With the 113-year-old Matheran narrow gauge railway now getting a challenger in funicular railway that was approved by the MMRDA on July 7, 2020 amid lockdown, local residents, experts and tourists have expressed cheer, but said that the new mode of transport should complement the sturdy old railway line.
“The funicular railway will solve the connectivity issues to the hill station once and for all. It was during my tenure as the president of Matheran Municipal Council that we had floated the idea first and a feasibility report of the entire project had been commissioned. We are very happy to see the plan come to life finally,” Manoj Khedkar, former president of Matheran Municipal Council said.
Khedkar said that the railways have been the lifeline of the township, but it has limitations and the township survives on tourism and the facility will prove to be a boon for Matheran.
“It is not just about railway line, but overall connectivity to Matheran needs improvement. There is also need to have e-rickshaws in the town so that there is more convenience in commute and local transit. The old train needs to preserved as heritage and horses can ply simultaneously,” local resident Sunil Shinde said.
However, the train has been closed for over a year now due to technical issues and derailments and Central Railway engineers have failed to bring it back on track. At present, only a small 2.5 km stretch between Aman Lodge and Matheran is functional for freight trains occasionally ferrying essentials.
German-based international railway expert Frank Wingler who had recently visited Matheran expressed doubts. “How can a 800 m climbing rail/rope funicular on a trajectory/guideweay erected through the forest and an ecologically fragile zone? It will also require a smooth road further to Matheran as a connecting transport route,” he told Mid-Day in an email from Germany.
“My transport solution for Matheran is a proper stable road from Neral to Dasturi, and from Dasturi to Matheran Market a stable, monsoon proof, well-drained, well paved and easy to climb cart road. A small bird in hand is better than a big one on the roof,” Wingler said.
The project was approved at the MMRDA’s 149th meeting held by video conferencing on July 7. The project is to be implemented on public-private partnership basis. It was around 2010 that a plan had been drawn up. As per the older plan made by Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES), it involved running a funicular rail service between Dudhani village and Maillot Spring Point with two cars going up and down with low running costs and easy maintenance. Each passenger coach will have a capacity of carrying 60 commuters. The project also needed to include constructing approach roads.
Peerbhoy family welcomes plan
The Matheran narrow gauge railway line that has been listed in the UNESCO tentative list of Mountain Railways in India originally came up as a private venture of the Peerbhoy family between 1901 and 1907. It still maintains most of its original layout, except for a few stretches. The line winds around the mountain in spirals climbing 2,625 feet above sea level to the serenity of Matheran. The train trundles at a very low speed of 13kmph pacing up the hill slowly and steadily. The line has been running intermittently since the turn of the century by Central Railway has failed to keep it running cting technical issues and it has been shut for over a year now.
“We welcome the new mode of transport. However, it should complement the charming old railway train. Like a few years ago, state transport buses opened and co-existed with the local autos and vans at Neral, the e-autos promised will co-exist with horses, similarly this new mode should co-exist with the train. The only concern and regret that we have is that the authorities need to complete the historic transactions with the Peerbhoy family about the railway line and offer adequate compensation. Also the line needs to get functional as soon as possible,” Hussain Peerbhoy, great, great grandson of Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, who built the line as a family enterprise more than a century ago.
Other prominent funicular rails
1. Palani- Tamil Nadu since 1966
2. At Bhira and Bhivpuri Road.
3. At Joginder Nagar, Himachal Pradesh
4. Saptashrungi temple, Nashik