History of Steam - Narrow Gauge
TB 4 & 6 were unique 4-6-0 tender locomotives that spent their later working life at the Clutterbuckgunj (C. B. Gunj) creosoting depot of Northern Railway near Bareilly. This pair worked at the Tezpore - Balipara railway prior to being transferred here. Both have since been preserved.
TOld postcard showing goods train coming out of the Barog tunnel on the Kalka Simla Railway.
Diagram of G Class 4-6-4 tender locomotive built by Nasmyth Wilson in 1928 for the Barsi Light Railway.
CC class No.680, a 4-6-2 engine built by North British at Baripada on the Rupsa - Bangriposi section of South Eastern Railway (former BNR).
Old postcard from Germany showing a train at the scenic Barog (Baroch) station.
ZF class loco No.76 prior to despatch at Henschel works in Germany. Note the Caprotti Valve Gear. This loco became No.105 during all India renumbering.
G Class # 728 hauling a mixed train on Barsi Light Railway.
ZP4 4-6-2 built by Nippon Sharyo in 1954 and seen here at Arvi in 1997 was the last regular working 2'6" steam locomotive on IR.
KC 520 locomotive restored recently seen on a special run near Simla.
Narrow Gauge (2'0" and 2'6")
The compilation of narrow gauge steam locomotives used over the last 143+ years is probably the most haphazard amongst all gauges. Yet it is perhaps a paradox that by far the most unique and artistic locomotives are found on this gauge(s) and these attract enthusiasts and travellers in droves. The reason for this vast array of locomotives found on the narrow gauge railways can be attributed to the fact that a majority of these railways began as smaller railway companies or private railways who chose their own standards usually by trial and error. No real attempt was made for standardisation of the locomotives for these gauges/railways until the introduction of IRS (Indian Railway Standard) classes in 1925 and that may well have been a case of too little, too late.
The first narrow gauge railway line to be laid was to 2'6" gauge by the Gaekwar of Baroda to connect the town of Dabhoi to the broad gauge BBCIR railway. Initially bullocks were used to provide motive power to the railway until three 0-4-0 tank locomotives were introduced in 1863. The tank engines proved too heavy for the lightly laid rails and 0-4-0 tender engines were found to be more suitable with heavier rails. In the 1890s a 0-4-2 tender locomotive was introduced and instantly became popular.
Although the Dabhoi railway was primarily doing the job of a feeder line, the second narrow gauge railway that came to fore was an entirely different proposition. This was the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway , completed in 1881 to carry weather weary passengers from the summers of Siliguri to the cooler environs of Darjeeling as well as to carry goods in both directions. Here a 2'0" gauge was found to be more suitable to cope with the sharp curves and limited space available on the hill section. Even after the adoption of the smaller gauge, the original alignment proved to be too steep until loops and Z reverses were introduced in places. The original 0-4-0 tender locomotives were not very successful until another four coupled wheel well tank engine was introduced. It was the development of the latter design with added saddle tanks that became known as the ubiquitous class B locomotives on this railway and these were so successful that they still continue to be used today.
Between 1881 and 1894, another nine narrow gauge railways appeared, but alas none have survived in its original form. Some have quietly disappeared while others have been replaced by metre gauge and even broad gauge(5'6"). The most prominent one amongst these was the 2'6" Morvi Railway of 1886. The Scindia of Gwalior also started a 2'0" railway at his palace grounds in 1893 and from 1899 it developed into a much larger public transport system that served towns as far as Bhind, Shivpuri and Sheopur Kalan and was better known as Gwalior Light Railway (GLR).
1897 was an important year for the narrow gauge system in India for it saw the emergence of two new systems. The first were the 2'0" gauge Howrah-Amta and Howrah-Sheakhala railways catering to the western suburbs of Calcutta. These lines were managed by T.A. Martin & Co. of Calcutta who later initiated construction of several other lines which were built to the 2'6" gauge.
