The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (DHRS) founded in 1997, with more than 900 members across the world, has been showcasing and popularising the toy train and believes this narrow gauge railway that began its journey in torturous Darjeeling hills in 1881 would continue to remain a fancy for steam engine lovers throughout the world. More than 60% of the members are British.
Passing through one of its worst phases, with regular services between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling closed for more than two and half years due to two major landslides at Tindharia and Paglajhora, the future of the toy train looks bleak.
However, DHRS is committed to motivate and encourage people across the globe to play the role of a support group to ensure that their beloved DHR survives.
David Barrie, chairman of DHRS, who was touring with a group of 15 DHR enthusiasts from the United Kingdom for last two weeks said, "No other Himalayan railways can match the DHR, which is unique and fascinating. For any railway enthusiast, the ride on the DHR is a thrilling experience and the spectacular scenes one witnesses while the trains chug along through the hills makes the experience heavenly." Barrie enjoyed the DHR's charter ride for the 10th time.
Talking to Hindustan Times at a felicitation programme organised by the DHR India support group, Barrie said, "Despite the UK's economy being a mess, more and more British people are becoming attracted to the DHR." Barrie, accompanied by Moo, his wife who heads the Darjeeling Railway Community Support, said, "The DHR can be made viable as people all across the world are ready to pay more for the charter rides. We do not want to ride the DHR cheaply. Rather, we want to give bundle of money to support the DHR." A DHR charter ride for 30 foreigners is already lined up for next month.
The DHRS also publishes a high quality quarterly members magazine named 'The Darjeeling Mail' from the United Kingdom. The Darjeeling Mail promotes and creates awareness and interest among the railway enthusiasts all across the globe.
Recently an initiative of the DHRS to overhaul two B class steam engines at the Tindharia railway workshop won the prestigious Steam Railway Readers' Award 2012. The award was presented in London on February 9. The readers of 'The Steam Railway', a magazine with 33,000 readers, voted the Tindharia DHR project the best among 15 other most deserving engineering projects. Barrie said, "This is the first time that the award has been won by nonUK project. The award is 20 year old."
As part of the Tindharia engineering project, engineering director David Mead and steam engineer Mike Weedon from the UK visited Tindharia DHR workshop three time and were paid by the DHRS to 'rebore' the engine's cylinders and fit new pistons and rings with the help of DHR staff at Tindharia DHR workshop. This resulted in the increase in the pulling capacity of the overhauled engines thus consuming less coal and water.
"Encouraged by this magnificent achievement, the Indian Railways is now more keen to continue with this type of engineering support from the DHRS on a structured and funded basis," said Paul Whittle, vice chairman of DHRS.
Other than popularising the DHR, the DHRS has been helping local stakeholders improve their economic condition and even supporting local NGOs in Darjeeling hills to maintain a school in remote Rohini and another at Kurseong as well as sponsoring two nursing students through their three-year training.
Funds are raised by a small band of volunteers in Britain by selling crafts brought to UK from the trips to India, holding curry lunches, open garden railway events, coffee mornings, afternoon tea and tiffin events, running sales stalls at railway events along with a yearly amount donated from DHRS funds.