Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 68 - Inscription of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as a World Heritage Site in the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee, Durban, South Africa

The World Heritage Committee consists of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage, elected by the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention. The essential functions of the Committee are to: (i) identify, on the basis of nominations submitted by States Parties, cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value which are to be protected under the Convention and to list those properties on the World Heritage List; (ii) monitor the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, in liaison with the States Parties; decide which properties included in the World Heritage List are to be inscribed on or removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger; and decide whether a property may be deleted from the World Heritage List; and (iii) examine requests for International Assistance from the World Heritage Fund.

During its 29th session at Durban, South Africa, on 15th July the World Heritage Committee, has approved the extension of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to include Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India, on the basis of the existing criteria (ii) and (iv) and renames the extended property as Mountain Railways of India;

Criterion (ii): The mountain railways of India are outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology, and the impact of innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multicultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world.

Criterion (iv): The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of a technological ensemble, representing different phases of the development in high mountain areas.

In terms of the categories of cultural property set out in Article 1 of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, this is a
site. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) is proposed as an extension to the existing World Heritage Site, Darjeeling
Himalayan Railway (DHR), forming a serial nomination: Mountain Railways of India.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a meter-gauge singletrack railway in Tamil Nadu State, 46km long. Its construction was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location, the work only started in 1891 being completed in 1908. This railway represented the latest technology of the time, and it was highly significant facilitating population movement and the social-economic development in the British colonial era.

It consists of 45.88km of a meter-gauge single-track railway that connects Mettupalayiyam to Udagamandalam (earlier: Ootacamund or Ooty) in Tamil Nadu State. Mettupalaiyam is located at an elevation of 326m and Udagamandalam at 2203m. Rack rails consist of two toothed steel bars laid in a double row at 44mm apart and 64mm above the running rails so that the tooth of one rail is directly opposite to the gap of the other to ensure that the engine pinions do not work off the racks in curves. Rack bars of two standard lengths are in use: full bar (26 teeth per 3.12m) and half bar (13 teeth per 1.56m).

The pitch of rack teeth is 120 mm. The entry to the rack is effected through specially designed entry tongues laid in special channel sleepers fitted with bow springs and connecting links connected finally to the rigid bars. The racks are laid at a constant distance of 455 mm. from the inner rails and are screwed by bolting to cast iron chairs fixed to the sleepers with fang bolts.

The railway can be divided into three sections: 1) The first section, ca 7 km, from Mettupalaiyam to Kallar (elevation 405m), is across the central plain of Tamil Nadu. The Railway runs through beetle-nut palm and other plantations. Maximum speed is 30km/h. Mettupalaiyam, was a small village in the 1850s and it gained importance as a railhead only after the British laid a Broad gauge line from Coimbatore to Mettupalaiyam in 1873.

The Broad gauge train from Madras to Mettupalaiyam was called the Blue Mountain Express, the name of which was changed recently to the native Nilgiri Express. Mettupalaiyam has the carriage and Wagon Depot of the NMR and all the carriages and Wagons are maintained there. 2) The second is the rack section of the line, from Kallar to Coonoor (elevation 1712m), climbing 1330m in 19 km. On this rack section the average grade is 1 in 15 and the ruling grade is 1 in 12.

There are 208 curves and 13 tunnels, as well as a half tunnel, where the Railway has been cut into the sheer cliff wall, enclosed by rock on three sides. There are 27 viaducts, built in steel and stone, featuring steel girder spans, typically of 60 feet (18.3m) supported on stone abutments and piers. The Kallar Bridge over the River Bhawani, the Adderley viaduct and the Burliar Bridge are examples of such composite bridges. Here, the Railway climbs through almost uninhabited, tropical jungle. The last five kilometres feature fine views over the escarpment, which the train has just ascended. Maximum speed is 13km/h. Coonoor town is built on one of the best geographical locations in the Nilgiri Mountains with a cool and equitable climate. 3) The third section is 18km long. The landscape is neat with dominant eucalyptus and acacia forest. The railway continues to climb across the Nilgiris till it reaches its summit just before the terminus of Udagamandalam at 2203m. Although the climb here is not as steep as the rack section, the ruling gradient between Coonoor and Udagamandalam is still very steep 1 in 23. There are three tunnels in this section including the longest on the line, some 282m. Maximum speed is 30km/h. The name of Udagamandalam refers to a collection of quaint huts of the aboriginal Todas, who believe they have always lived here.

This place is popular for tourists. The bogies were modified in 1992 to enable the passengers to get a good view on both sides. The coaches and wagons are provided with brakesmen who independently operate friction brakes and rack brakes on whistle codes from the driver. The railway is operating "X" class locomotives with pinion wheels on rack rail arrangement to negotiate
the steep gradient of 1 in 12. Due to the steep gradient and adverse weather conditions, two different braking systems are used: i) adhesion braking between wheel and rail through friction, ii) brake application through the pinion and rack bar, connected to the track. The locomotive pinions are made to drive the pistons, which act as air compressors causing dynamic braking effort. The clasp
brakes actuated by hand wheels on the brake drum, mounted on the pinions can also apply braking effort on the cogwheel.

