Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

History rolls to a halt as oldest continuous narrow gauge goes broad

The Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CI),one of the first guaranteed railway companies in India,opened the Ankleshwar- Bharuch broad gauge line on June 22,1860.

The Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CI),one of the first guaranteed railway companies in India,opened the Ankleshwar- Bharuch broad gauge line on June 22,1860. Earlier in 1855,sensing the prosperity railways could bring to the state,the Maharaja of Vadodara state (then called Baroda) Ganpatrao had given permission to BB&CI for constructing railway lines in his state. Bharuch-Baroda broad gauge line was inaugurated on January 9,1861. By this time,Khanderao had become the new Maharaja.

Dabhoi in Baroda state was an important trading centre. In early 1850s Khanderao,had built a line between Miyagam Karjan and Dabhoi. It was on two feet six inch gauge with rails weighing 13 lbs to a yard. The line was designed and constructed by A W Forde. A pair of oxen used to haul trains composed of 4-6 vehicles. Why did Khanderao choose narrow gauge over the-then popular broad gauge? This question remains unanswered. He was probably persuaded by sales personnel from Neilson locomotive company to buy narrow gauge locomotives for the line and hence chose the narrow gauge. In 1863,Khanderao purchased three steam locomotives built by Neilson and Co.,Glasgow. These 0-4-0 tank locomotives proved to be too heavy for the rails and were soon removed from duty. The line was not managed properly in the early years and ended up being a financial drain on the state exchequer. As a result,services were closed and over time some of the rails and bridges woodwork were stolen.

During the reign of Malharrao in 1871,fresh proposals were submitted by consulting engineer for BB&CI to restore the line. Upon approval from the state,the old rails were removed and new rails of 30 lbs to a yard were laid. The work was executed by the firm Rustomjee Nowrojee of Bombay. Three stations were built; old bridges and culverts were repaired. The Miyagam-Dabhoi line was reopened for traffic on April 8,1873. The three locomotives purchased earlier along with new rolling stock designed by E B Carroll were pressed into service. The management of line was handed over to BB&CI Company. Dabhoi was now connected with BB&CI mainline from Bombay at Miyagam.

For the history buffs,the world’s oldest NG line was built in 1869. It was on two foot gauge and connected Portmadoc in North Wales with Festiniog and its slate quarries. In the 70’s this line was closed down and later restored for tourism in early 90’s.So Dabhoi-Miyagam line holds two world records — the oldest two and half feet gauge railway in the world and the oldest continuously working narrow gauge line (narrow gauge includes two feet and two and half feet gauge).

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For a long time steam locomotives reigned supreme. After 0-4-0 tank locomotives,0-4-2 tender locomotives were introduced in 1891,followed by 0-6-2 Kittson manufactured locomotives in 1902 and finally in 1912,Bagnall manufactured 0-6-2 locomotives. In 1928,2-6-2 ZB class locomotives,manufactured by Bagnall were introduced. In 1990 diesel traction was introduced on Western railway and soon the steam locomotives were replaced by diesel locomotives. Nowadays ZDM5 diesel locomotives,manufactured by Chittranjan locomotive works haul the trains. A small diesel shed was recently constructed at Dabhoi. Major repairs and overhaul is carried out at Pratapnagar workshop near Vadodara.

With gauge conversion now in full swing and most narrow gauge lines around Dabhoi being converted to broad gauge,the days for this piece of rail history is clearly numbered.

— Vikas Singh,
Rail Enthusiast
Courtesy National Rail Museum

First published on: 18-06-2009 at 02:05:43 am
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