalka Shimla Toy Train of India (India). Source : © Tour my India
Nilgiris Mountain Railway (India). Source : © Tour my India

Protection and management requirements :

The owner of the three properties is the Railway Ministry of the Indian Government. All the laws of the Indian Union relating to railways apply to the property, in particular: the Railway Act (1989), for technical protection measures and the Public Premises Act (1971) which in particular provides the right to expel unauthorized occupants. The legal protection in place is appropriate and the Ministry of Railways is making efforts to apply the legal provisions against unauthorized occupation of land within the boundaries properties as well as the buffer zone.

The management is guaranteed by the Ministry of Railways and the relevant branch offices. There is a Property Management Plan, which deals with the management of the land, the buildings, the track, the bridges, and the tunnels for two of the three lines (i.e. Nilgiri and Kalka Shimla) however recommendations have been made to strengthen these in relation to architectural features and encroachments on the property boundaries. The resources are provided by the Indian Ministry of Railways. Train services, station facilities, platforms and passenger amenities are provided for visitors and commuters. In addition, special tourist trains are promoted. The professional personnel of the three railways, and the technical assistance departments of Indian Railways, are fully operational, and are well prepared for climatic and geological risks. Over a century of operation, they have always managed to restore the integrity of the line. They generally intervene within a short lead time, which contributes to the monitoring of the state of conservation of the property. The three railways have the technical documents necessary for the maintenance of track, infrastructure, rolling stock and stations. Indian Railways has a central research department that considers climatic and geological effects with an impact on mountain lines (RDSO). It recommends protective action, particularly to prevent landslides.

The three mountain railways have been in service continuously from theirits inception. They are in a good state of general conservation, and are maintained on a regular and permanent basis.. The traditional arrangements for track maintenance by railway personnel are considered satisfactory to ensure the present and future conservation of the line.. Both the Nilgiri and Kalka Shimla Railway Lines have Management Plans which outline the processes and practices that ensure the ongoing conservation of the lines and their conservation values. However, the first of the lines to be listed i.e the Darjeeling Railway still does not have an endorsed Conservation Management Plan. In addition, the architectural management of the Kalka Shimla Railway station buildings and their annexes, to ensure respect for the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, has not been sufficiently taken into account, and a medium-term project should be drawn up for this purpose. The management authorities should step up control of encroachment on land in the nominated property zone and in the buffer zone.

In regard to the Nilgiri and Kalka Shimla Railways the management plans should be substantially improved in terms of architectural conservation and condition monitoring, and by involving the territorial authorities, particularly in relation to visitor management to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Values are protected. (World Heritage Centre, UNESCO).

Mountain Railways of India (India). Source: © Ana Draskovic
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Route Map. Source : ©UNESCO WHC
Map showing the route of Kalka Shimla Railway. Source: ©UNESCO WHC
Map showing the route of Nilgiris Mountain Railway. Source: ©UNESCO WHC

These railways are a historic holy trinity for train aficionados, but they are more than dusty relics of an empire. All three are still fully operational today, and a ride on any of them reveals the incredible engineering achievements that brought rail service to these rugged locales. The railways face intermittent problems due to political unrest in some regions. They are also at the mercy of seasonal storms, which can wash out tracks (and roads) and necessitate extensive repairs. Maintenance of these treasures can be difficult and expensive, but their high appeal to tourists helps to keep them running.

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