Protected by wild, jungle-covered escarpments and located at an elevation of roughly 2000 meters, the Nilgiris hills were isolated until the 19th century with their tribal inhabitants, the Todas. The name of the hills means Blue Mountains in Sanskrit and reflects the perspective of a person looking at them from below. British settlement in the hills began in 1820. By 1830 there was military commandant, and British families from Madras began building summerhouses, especially in Udagamandalam (Ootacamund).

By 1870, the Madras government as a whole was moving there for the summer, in imitation of the annual migration of the viceroy's Government from Calcutta to Simla. The history of NMR dates back to 1854 when proposals were first made by the British to build a railway up the hills. Work began on the Madras-Coimbatore line (5'6") in 1853, and the branch to Mettupalaiyam opened in 1873. The problem was how to replace the tedious ascent by bullock-cart or pony to Coonoor. In 1873, the district engineer of the Nilgiris, J.L.L. Morant, proposed building a rack railway, but the first offers were reclined. Sir Guildford Molesworth, the former engineer in chief of the Ceylon Government Railway, acting as consultant to the Government of India, advised a rack and adhesion line on the model of the Abt system built in the Harz Mountains in Germany. In 1882, M. Riggenbach, the Swiss inventor of Rigi rack railway, submitted a proposal for the construction of the railway line. This was accepted, and the Nilgiri Rigi Railway Company Ltd was formed in 1885. The work was inaugurated in 1891, and finally completed in 1908. Subsequently the railway was run by different companies, and was then incorporated into the Southern Railway in 1951.

The property is nominated on the basis of criteria ii and iv: Criterion ii: NMR is an example of a colonial Railway, and part of that stage of globalisation, which was characterized by colonial rule, and the political and economic domination of the people of Asia, Africa and the Pacific by Europeans. Part of that process was technology transfer, and NMR is a spectacular example of such transfer. The Nilgiri plateau was transformed into a tea growing area, a landscape made largely by human intervention with Eucalyptus as the dominant tree, imported from Australia. Socially, the Nilgiris Mountains have been a location for interaction British and South Indian communities. The technological and social interchange is also evident in the application of rack Railway technology as applied in the west to establish a rail link in a tropical location.
The Swiss qualities of the NMR are strong. The steam locomotives which still work all traffic on the rack section and the tourist special on the adhesion section are the X class, designed in 1911 and built by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works in Winterthur between 1913 and 1952. The export of technology from Switzerland has contributed to the unusual if not quite unique features of the NMR.

This Railway is a unique example of construction genius employed by Railway engineers in the later part of 19th century. Before the railway it took more than 10 days to reach Udagamandalam, braving insects and wild animals. With the introduction of the Railway, the 45 km journey took only 4 _ hours. Various facets of the Railway line, viz. the rack & pinion mechanism to gain
height, the steam engines, coaches, the station buildings preserved in their original shape all bear testimony to the technological skills of the bygone era are an outstanding demonstration of their function and illustrates a significant stage in human history. As an example of the transfer of rack railway technology to remote locations outside Europe, the NMR is certainly the outstanding remaining example in the world, in terms of its scale, authenticity, continuity and presentation. As an ensemble, with its impeccably maintained permanent way; its elegant, original stations and associated buildings, and its large proportion of old rolling stock and locomotives, it is genuinely outstanding, even unique.

Taken as a whole, the railway is quite a large undertaking. According to the international comparative assessment provided in the nomination document and confirmed by TICCIH, it is easily the most original and one of the largest rack-and-pinion railways in the world. The NMR is an almost perfect example of the Abt rack system as it was at the height of its development, and it is supplemented with old-fashioned block working by Neale's tablet. Most stations, all signal boxes and workshops, and virtually the entire infrastructure are still in their original condition. Rack railways were never very common in British railway practice. They were more numerous in the Austro- Hungarian Empire and in Switzerland. On the World Heritage List, there is the 41km long Semmering Railway in Austria, which was built 1848-54.

The NMR railway is one of five surviving historic railways in India, including the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) already inscribed on the World Heritage List. TICCIH has indicated that the DHR and the NMR are the two most innovative and outstanding of the five. The DHR is basically a roadside tramway, 0.61m wide, with no notable structures, and built extremely economically. It was the first Indian mountain railway (1880-81), and experimental in nature. By contrast, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, built nearly two decades later, is an altogether more substantial affair. Its gauge is broader, about 1m, and it is on its own reservation throughout its length. The NMR climb far more quickly and on steeper grades, using the Abt rack system. This is which makes the Nilgiri Mountain Railway unusual. There are few other Abt rack railways in the world, and none so authentic throughout. It is also big for a rack railway, with relatively large steam locomotives and heavy trains.