The Barsi Light Railway (BLR), in south central India which had adopted the 2'6" gauge at its inception, also opened its first section in 1897. This railway's engineering genius E.R. Calthrop successfully demonstrated that carrying capacity on narrow gauge could be increased by the adoption of larger and heavier locomotives as well as bogie rolling stock. This approach was markedly ahead of any other railway of its time and opened up a way for general improvement of standards on the narrow gauge. Several new lines then used the 2-8-4 tank locomotives and in due course 4-6-2 and 2-8-2 tender locomotives also made their debut on both 2'6" and 2'0" narrow gauges.
Towards the end of the 19th century, several narrow gauge lines of strategic importance were proposed in the North Western Frontier area and it was agreed that some uniformity in rolling stock would be required in case of their requirement in another part of the country in the event of an emergency. A conference in 1897 recommended 2'0" gauge as the standard. However in the following year the War Office intervened with a suggestion for 2'6" gauge for military requirement throughout the empire and the Indian Government accepted this as a new standard.
It is interesting to note that in 1900 the only four railways, namely DHR, GLR, Martin & Co. and Jorhat Railways who had previously adopted 2'0" gauge and totalled 410 route kilometres grew up to 1006 Km by 1918. In the same period the 2'6" gauge had also grown in leaps and bounds from 707 Km to 4650 Km. The total length of narrow gauge trackage was to reach over 6400 Km by 1940. Much of this sudden spurt in building narrow gauge lines could be attributed to the various rebate schemes introduced by the government in favour of building feeder lines.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the spectacular Kalka - Simla mountain railway was completed as well as two other lines of strategic importance in the North West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). This period also saw the opening of two extensive narrow gauge systems on the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR).
The first two sections to be built (1903-05) were from Gondia to Nainpur and from Nainpur to Jabalpur, a total distance of 228 Km. Another line of 141 Km length was built west from Nainpur to Chhindwara in 1904. In 1908, a 250 Km line was opened between Gondia and Nagpur. By 1916, the addition of several other branch lines brought the total length of the Satpura lines to a staggering 1006 Km.
After the initial success with heavier 0-8-4 tank engines on the Barsi Light Railway, Calthrop introduced a larger 4-8-4 tank engine in 1905. One of these examples, a class B engines No.11 called `Lord Airdale' (built by Kitson in 1907) is plinthed in front of the South Central Railway Headquarters in Secunderabad. The BNR had introduced a 2-8-4 tank engine in 1902 and a somewhat smaller version of this locomotive was used by the Bombay Baroda & Central India Railway (BBCIR) on their Dholpur system in 1910. By 1915, 2'0" versions of the 2-8-4 tank engines made their appearance on the Gwalior Railway.
Longer journeys on larger systems like the BNR, NWR and BLR soon necessitated the use of 2-8-2 tender locomotives with larger fuel and water capacities and a 2'0" gauge version was introduced on GLR in 1914. Even 4-6-2 and 4-6-4 tender engines were introduced for faster passenger services by the pioneering BNR and used elsewhere on both narrow gauges. The Gaekwar's Dabhoi Railway (later a state railway), with its comparatively shorter lines centred on Dabhoi, preferred a 0-6-2 tender design first built in 1913 which itself was a development of an earlier 0-6-2 tender engine of 1902.
On the Hill railways the DHR settled for the now famous B Class 0-4-0 saddle + well tank locomotives in 1889, after its initial unsuccessful trials with 0-4-0 side tanks and well tank engines, and they have remained the standard for steam motive power ever since on this railway.
However similar designs gained only limited success on the Kalka Simla Railway (KSR) and a 0-4-2 tank engine was preferred. Later a much larger 2-6-2 tank engine found the real answer to the motive power woes of this railway. The 2'0" Matheran Hill Railway settled for 0-6-0 tank engines with articulated axles with radial outside movement built by Orenstein & Koppel to cope with the severe curves on this railway.
The Indian Railway Standard (IRS) was introduced in 1925 and it included, for the first time, the standard designs for the two narrow gauges. The classes are listed below with a prefix `Z' indicating narrow gauge 2'6" and `Q' indicating 2'0".
|Class||Type||Total Heating Surface
(in sq. ft.)
|Axle Load (tons)|
|ZA||2-6-2||550||10 X 18||20.5||4.5|
|ZB||2-6-2||700||12 X 18||26||6|
|ZC||2-8-2||900||131/2 X 18||34||6|
|ZD||4-6-2||950||151/2 X 18||41||8|
|ZE||2-8-2||1300||16 X 18||46||8|
|ZF||2-6-2 T||700||131/2 X 18||37||8|
|QA||2-6-2||550||10 X 18||20.5||4.5|
|QB||2-6-2||700||12 X 18||26||6|
|QC||2-8-2||900||131/2 X 18||34||6|
All the above IRS designs incorporated superheaters and had a working pressure of 160 lbs/sq. in. With the exception of ZD which had 42" coupled wheels, all others classes incorporated 34" coupled wheels.
