India: The Complex History of The Junctions at Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri

compiled by Alastair Boobyer

This article from Rinbad is reproduced here by the generous permission of the author Alastair Boobyer and the editor of Rinbad, Brian Philp. The original is available here. Copyright for this article is held by the author and Rinbad.

This page was updated on 1 May 2003.

Sketch-maps added 24 May 2003, based on diagrams provided by Cable Travel.

On the official Railway Map of India the map reference of the area is L6.

Sources used include Terry Martin's history of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Halfway to Heaven.

New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Town - Siliguri Jn: (R.0588, 2410, 2948) The area at the lower end of the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has arguably the world's most complex history of changing gauges and routes.

From 1878 the railway route to Siliguri was north for 185km on the broad-gauge (1676mm; 5ft6in) East Bengal State Railway (Calcutta Sealdah - Damookdeah Ghat), across the endlessly-shifting river Ganges by ferry to one or other of the various ghats or landing-stages on the north bank, then onward 336km by the metre-gauge North Bengal Railway (eg Sara Ghat - Siliguri). In 1881 the metre-gauge was joined at Siliguri (Town) by the narrow-gauge (610mm; 2ft) DHR (Siliguri - Darjeeling). In 1915 two new narrow-gauge lines were added to the DHR from Siliguri, to the north-east up the river Teesta valley towards Kalimpong and Sikkim (Siliguri - Gielle Kola) and to the south-west (Siliguri - Kishanganj). Also in 1915 the Hardinge bridge was built across the river Ganges, and in 1926 the metre-gauge north of the bridge was converted, so the whole Calcutta - Siliguri route became broad-gauge.

With the partition of India in 1947 the broad-gauge route from Calcutta was severed, since part of it ran through East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. This also cut off India's province of Assam from the rest of the Indian railway network. The route to Siliguri became more circuitous: broad-gauge (Calcutta - Barsoi), metre-gauge (Barsoi - Kishanganj), and narrow-gauge (Kishanganj - Siliguri). In 1949 Kishanganj - Siliguri was converted from narrow-gauge to metre-gauge and extended north-east into Assam. This duplicated part of the narrow-gauge Teesta Valley line, and after a washout in 1950 it was not repaired. The North Bengal Railway route from Calcutta, truncated by partition, had become an isolated section of broad-gauge (Siliguri - Haldibari), so this stub was converted back from broad-gauge to metre-gauge.

From about 1949 a new Siliguri Junction station, north of Siliguri Town, became the main station in the area, with three metre-gauge lines (south-west to Kishanganj and Barsoi; north-east to Assam; south to Siliguri Town and Haldibari) and two narrow-gauge lines (north to Darjeeling; south to Siliguri Town). The narrow-gauge steam shed was moved from Siliguri Town to Siliguri Jn and the narrow-gauge Siliguri Jn - Siliguri Town section became freight-only.

In the early 1960s a more radical change was made. Indian Railways created a new broad-gauge rail link from Calcutta, and on a greenfield site south of Siliguri Town built an entirely new through broad-gauge station, New Jalpaiguri. The new broad-gauge route continued from New Jalpaiguri east and for more than 10km used the formation of the Haldibari line, so the New Jalpaiguri - Haldibari section was converted yet again - from metre-gauge to broad-gauge for the second time, its fourth incarnation! New Jalpaiguri became a triple-gauge station, being served by the metre-gauge in the shape of the Siliguri Town - New Jalpaiguri section of the former Haldibari line, suitably realigned but not regauged, and by a new Siliguri Town - New Jalpaiguri extension of the narrow-gauge DHR.

From about 1964 New Jalpaiguri became the main station in the area, with two broad-gauge lines (west to Calcutta; east towards Assam with branch to Haldibari), a metre-gauge line (north to Siliguri Town and Siliguri Jn, diverging thence south-west to Kishanganj and Barsoi, and north-east to Assam) and a narrow-gauge line (north to Siliguri Town, Siliguri Jn and Darjeeling). The narrow-gauge steam shed was again moved, from Siliguri Jn to New Jalpaiguri. With interchange between main-line and Darjeeling trains at New Jalpaiguri, the narrow-gauge New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Town - Siliguri Jn section became a passenger line.

The layout is again changing, for the 1949 metre-gauge route to Assam is also being converted to broad-gauge. In early February 2003 metre-gauge track had been lifted, and broad-gauge track was being laid, from New Jalpaiguri north through Siliguri Town and Siliguri Jn at least as far as the bridge over the river Teesta (which being of metre-gauge design may need rebuilding). For the moment, Siliguri Jn retains one metre-gauge line (south-west to Kishanganj and Barsoi) and two narrow-gauge lines (north to Darjeeling; south to Siliguri Town and New Jalpaiguri) but the future of what is now a Barsoi - Kishanganj - Siliguri Jn metre-gauge branch must be uncertain since for some 150km it runs virtually parallel to the broad-gauge main line, which has been doubled since the late 1980s. When broad-gauge arrives at Siliguri Jn, it would be possible to concentrate interchange for Darjeeling there, and abandon the New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Town - Siliguri Jn narrow-gauge section, though there are no known plans to shorten the DHR in this way. In the near future New Jalpaiguri will it seems have three broad-gauge lines (west to Calcutta; east towards Assam with branch to Haldibari; north to Siliguri Town and Siliguri Jn, then north-east to Assam) and a narrow-gauge line (north to Siliguri Town, Siliguri Jn and Darjeeling).

UPDATE Information from Mohan Bhuyan, IRFCA discussions, June 2005: Near Siliguri, an MG line emerges to the right, on a somewhat high embankment and continues to run parallel to the road. This is the Siliguri-Kishanganj-Katihar MG line which still exists. Bagdogra is a station on this line, in fact the airport's runway almost ends within station limits! Both road and rail curve northwards but then diverge with the road crossing over the railway tracks. This overpass is above the Siliguri- New Mal Jn - Alipurduar Jn - Samuktala Road line and the DHR. The former was MG in 2000 and is BG now. Siliguri was a compulsory reversing point for all MG trains to and from Assam because of the asymmetric MG coupler problem. I travelled through the area in December 2004. This is what I observed: New Jalpaiguri is a pure BG station now and legitimately termed a junction. The DHR was non-operational between New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri Jn. Siliguri has taken over from New Jalpaiguri as the only tri-gauge junction in India. The NG shed and coaching line in New Jalpaiguri, which was at the Guwahati end of the station, was empty and abandoned. Incidentally, Bagdogra and a military cantonment called Bengdubi also have a BG line, which leaves the mainline from a station called Ragapani. This BG spur bifurcates just before Bagdogra and one branch goes over the Bagdogra-Siliguri highway towards Bengdubi (?).