For over a century, the world's longest narrow gauge railway route between Gwalior and Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh has been carrying hundreds of passengers everyday. But soon it will cease to exist.
The North Central Railway has decided to close down the last stretch of the Maharaja Railway or Gwalior Light Railway citing huge operation costs and is planning to build a broad gauge track in its place.
"A proposal of Rs 1,200 crore to convert the narrow gauge track to broad gauge has been sent to the Railway Board recently. It will take some time to get an approval as the amount is huge. The track will not be closed immediately. The process will be carried out in stages," said Neeraj Bhatnagar, public relation officer, Jhansi railway division.
According to railway officials, the 200-km railway track has several derailment points and needs urgent maintenance. They say at times trains on this track run at a speed of just five kilometre/hour due to poor maintenance.
The Gwalior Light Railway is one of those railway tracks which was constructed without the involvement of British in the 19th century. Built by Maharaja Madhav Rao Scindia II, its construction, which took place in four stages, began in 1895 and was completed in 1909. As it was the maharaja's personal railway track, it covered the farthest reaches of his province.
The heritage track connects 28 small towns between Gwalior and Sheopur via Sabalgarh and is the longest operating section of the railways on the 2 feet narrow gauge anywhere in the world. As it is the only railway connectivity available for these towns, the track witnesses huge rush and passengers even sit on the roof of these narrow gauge trains to complete their journey.
In 2009, the government of India had proposed that the Gwalior Light Railway be included in the Unesco's list of world heritage sites as a living example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century.
Last month, the North Central Railway discontinued its train service on the Gwalior-Sabalgarh narrow gauge line. Out of the three lines on this heritage railway track, only one between Gwalior to Sheopur exists, while the remaining two – Gwalior to Shivpuri and Gwalior to Bhind – have been converted to broad gauge by the railways.