Unesco to assess Matheran toy train as World Heritage


Mumbai : After a long, five-year wait, a team of Unesco experts is arriving in Mumbai Saturday to consider the Matheran Light Railway (MLR), in the Western Ghats near here, as a World Heritage site, a railway official said Friday.

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“The train had been closed during monsoon as usual since the services cannot be operated due to the heavy rains in the mountain ranges. It re-opened only yesterday (Thursday). The Unesco team will evaluate the site before a final decision is taken,” said a spokesman for the Central Railway (CR), which runs the ‘Matheran toy train’ as it is popularly called.

Unlike most other railway networks in the country, the MLR was designed and constructed by a Mumbaikar, Abdul Hussein, son of the eminent business tycoon Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, in the early 20th century.

In those days, when Matheran was accessible only by horses or could be reached on foot, Hussein would visit the place frequently and was in love with the hill station.

The Unesco team, led by Gion Caprez, will meet officials of the ministry of railways in New Delhi, and of the Central Railway and the Maharashtra government during its weeklong visit to the country.

On Oct 29, the team will also carry out a spot survey of the steam engines that run the MLR, its quaint old railway stations, other buildings, railway sheds, nominated buffer zones and the routes.

They will also study MLR related information, documentation, archives, exhibits, and photographs of the 102-year-old railway line.

Matheran at an elevation of 800 metres, is the smallest hill station in the country. It is located in the lush-green mountain ranges of Western Ghats, around 110 km northeast off the city.

With greenery, a cool salubrious climate round the year and nearly zero-pollution level- it is the only hill station where vehicles are banned – the town is favourite with the tourists.

Opened to public in 1907, the railway line has a unique two-foot wide narrow guage track, winding up 21-km into the hilly jungles, negotiating 221 curves, a small tunnel and other features incorporating great engineering skills.

En route the 100-minute journey are breathtaking views and miniature stations.

The train to Matheran – in Marathi literally meaning Jungle Head – chugs along at a steady 19 km an hour, often enabling passengers to get off the train and hop on again.