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Requiem for Agra's British-era train
Wednesday July 10, 2013 5:19 PM, Brij Khandelwal, IANS

Yet another British-era relic is chugging into history books.

The days of the 65-km-long narrow gauge train from Dholpur to Tantpur in Agra district are numbered. The century-old train, that ferried the famous Dholpur stone for the construction of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Parliament House in Delhi, is going to make way for a bigger and more modern one.

North Central Railway has drawn up plans for gauge conversion on the line and in this year's railway budget Rs.212 crore were released to begin work between Dholpur and Sir Mathura. The two-feet-six-inches wide track will be converted into a broad gauge.

As the train chugs into history, area residents have been filled with nostalgia. A senior scribe from the area, Rajiv Saxena, said he would miss the slow-moving train.
"The romance of this adventure trail will now be over," Saxena told IANS.

Rao Narendra Singh from the royal family of Sri Mathura said: "It's slow like a snail, you can get off and climb back and it's fun to be on the roof of this strange mode of transport."

"In the late 1950s we used to catch this train from Sri Mathura, later it became Sir Mathura, to reach Dholpur."

"The British who wanted to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi intelligently planned the railway network in this area to ferry the famous Dholpur stone used for construction of the official buildings in New Delhi," recalled Rao Narendra Singh.

The narrow gauge train literally inches forward through a rough terrain, the dry and barren stone quarries from Dholpur via Bari, to Sir Mathura and Tantpur.

Officials said the route, after the gauge conversion, will now be extended to Gangapur city to connect Dholpur to the Delhi-Mumbai trunk route. In February, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot laid the foundation-stone for the Rs.2,000-crore project at Sir Mathura.

In the olden days, the narrow railway line was till the gate of the then upcoming building of Rashtrapati Bhavan by the British to ferry Dholpur stone.

"My grandfather Rao Ranjit Singh, who opposed the railway line to Sir Mathura to challenge British imperialism, was declared insane and removed. He died a loner several years later," Rao Narendra Singh told IANS.

In the British era the whole region was picturesque, with patches of green and the wildlife was in abundance.

"The British used to shoot deer, black bucks, chinkaras at will. One station master travelling in the engine shot a deer for a grand dinner. I remember the scion of the local royal family once decided to race with the narrow gauge engine on a horse. Obviously, he won," recalled Narendra Singh.

Singh said the narrow gauge line to Sir Mathura lost its utility and relevance when the truckers invaded the area for stones.

"But if the government has now decided to convert the line into a broad gauge network and connect it with Gangapur city via Karauli, it could open up the gates for development," he said.

The track could afford a breathtaking view of the Timangarh Fort on the way to the famous shrine at Karauli, touching the fringe of the notorious bandit-land of Bhind and Morena along the Chambal river.

Some officials believe the new broad gauge line could also attract more tourists to the Timangarh Fort, situated at a desolate location near Masalpur sub-tehsil headquarters, about 40 km from Karauli.

Temples located inside the fort complex sport beautiful carvings on the temples, both religious and geometrical, and are a striking proof of the exquisite workmanship of highly skilled artisans that once operated in this region.

While the Mughal rulers used the Fatehpur Sikri stone for many of their buildings, the British chose the Dholpur stone, which is considered sturdier and compatible for carvings.

The Dholpur-Sir Mathura narrow guage line is one of the dozen such relics of the past left now covering around 2,400 km of the more than 114,000-km-long rail network in the country.

The famous existing toy trains are in Darjeeling Himalayan Railways in West Bengal, the Matheran Hill Railway in Maharashtra, the Kalka-Shimla heritage toy train in Himachal Pradesh and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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