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Kalka Shimla Heritage Toy train | journey | route map

The Kalka-Shimla rail route, which has completed 100 years offers the charm of old-world travel amidst lofty pines and lush green, misty mountains. This is one of the four narrow gauge rail routes on hill terrain in the country, the other three being the Darjeeling , Ooty and Pathankot – Jogindernagar routes. In fact, the Darjeeling route was used as a model for the Kalka-Shimla route, which was proposed in 1891.

Started during the reign of Lord Curzon in November 1903, this rail route features in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers. More than two-thirds of the track is curved, sometimes at angles as sharp as 48 degrees.

Laid out on a 96 km long narrow gauge track that passes through 103 tunnels and across more than 800 bridges and viaducts, it is one of the most beautiful hill railways in India. It was considered the “crown jewel” of the Indian National Railways during British times.

Flanked by hills on both sides, the rail line, like twin threads  of silver, clings to the steep cliffs and ventures boldly over bridges, built over tiny streams that show off their radiance in the sunlight. The cool breeze sweeps across your face as the train makes an arduous climb of almost 4800 feet from Kalka to Shimla in almost five hours. Click here for toy train timings and train services

The Kalka Shimla rail journey

Kalka Shimla railway: Quick facts

Train Gauge – Narrow (762mm) Longest Tunnel – Barog (1.1 Km)
Track Length – Over 96 Km Maximum Height – above 2000 m above sea level
Project Launched in – 1901 Curves – 900 (70% track is in curves)
Project Completed in – 1903 Train – After 1965, hauled by Diesel Engine
Train Service Commenced – November 9, 1903 Maximum Number of Coaches – Seven
Bridges – Over 800 Services – seven coach train and rail car
Longest Bridge – Near Dharampur (70 m) Heritage Sites – Four on last count Now in
UNESCO world Heritage List
Tunnels – 103 (1 not in service)

The rail line begins its climb almost immediately after its departure from the Kalka railway station.

The toy train chugs along the line, whistling through the deodar, pine, ficus, oak and maple woods at a speed of 22 km an hour. As the journey begins, one is taken in with the change in vegetation, and the majestic glory of the railway stations and Gothic-style bridges en route.

The most refreshing part of the journey is the experience of sitting by the window, breathing in the cool breeze and taking in the greenery, smell of fresh dew on the vegetation, the chirping of birds and the sight of cattle grazing around the track, especially if you are travelling in either of the two early morning toy trains.

Total change of altitude : From Kalka, 655 meters (2,150 ft) to Shimla of 2,076 meters (6,811 ft).

Kalka Shimla toy train route map

There are a number of station on the Kalka Shimla toy train route. The first main station is at Dharampur, at a height of 4,900 feet and at a distance of 20 miles from Kalka.  The gradient here is very steep, and in order to achieve the flatter gradients required by the Railways, the line develops into three loops at Taksal, Gumman and Dharampur.  After leaving Dharampur, the rail line gains on the road route by taking short cuts and tunnels so that up to Tara Devi, the distance by rail from Kalka is almost one-fourth mile less than the distance by road.

Twenty four miles from Kalka, the railway line is 5,200 feet above sea, where it falls to 4,900 feet at Solan, and further to 4,667 feet at Kandaghat (36-and-a half miles from Kalka), where the final ascent to Shimla starts. The rail line goes through Shoghi and from Tara Devi, the rail line goes round the Prospect Hill to Jatogh, winding in a series of curves round Summer Hill and burrows under the Inverarm Hill to emerge below the road on the south side of Inverarm, and thus reaches Shimla.

 There are over 800 bridges

Barog Railway StationOne of the most interesting features of the Kalka-Shimla route is the absence of girder bridges. There is only one 60-foot plate girder span in a pinewood near Dharampur and a steel trestle viaduct, which replaced a stone gallery in 1935. The remaining 866 bridges, representing three per cent of the line, carry the rail track over the ravines and between the hill spurs.

Multi-arched galleries like ancient Roman aqueducts have been used to take the tracks over the difficult terrain, which would otherwise have been difficult to cover. These stone masonry arched bridges, which use lime stone, have as many as four storey’s, each story having an arch and each arch having a different configuration.

103 tunnels on the Kalka Shimla train route

Most of the 102 tunnels (the 1930’s renumbering, with numbers going up to 103, has not been changed till date though tunnel number 46 does not exist any more) too have a history of their own. An interesting feature about these tunnels is that till today, whenever these tunnels have to be illuminated for maintenance, plain mirrors are used to catch the sunlight and reflect this light inside the tunnel.

New luxury trains added

Gone are the days of traveling in the rickety coaches with wooden berths. In their place stand freshly painted coaches which provide the comfort of chair cars. Another coach, Shivalik Queen, provides privacy in the form of coupes. For those looking for royal luxury, the Railways provides Shivalik Palace, a separate luxurious compartment with beautiful interiors, provision of sleepers and comfortable sofas for relaxing. This also has a well-equipped kitchen and an attendant to serve foods and drinks, along with an attached bathroom. The other option for tourists is to take the rail car which takes lesser time than regular trains to reach Shimla.

Kalka Shimla railway is now UNESCO heritage site

Hoping to save the fixture from extinction, Indian Railways and preservationist groups had appealing to UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to give the toy train world heritage status and the same was accorded to it.

It joined other mountain railways of India – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in West Bengal and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway near Ooty in Tamil Nadu – which already enjoy the status. Another Indian Railways site in the UNESCO’s World Heritage site list is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal (earlier known as Bombay Victoria Terminal) in Mumbai, Maharashtra. So come to Shimla by toy train and enjoy the ride.

Content last updated in January 2021

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