If you have ever surfed the net searching for details about the Darjeeling Hill Railway, I am sure you must have come across a website by the name ‘Darjeeling Hill Railway Society (DHRS)‘.
Darjeeling Hill Railway Society, England
Scrolling down, one notices a picture in which you can see the ‘President’ of Darjeeling Hill Railway Society, Adrian Shooter. He is presenting a book to a writer David Churchill. Furthermore, I noticed that DHRS is registered in England. Quite amazing.
Adrain Shooter & Loco No 778
Now, I had to find out who were these enthusiasts of Darjeeling Hill Railway in England running an active society. Some research on the internet and I found out that Adrian Shooter joined British Rail in 1970 as a management trainee. During the privatisation of British Rail, he led a consortium for a management buyout of a railway that later became known as Chiltern Railway. He headed Chiltern Railway as the Chairman till 2011.
The interesting story is that Shooter is an owner of an original Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Class ‘B’ steam locomotive 778 (originally No. 19). This locomotive has travelled across the globe before it landed with Shooter.
This Class ‘B’ 778 steam locomotive was manufactured Glasgow in 1889 by Sharp Steward and served the DHR until 1960 to 1962. Thereafter, Elliott Donnelley, a train enthusiast from the US bought this engine. After Donnelley passed away, the engine was shifted to a local museum, Hesston Steam Museum, LaPorte County, Indiana. A $2.5 million fire on May 26, 1985, destroyed or damaged most of the large railroad equipment including the DHR Locomotive from India.
The Beeches Light Railway
Shooter came to know of this incident and offered to buy the damaged piece. In 2002 he transported the engine to his home in Oxfordshire. He set up a joy train ride company called the Beeches Light Railway which operated on a specially constructed a one-mile narrow gauge railway track in his 3-acre garden estate. The figure of ‘8’ track has one station named Ringkingpong, which is named after a road in Darjeeling. The loco shed located at the back of his house is a replica of Kurseong’s DHR loco shed. Two original carriages and two modern replicas of the carriages used on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway are occasionally used to transport invited guests. (Source – Wikipedia)
Although the railway is private, and not subject to rail regulations, it is run professionally by Shooter and some volunteers with railway rulebooks and regulations, and the steam engine has to be certified each year.
Unfortunately, Adrian Shooter decided to sell his estate. The Beeches Light Railway closed down in May 2019. The good news is that it is going to become bigger and better at a sight that Shooter has already identified. The new site was supposed to get back into operations but there is a significant delay now due to the COVID pandemic.
Lastly, you may also visit the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society website dhrs.org. Memberships are open. I saw an interesting book which is listed for sale on their website – The incredible Darjeeling ‘B’ Class. Looks quite tempting to buy for train buffs.
Darjeeling Hill Railway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 which saved the railway from being shut down. Today DHR runs the services despite making annual losses.
Maybe its time Indians too gave some attention to this marvellous cultural heritage and engineering marvel of its time.