The Darjeeling Streamliner - a mystery solved

by David Barrie

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the FNRM Newsletter No. 5, Spring 1999, and earlier, in the Darjeeling Mail.

In a sense this is a detective story. Tales of a streamlined locomotive have persisted despite little or nothing in the way of hard evidence. Over time I had heard rumours - and they were only rumours, no evidence - because most people who knew about the line either scratched their head or had denied such a loco's possible existence. I hovered on believing that this was no more than a figment of somebody's over-active imagination.

Then I stumbled across evidence, if we call it that, when I found this unlikely concept in a book entitled, Line of Communication' by John Thomas. This referred to the war years, 1939-1945, and the impact that event had on the DHR. In chapter eight the author tells us how the line was used to carry thousands of troops up to the tranquility and peace of Darjeeling, where they could enjoy a period of rest and recuperation away from the fighting. He writes "To be in keeping with the new trains, a streamlined engine was produced. This was simply one of the 'B' class tanks with a 3-foot extension added to its mainframe and a sheet metal covering provided. A tender was built for the engine which was named 'Jervis Bay' in memory of the famous ship of the convoy action."

"All the work was done at the company's workshops high up in the mountains at Tindharia, and no assistance was required from the war plants on the plains." This matter-of-fact statement rather takes one aback. With the special nature of the line a streamlined locomotive seems an anomaly, a completely inappropriate machine.

I even tried to find out if anyone currently in Indian Railways knew about it, but they doubted it ever existed. There was no record of it they knew of.

The trail led no further, it seemed, until, leafing through some old photocopied pages from a June 1993 edition of 'Railway Magazine', I discovered what I had been seeking.

In the letters page, headed 'Streamliner at Darjeeling' was a picture of this strange creature, accompanied by a second photograph, of a 'B' class at Kurseong, and a letter. This communication, from a Mr Gordon Dando asked for information. Mr Dando said that, during the war he had been stationed in India, and, like thousands of fellow troops, he had travelled by rail up to Darjeeling, not once, but twice. Although he did not see the locomotive in question, his eye was caught by the 120 size photographs being sold, particularly the shot of the streamliner, which was among those he purchased.

He goes on to say that over the years he made enquiries and checked various books, but to no avail. He went on to make an appeal, "I would certainly appreciate any information concerning this unusual experiment, but after such a long time I am not very optimistic!"

The task then set by the Darjeeling Himalayan Rly. Society UK, was to trace Gordon Dando. Society Archivist Tony Doody was given the job. Through a coincidence and a chat with friend and fellow member Alan Wild, Tony was able to contact Mr Dando, who generously made available to us the photograph, the correspondence, and the whole story.

Well, the good news was that Mr Dando did receive some replies, one of which solved the mystery.

One H. Young ventured the fascinating idea that the casing was designed to "prevent people travelling on the engine buffer bar. This moved them to the roof of the carriages. So, after several fatalities for hitting overhead obstacles they fitted the periscope and a red light would be flashed by the driver to warn of approaching dangers He adds that this did not deter fare dodgers. (Periscope referred to is of course the rear facing lamp mounted on the roof of the cab.) Society member Julian Rainbow reminded us "Hugh Hughes said in Continental Railway Journal 51 that locomotive No 28 was converted and that the casing was removed in 1945, thereafter this engine carried the makers plate from No 30. Our third writer, Pursey Short, thought that it might have been simply to keep up with the fashion. He adds, "It is remarkably similar to the 'PC' class Pacific's of the Iraqi State Railways. I am sure this was no coincidence.., the Iraqi engines were the inspiration for this curious development. If correct then this loco could not have been streamlined before 1941".

The trail was getting warm and it is the final correspondent who provided us with what we believe is the answer to the puzzle. Bernard Holden writes, "I took a leave party to Darjeeling in December 1942. In the party was the late John Thomas (Author of Line of Communication) and we both took photos of this loco. We understood this was a whim of the British Engineer. Subsequently I was seconded to the B & A R and found the District Officers could put their ideas into practice, and our Garrat locos were given names such as Naga Queen. What fun it must have been to work overseas in the days of the Raj!"

Previously I had asked Pat Orr whether she knew of the Streamliner, After all, her father was Resident Engineer until June 1942. Pat assured me that she had no memory of this loco. She told me that it was about this time that one James Shaw took over as Works Manager at Tindharia from a man whose name was Kirby.

We are now in a position to draw a conclusion. Based on the information outlined above it would appear that this lace had its casing added in the latter half of 1942 and that if drew heavily on the Iraqi design of 1941. If, shall we say, a certain flexibility was allowed, (as Bernard Holden indicates), then it may well have been a whim of James Shaw, and only ran in this form for the duration of the war. A final word from Gordon Dando who told me that he believed the photograph in question had been taken by John Thomas, developed in Darjeeling, whereupon an enterprising retailer decided to take copies and sell them.

It would be interesting to know if any more pieces of the jigsaw lurk out there, in the form of memories or something more concrete. After all it has taken 56 years to find out this much. Of such stuff is the romance of this railway made!

My sincere thanks to all those who, through their knowledge or enthusiasm, made this article possible, particularly Gordon Dando, the late Tony Doody and of course Bernard Holden.

(Published in arrangement with and through the kind courtesy of 'Darjeeling Mail', the quarterly magazine of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society, UK)