DHR History in 20th Century
Adapted from compilation by Richard Wallace of DHRS
Entering the 20th century and with improved communications from Calcutta, the DHR began to look for new markets. Between 1914 and 1915, two branches were opened - one from Siliguri westwards to Kishanganj and the other north-eastwards to Kalimpong Road in the Teesta Valley.
The former, whist described as a branch, in fact covered some 66 miles (106km) and was much longer than the 'main line' to Darjeeling. Two 'Pacific'-type tender locomotives were purchased for its operations as this branch was not subject to the demands of steep gradients and sharp curves on the line up to Darjeeling which required the smaller 0-4-0 tank engines. Despite experiments with a Garratt-type steam locomotive from 1911 and some railcars in the 1920s and 1940s, none of these had much success and the 'B' Class reigned supreme on the main line until the arrival of diesels in the form of the NDM6 Class in 2000.
The advent of independence in 1947 and the ensuing Partition caused by the creation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) seriously affected DHR. Its main rail link to Calcutta - the former EBR route via Parbatipur - was now through a foreign country. As a result the Assam Rail Link Project was put in place to reinstate a rail link to Darjeeling (and Assam) which remained wholly in India - an essential strategic and security consideration given the tension between the newly-formed states. By 1949 most of the Kishanganj branch was converted to metre gauge and then linked with the then Bengal & Assam Railway Company's lines to Barsoi Junction and thence to Manihari Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges. This permitted a link (via ferry) to the East India Railway's lines on the southernmost bank.
The Kishanganj line was now closed as a narrow gauge railway and this was shortly followed by the Teesta Valley line, which was washed away in the severe floods of 1950. The new metre gauge route to Siliguri was accompanied by the building of a new interchange station with the DHR some 1.5 miles (2.4km) north of the Town station and close to the DHR's existing route along the Hill Cart Road. First named Siliguri North, it was later renamed Siliguri Junction.
Broad gauge links between Calcutta and New Jalpaiguri (to the south of Siliguri), totally within India, were eventually re-established between 1962 and 1971. To allow connection with the new line and station, the DHR was also extended over a realigned route from Siliguri Junction by way of a new narrow gauge track southwards from Siliguri Town to the new station at New Jalpaiguri. DHR freight working commenced using this new line in 1962 whilst DHR passenger services began operating from 1964 in conjunction with the introduction of the new broad gauge passenger trains.
In recent years Indian Railways has devoted more dedicated management supervision and resources to DHR - given the historic status of the line underpinned by its UNESCO listing in 1999 and the ongoing Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan project.
Refurbishment of the steam locomotives and additional traction in the form of more diesel locomotives [link to Our History - Locomotives] indicate the future of DHR, including the retention of steam hauled trains on a regular basis, can be contemplated with an optimism not present when the line reached its nadir in the 1990s. It is truly fortunate that in the 21st century passengers can still ride on this engineering marvel and, if travelling by steam train, the journey will be much like the one undertaken by our forefathers over one hundred years ago!