GUWAHATI, Aug 27 – The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), covering some of the most picturesque landscapes of the country, is going to promote its heritage in a major way. Steps have already been taken to showcase its historic assets while others are in the pipeline. It is likely that the new emphasis would also help attract more tourists in the days to come.
According to a senior NFR official, the new initiatives have been endorsed by Keshav Chandra, who recently took over as General Manager of NF Railway. Chandra has experience in heritage management of Kalka Shimla Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO recognized mountain railway.
Keeping with plans, a Rail Heritage Park-cum-Museum at New Tinsukia was inaugurated at the confluence of two historic railway systems of North eastern India. – Dibru Sadiya Railway (DSR) and the Assam Bengal Railway (ABR) – linked at Tinsukia city on March 1, 1903. The museum has adopted DSR and ABR as its prime themes.
Among its special features are the narrow gauge steam loco No.781, built in 1899 for DHR, AC indoor exhibition gallery modeled after the historic Lekhapani station of Dibru Sadiya Railway, Virasat – a heritage hall, which houses vintage steam and diesel locos of metre gauge era and an AC seminar hall on wheels, NFR sources revealed.
An original steam loco turntable of 1892 built in UK and bridge pillars built between 1894 to 1898 finds place in the museum today and recall the difficult task of railway pioneers of the 19 th century.
A heritage gallery was set up in Divisional Office, Tinsukia, with a view to create the interest and awareness among the railway employees about the rich heritage of the railway system operating in this region. The name plates of the builders of rolling stock used on the erstwhile Dibru Sadiya Railway (DSR) and Assam Bengal Railway (ABR), the origin of NFR, are chronologically displayed in the gallery.
Lekhapani station is the eastern-most station of Indian Railways. Constructed around 1890, it was a major coal loading terminal of metre gauge network and was used extensively for loading coal mined from the nearby Tipong collieries.
Significantly, the station marks the beginning of the famous Stillwel Road constructed up to Kunming in China through India and Burma by the Allied Army between 1942 and 1945. Realizing the historical significance of the station, NFR took up the challenge and restored it’s function in 2009.
According to NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Situsing Hajong, there are ongoing efforts to identify more rail assets or objects of historic importance. “We hope that any one with knowledge of such sites and objects would contact NFR…”he said. In times ahead, Hajong believes, the list of heritage objects will certainly increase.
He pointed out that the new emphasis on heritage assets includes the much talked about Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), a 610 mm (2 ft) wide narrow–gauge railway that meanders over Himalayan ranges from Siliguri to Darjeeling for 88 km.
According to experts, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions. To preserve DHR in its true spirit of UNESCO declaration, the Railway Board has sanctioned Darjeeling – Heritage preservation Project, Phase-I along with works for restoration of Darjeeling station building and façades and damaged steam loco shed due to land slides at a total cost of Rs 2.27 crore. The NFR also has plans to restore the Heritage Siliguri Town station under public private partnership (PPP) model. Work will be undertaken soon.
Due to uni-gauge policy, most of the metre gauge track has been phased out on Indian Railways. In order to commemorate the metre gauge system and its contribution towards the development of NE region, Railway Ministry has decided to retain the existing MG track on “Mahur – Harangajao” and “Siliguri – Bagdogra” sections of NF Railway.