Our speaker on 6th February was David Mead whose subject was the Darjeeling & Himalaya Railway, a line which has featured on several TV programmes. David is a Director and Honorary Engineer of the Railway Society, a supporters’ organisation. He described the 55 mile line which starts at New Jalpaiguri (328 ft.), then climbs via zigzags and spiral loops over 35-40 miles of gradients averaging 1 in 29 to the summit at Ghum (7407 ft., the highest station in India), before it descends to the terminus at Darjeeling (7218 ft.). It is a World Heritage Site and part of David’s job was to discuss with UNESCO ways to make the line more resilient as they were not satisfied with the maintenance standards either of the line or the locomotives. Monsoon rains often cause landslides but no action was being taken to stabilise the hillsides so simply reinstating the line was only a temporary solution until the next monsoon washed away the track. In 2010 the line was closed for three years after serious landslides. Although six diesels are in use, a fleet of twelve steam locomotives is still retained for the many charter trains. Maintenance of such old locomotives (some date back to 1890) is difficult and expensive in Britain so you can imagine how much more of a problem it is in a remote part of India with a lack of resources and expertise. Even when technical advice is freely given, it is still a problem to get improvements implemented. The railway is a backwater of the massive Indian railway system and is afforded a low priority so far as management is concerned, despite the fact that it is such a popular tourist attraction and, if properly run, would make money. Heath Robinson would have been proud of some of the maintenance, or rather lack of it. India is famous for its bureaucracy and Indian railways are prime exponents, the situation not being helped by the racial and religious mix of the area, which makes it politically unstable, with various groups calling for independence. The tourist aspect of the railway and the scenes it affords of Indian life are fascinating enough but to learn the inside story of the problems it faces added a new and less-publicised dimension. In addition to the work he does for the railway David is also involved in Darjeeling Railway Community Support which raises money to support health, welfare, education and employment in the area, such as workshops for women to make rugs and knitwear, after-school clubs, computers for schools and sponsoring nurses. This was a most enlightening talk and whenever the famous little train makes an appearance on the small screen we shall view it in a new light. We meet at 10:00 every Thursday at The Boathouse, Evesham Rowing Club. Our speaker on 13th February is our much-travelled member David Senior who will be taking us to Jordan. On 20th February our outgoing President, Bill Underwood, will be hosting his farewell party. Full details can be found on our website www.eveshamprobus.co.uk Alan Smith Photo description and credit: A steam train to Darjeeling about 5 minutes before arriving at its final destination, passing by a fruit and vegetable shop. Arne Hückelheim – Wikipedia Commons