The Nilgiri Railway, Madras District Gazetteers: The Nilgiris, by B. S. Baliga, Govt. Press, Madras, 1908

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Link: http://www.archive.org/details/madrasdistrictg00baligoog
Source: University of Michigan Selected by R Sivaramakrishnan. April 13, 2009.

The Nilgiri Railway

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(Kindly furnished by the District Board Engineer)

The only railway in the district is that which runs from the terminus of the Madras Railway at Mettupalaiyam up the ghat to Coonoor. It is 16.20 miles in length between these points and is on the metre gauge; and the ghat portion, which begins at Kallar five miles from Mettupalaiyam, is on a ruling gradient of 1 in 12 1/2 and worked on the Abt system, an improved modification of the Rigi rack-rail principle. It is now being extended to Ootacamnnd and the question is under consideration whether the

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whole line might not be worked by electric power generated by the Coonoor or Kateri rivers.

Schemes for a railway up the Coonoor ghat date from 1854, before the present ghat road was laid, when it was proposed to lay out a series of double-railed inclined planes up the spurs and pull loaded wagons up them by the weight of tank-wagons filled with water and connected with the loads by a rope running round a wheel at the top of the incline.

The matter was first seriously considered in 1874, when statistics of traffic were collected and preliminary discussions on the various possible systems were initiated. Even as early as this it was proposed to lessen the working expenses by using electric power.

In 1876 the Swiss Engineer M. Riggenbach, the inventor of the Rigi system of mountain railways, offered to construct the railway on the Rigi method and on the standard gauge, on the conditions (among others) that Government gave the land free, promised a guarantee of 4 per cent, for ten years on the estimated cost of 400,000 and granted exemption from taxes for the same period. Government, however, declined to agree to these terms and the offer fell through.

In 1877 the Duke of Buckingham had estimates prepared for an alternative scheme providing for a railway from Mettupalaiyam to a point two miles north of Kallar, and an inclined ropeway thence to Lady Canning's Seat. This latter was to be two mile long and in places as steep as 1 3/4 to 1; and the head of it was to be connected by rail with Coonoor, about six miles away. The scheme was found to cost almost as much as M. Riggenbach s, and moreover none of the Government's advisers cared to recommend such a hazardous undertaking as the hauling of passengers up an incline of 1 1/2 to 1. So this project likewise fell through.

In 1879 a memorial from landowners and residents on the hill suggested that money for the guarantee for M. Riggenbach's scheme should be raised by doubling the tolls, increasing the land assessment on the hills by 25 per cent., granting a block of 20,000 acres on the Kundahs to be exploited to the best advantage, and in certain other similar ways; but none of these proposals found favour in the eyes of Government.

In 1880 M. Riggenbach came out to the Nilgiris and with the assistance of Major Morant, B.E., District Engineer (who took so enthusiastic interest in the scheme) worked out detailed estimate

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for a rack railway which came to only 132,000. A local company (the Nilgiri Eigi Railway Co., Ltd.) was formed to construct the line and Government gave it encouragement and certain concessions, agreeing to allow it to acquire the necessary land under the Land Acquisition Act and to lay rails along the road from Mettupalaiyam to Kallar. The company, however, presently came forward with a request for a Government guarantee of 4 per cent, on 150,000 for 15 or 20years; and Government were naturally not prepared to grant this without demanding reciprocal conditions. What with the necessity of obtaining the consent of the Government of India, fresh demands by the company, and the need of safeguarding State interests, it was late in 1882 before the terms were finally settled and a limited guarantee promised.

The English public, however, was not satisfied with the nature of the guarantee or the sufficiency of the estimates, and capital for the proposed company was not forthcoming. The local company found it necessary to ask Government to modify its terms, and to import an English engineer to scrutinize the estimates; and as they could not find the money necessary for this latter need Mr. Richard Woolley of Coonoor agreed to advance it on condition that he was given the contract for the construction of the line. His offer was accepted and thence began his connection with the railway, of which he was eventually Agent and Manager.

A new company, called the Nilgiri Railway Co., was formed in 1885 with a capital of 25 lakhs and the proposal for a rack line was dropped for a time in favour of an adhesion line, similar to the Darjeeling Railway, on a gradient of one in thirty. Eventually the rack principle came again into favour; in 1886 a contract was entered into between the Secretary of State and the new company; in 1889 the necessary capital was raised in London; and in August 1891 the first sod of the line was at last cut by Lord Wenlock, then Governor of Madras.

The company, however, was not able to complete the line and went into liquidation in April 1894. A new company was formed in February 1896 to purchase and finish the line; and between this and the Secretary of State an agreement was concluded by which all Government land required for the line was granted free and a guarantee of 3 per cent, on the capital during construction was accorded. The line was opened in June 1899 and was worked at first by the Madras Railway under an agreement.

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The line was subsequently offered by the company to Government; and it was purchased by the latter for 35 lakhs in January 1903, up to which time the capital outlay had been 48 lakhs. It is still worked by the Madras Railway on certain terms, but the net earnings have never been enough to pay an interest of more than two and a fraction per cent, on the purchase money. The line has not succeeded in capturing by any means the whole of the heavy traffic up the ghat, which is still thronged daily by bullock-carts. Slips still continue at certain points along the route and the cost of maintenance and repairs is thus heavy.

Extension to The extension of the line to Ootacamund is now in progress. It will be on the same (metre) gauge, and 11 3/4 miles in length and the estimate is Rs. 24,40,000. The steepest gradient will be 1 in 25 and there will be no rack. It was at one time proposed that the Ootacamund terminus should be at Charing Cross; but in 1904 it was decided to place it at Mettucheri. This involved the realignment of the latter part of the route and an ugly embankment across the Lake near the Willow Bund. Besides Coonoor and Ootacamund, there will be stations at Wellington, the Cordite Factory, Ketti and Lovedale. The greater part of the earthwork has been carried out on contract by the 61st and 64th Pioneers, who established camps near the Half Way House, at Lovedale and in Mettucheri itself. The regiments receive payment for work done at the contract rates and from this as required to meet all extra expenditure incurred in connection with their employment, including the cost of transport, extra clothing, repair and maintenance of tools and wear and tear of tents.

An estimate for Rs. 31,29,000 for the electrification of the whole line from Mettupalaiyam to Ootacamund is before the Railway Board; but as this, if sanctioned, will take some time to carry into effect, steam working will be adopted on the extension to begin with.

Several other railways in and about the district have been projected at different times. In 1850, when the gold-boom had drawn such attention to the defective communications with the Wynaad, it was proposed by the planters and gold companies that a line should be run from Beypore, which it was hoped to turn into a good harbour, to Gudalur and on to Mysore. A company for the purpose was initiated, but as Government declined to promise any guarantee it was never really formed. An alternative proposal to continue the Mysore Railway from Mysore was similarly suggested and eventually dropped.

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Schemes which will render the hills more accessible from other parts of South India are those to continue the Southern Mahratta Railway from Nanjangud to Mettapalaiyam via the Gazalhutti pass and Satyamangalam, which would shorten the distance from Bangalore and Mysore; and to link Dindigul with Podanur via Pollachi, which would save travellers from Madura, Tinnevelly and Travancore the present long detour through Trichinopoly and Erode. The former line has been surveyed but deferred in favour of others with more pressing claims; while the latter has been included in the three years' programme of construction which begins in 1900-1907.

The original source material used on this page is believed to be out of copyright, and/or these extracts are believed to be fall within the scope of fair use under copyright law. Material selection and editing by R Sivaramakrishnan, 2008.