Ride to Matheran on steam engine powered by diesel

From June, railway enthusiasts will again have a chance to witness a “steam engine” hissing its way up the hills of Matheran. The engine was last seen in Matheran’s hills in November 2011.

It was pulled out of operation after embers from the coal-fired steam engine sparked fire on dry grass along the route. After the forest department and locals objected to the plying of the coal-fired train, the Central Railway (CR) has now found a solution to the problem. “Instead of coal, the newly modified steam locomotive will be fired by diesel,” said CR’s divisonal railway manager, Mumbai, Mukesh Nigam.

The modification of the B-794 steam locomotive is being carried out at Golden Rock Workshop, Tiruchirapalli, in South Eastern Railway at an approximate cost of Rs 20 lakh. “The steam engine has its own charm and there were many requests to run the services through such locomotives,” Nigam added.

Despite the modification, it will have the authentic sounds of the steam whistle. The engine will also get a fresh coat of corrosion-free glossy paint.

The refurbished locomotive is scheduled to arrive in the last week of May. The trial will be carried out for a few days after which the locomotive will be pressed into service in June. The train will be run only as a chartered service. It will be able to pull three coaches. The tariff is yet to be finalized. An official said, “Due to huge demand, we decided to re-introduce the service.”


Next rains, toy train may chug to Matheran

The popular toy train between Neral and Matheran may begin operating from next monsoon. Central Railway (CR) plans to run these services during the monsoon if the commissioner of railway safety accedes to its request. Toy train services remain suspended during this period due to safety concerns.

A trial run of the train service, attached with seven compartment and engines (both at the front and rear end), was carried out successfully on Saturday. Technicians of Parel and Kurudwadi workshop made changes in the engine and the compartment to make the trial successful.

Central Railway general manager Subodh Jain said, “The services can be run during the monsoons between Aman Lodge station and Matheran. If the CRS approves the request, the services will be resumed at the earliest.”

The running of the Matheran Light Rail (MLR) will be of immense boon to the economy of the tiny hill station, where motorable vehicles are banned. Tourist prefer to walk, ride on a horse or take hand-pulled rickshaw to traverse the 3 km distance between the Matheran town centre and Dasturi Car park—the last road point from where cars is available.

The stretch between Neral station and Aman Lodge has steeper gradient and is prone to landslides. Morever, the demand from the locals of Matheran is primarily to ensure rail connectivity between Matheran and Aman lodge.”

Jain added, “The successful trial has opened up the option of attaching more compartments to the existing service. For the new move, we will have to replace the existing narrow gauge tracks.”

CR will be able to attach two more coaches, creating capacity of 60 extra passengers. The project will take at least one year to complete due to the difficult terrain. It will cost Rs 3 crore.


Tram-like train will cut tedious trek to Matheran

Travellers lamenting the lack of an efficient transport system to reach Matheran have reason to rejoice. By the end of 2012, tourists who had to make an arduous 3-km trek, will be able to travel from Dodhani Village till Sunset Point in the comfort of a funicular train. The Mumbai Metropolitan
Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will float tenders next week for setting up the system, which will cost more than Rs 100 crore.

“The project will boost tourism and improve connectivity to Matheran, the most important tourist attraction in the region.” Joint Metropolitan Commissioner Ashwini Bhide said. The project will cover a route of 1.3 km from Dodhani Village near Panvel to Maillot Sunset Point. Currently, travellers can access the hill resort through a narrow-gauge railway line connecting Neral and Matheran on the Central Railway’s Mumbai-Pune route.

This line is 20-km long and takes about two hours of travelling and is sometimes closed during the monsoon. The other option is the road route from Neral, which is 9 km of hilly terrain to Dasturi Point. It takes 30 minutes and as motor vehicles are not allowed in Matheran, visitors have to undertake a 3-km walk that takes about 45 minutes.

Once the funicular railway is in place, the distance will reduce to 15 minutes. During non-peak hours, the funicular railway can also be used for transporting goods.

MMRDA officials claimed they are likely to finalise tenders by the year-end and passengers can use the service by December 2012.