Most of the designs were based on already running and successful predecessors on various railways. For example, the ZB was based on the S class of North Western Railway and the ZA was to be a lighter version of this locomotive. The ZD and ZE classes were based on the B and C class locomotives used successfully on the Satpura lines by BNR. The ZC was added as a lighter version of the ZE.
However, only the ZB and the ZE classes came out as planned under IRS and although a ZF 2-6-2 tank locomotive was built in 1934 for Kalka Simla Railway, it was actually based on the previously successful K and K2 classes used on this railway. These had 30" coupled wheels, 14 X 16" cylinders and 180 lbs boiler pressure, the newer additions being enhanced coal and water carrying capacity, larger grate area, a superheated boiler and the introduction of Caprotti valve gear. Due to the increase in traffic after the war years, five more locomotives were ordered with Walschaert valve gear in place of Caprotti valve gear and came to be known as ZF/1.
The IRS classes ZA, ZC and ZD were never built. The traffic increase after the 1939-45 war years led to large orders for ZB and ZE classes and around this time, two new designs were introduced and built in limited numbers known as ZP 4-6-2 and ZD 2-8-2. Both locomotives had boilers replaceable with the metre gauge YL 2-6-2 class and a working pressure of 210 lbs/sq. in.
The 1925 IRS designs for 2'0" gauge were based on existing locomotives of the Gwalior Railway with many parts interchangeable with the 2'6" gauge engines. These classes too never left the drawing board as GLR engineers preferred to lean on existing successful locomotives designs and stayed away from IRS designs when ordering locomotives.
Martin & Co. too stuck to their successful 0-4-2 tank design on their 2'0" lines and also tried out this arrangement on their 2'6" lines. They also used some 2-4-2 and 0-6-2 tank locomotives on their 2'6" lines. The McLeod Railway as well as Dehri Rohtas Light Railway stayed away from any radical departures from their existing locomotive standards.
The Narrow Gauge scene at present
The narrow gauge railway in India never reached the stature enjoyed by metre gauge for a long time, but it is apparent now that, barring the hill railways, the narrow gauge will outlive the race of time against the metre gauge.
The total route length for narrow gauge exceeded 6400 Km at its peak during the 1940s. After India gained independence several smaller railway companies were amalgamated with the Indian Railway System, which were converted to a larger gauge thereafter. Others were closed due to road competition. In the mid 1970s the total route mileage was thus reduced to a little over 4000 Km.
In 1992 the Indian Railway board took up `Project Uni-gauge', to bring the entire railway network under broad gauge (1676 mm) in order to remove traffic bottlenecks and avoid transhipments. The obvious first casualty was the metre gauge but more recently several large narrow gauge networks have also been either converted or taken up for conversion. Notable amongst there are the Satpura Railway, Barsi Light Railway and Gwalior Light Railway.
The four hill railways, namely Darjeeling (DHR), Simla (KSR), Matheran (MLR) and Kangra valley railway (KVR) have survived the onslaught of time and have their future secured. The MLR, KSR and KVR have long since been dieselised. However re-commissioned steam locomotives have recently made an appearance on the MLR and KSR.
On the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, several B class steam locomotive are still used but after the introduction of NDM6 class diesel in Dec. 1999, they rarely work the full length of the railway. The daily train from Siliguri to Darjeeling is usually diesel hauled and the B class are usually relegated to the smaller chores of hauling the Kurseong - Darjeeling school train and the tourist special between Darjeeling and Ghoom.
On most of the other narrow gauge railways, steam lasted up to the mid nineties. The last 2'6" narrow gauge railway to operate steam on a timetabled service was the Pulgaon - Arvi section of the Central Railway.