CHENNAI: On October 15 the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam section of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) system completes 100 years of operation. The 18-km line is part of the 46-km NMR system, which was conferred the World Heritage status by the UNESCO in 2005 as an extension of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
According to the World Heritage Committee of the UNESCO, the NMR is an outstanding example of a technological marvel representing different phases of development in high mountain areas. The NMR is the steepest and longest metre gauge mountain railway in Asia.
Though several proposals were mooted since 1854 for construction of a rail line from the foothills of the Nilgiris at Mettupalayam to the Udhagamandalam peak, it took over three decades for it to become a reality. In 1882, Swiss inventor M. Riggenbach’s proposal for construction of the line on the ‘Rigi pattern’ found acceptance.
The Nilgiri Rigi Railway Company Ltd was formed in 1885 with a capital of Rs.25 lakh and the mandate to undertake construction of the Mettupalayam-Coonoor railway line. The work began in August 1891 and was completed on June 15, 1899. The extension from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam was completed at a cost of Rs.24.4 lakh and opened for passenger traffic on October 15, 1908.
The metre gauge train operates with four coaches. Each has two hand brakes, one for adhesion and the other for pinion. A brakeman travels in each coach and applies the hand brake when the train travels from Mettupalayam to Coonoor, the steepest gradient of the NMR.
The popularity of the NMR is growing among tourists, says Chief Public Relations Officer Neenu Ittyerah. In the last four years, there has been a 44 per cent increase in the number of passengers in the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam section with a corresponding increase of 18 per cent in the earnings.
Southern Railway has planned a 45-day-long centenary celebration, which includes an exhibition on the NMR, release of a postage stamp and cultural shows. Union Minister of State for Railways R. Velu will flag off and travel by the heritage special from Coonoor on October 13.