Nilgiris Mountain Railway



Train Timings at Ooty

( *  Reservation of seats  are  available for these trains)

Train Number





At Ooty










































A Note  from Salem Division of Southern Railway  Click Here


Inscription of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as a World Heritage Site in the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee, Durban, South Africa, 10 to 19 July 2005.

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO consists of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage, elected by the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention. The essential functions of the Committee are to:

(i)         Identify, on the basis of nominations submitted by States Parties, cultural and natural properties of outstanding universal value which are to be protected under the Convention and to list those properties on the World Heritage List;.

(ii)        Monitor the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, in liaison with the States Parties; decide which properties included in the World Heritage List are to be inscribed on or removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger;. and decide whether a property may be deleted from the World Heritage List; and

(ii)        Examine requests for International Assistance from the World Heritage Fund.

During its 29th session at Durban, South Africa, on 15th July, the World Heritage Committee, has approved the extension of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, to include Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India, on the basis of the existing criteria (ii) and (iv) and rename the extended property as Mountain Railways of India;

Criterion (ii): The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology, and the impact of innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multicultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world.

Criterion (iv): The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. The Mountain Railways of India are out standing examples of a technological ensemble, representing different phases of the development in high mountain areas.

In terms of the categories of cultural property set out in Article I of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, this is a site. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) is proposed as an extension to the existing World Heritage Site, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), forming a serial nomination: Mountain Railways of India.


The Nilgiris properly called Nila-giri or Blue Mountains is an integral part of the great plateau occupying the junction of the eastern and western ghats. The name "Nilagiri" is about 850 years old and was given by the inhabitants of the adjoining plains because of the blue haze, which envelops the range.

The Nilgiri Mountains are known for their coffee and tea plantations. Potato is the major cash crop of the district. Chinacona products, eucalyptus oil, geranium, scented phenol etc. are also produced here. The district is also noted for its ancient tribes the Todas, the Kotas, the Kurumbas, the Panias and the lrulas.

Udhagamandalam, the Queen of Hill stations and popularly called as Ooty is a major tourist attraction. The beautiful botanical gardens, the Ooty lake, the children's lake garden near the Railway Station, Doddabetta, Coonoor and Kotagiri are some of the many scenic spots on the blue hills.


From the year 1854 onwards, various proposals were mooted to build a mountain railway from Mettupalayam to the Nilgiri Plateau. All the proposals had either a technical or financial problem. One of the early proposals even suggested the use of heavy water carriers to counter the weight of the train on the slope, and another suggested a ropeway in the steeper part of the terra in.

Finally it was a Swiss Engineer named N. Riggenbach who thought of rack rail system at an estimated cost of 1 ,32,000 pounds, which was considered too costly and dropped. Meanwhile, the Madras Railway Company opened the Madras-Coimbatore-Beypoor (Calicut) railway line for traffic in 1862. And in 1873, opened the 26 mile Long Branch line between Podanur and Mettupalayam, which made Mettupalayam the foot hill point for any body going to the hills.

The revival of various plans for a mountain railway finally ended in 1885, with the Nilgiri Railway Company being formed with a capital of Rs.25 lakhs. And in August 1891, the first sod of the line was cut by Lord Wenlock, the then Governor of Madras Presidency. After many problems and  change of hands, the line was ultimately completed and opened for public traffic on 15'h June 1899 by the Madras Railway. The line was extended to Ootacamund from Coonoor sometime in 1908 on the same gauge over a distance of 11 and 3/4 miles at a cost of Rs.24, 40,000.


The Railway line from Mettupalayam to Ooty is 45.88 km. long and lies partly in Coimbatore District and partly in Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu, on the eastern slopes of the western g hats. Mettupalayam is at the foot of the hills with an elevation of about 330 metres and Udhagamandalam on the plateau with an elevation of 2200 metres. The average gradient of this metre gauge line is about 1 in 24.5.

The sharpest curve on the section is 17.5 degrees. There are about 208 curves on the section, out of which 180 curves are 10 to 17.5, degrees. 76 numbers of curve lubricators have been provided on the sharp curves. 

There are 250 bridges on the section, out of which 32 are major ones and 15 are road over/under bridges. The total lenial waterway works out to 31 .63 metres per km. The longest bridge is Bridge No.25 at Km.9/1 1-12 of 3 x 18.29 and 12 x 3.66 girder spans. There are 16 tunnels between Kallar and Ooty, all of which are in excellent condition. Most of the tunnels are un-lined.


Boasting of the only rack and pinion system in the whole of Asia, the unique rack section of the Nilgiri

Mountain Railway begins at Km.7/8-9 beyond Kallar Down Top point and ends at Km.26/8-9, a little before the Coonoor Up Home signal. The average gradient on the rack section is I in 15. The rack rails consist of two toothed steel bars laid in a double row at 44 mm apart and 64 mm above the running rails so that the tooth of one is directly opposite the gap of the other to ensure that the engine pinions do not work off the racks when negotiating curves. The entry to the rack is effected through a specially designed entry tongue laid in special channel sleepers fitted with bow springs and connecting links which is connected finally to the rigid bars. The maximum permissible speed on Mettupalayam-Kallar and Coonoor-Udhagamandalam "Non-Rack" system is 30 KMPH while between Kallar and Coonoor "Rack" section the maximum permissible speed is 1 3 KMPH.

Trains are operated on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway on the Absolute block system. Engines are attached always at the Mettupalayam end of the formation, pushing the loads while going up. Each of the coaches and wagons are provided with a brakes man who independently operates the hand brakes and the 'rack' brakes on whistle codes obtained from the driver.

The "X" class locomotives used on this railway are tank engines of '0-8-2' type with 4 cylinders of compound type; the high pressure cylinders work the adhesion wheels while the low pressure cylinders working on the exhaust steam of the first two cylinders work on the rack system.

The Principal Stations of NMR:


The Todas a unique tribe of India, have been the guardians of the rich vegetation of the Blue Nilgiri for centuries. Legend has it that God dropped a pearl on a hill and out of this pearl came their God, Takkirsi, who beat the earth with a cane, and out of the dust  the first Toda was created. It was in 1 602 that Jacome Ferreiri, a Syrian Christian priest with his men crossed the wild mountainous country. This was the first sighting of the beautiful blue hills by anyone other than the Todas. People began settling in the hills and by 1830, the British had appointed a military commandant to run the Ooty settlement.


Publication of technical papers in India commenced in Madras in 1860, but very soon it ceased publication.Next in line was the publication of technical papers from Roorkee in 1863 and continued for over two decades. The Roorkee papers were known as 'Professional Papers on Indian Engineering' and were edited by the Principal of the Thomason Civil Engineering College, Roorkee. The circulation of these papers, incidentally the only one of such kind, was amongst the top notch technocrats and bureaucrats of the British India. These papers played an important role in moulding the opinions of the elite of that era. The Professional Papers, as per objectives laid out in 1863, would contain a) Original papers descriptive of works and scientific subjects, b) Official documents, reports and projects, c) Original designs and projects and d) Occasional translations and reprints of articles generally not accessible to Indian Engineers.

Major T F Dowden, R.E., published the first article on the Rigi Railway on the Ladder System in 1874, mainly by translation from the descriptions of one Prof. J.H.Kronauer.  The history of rack railway (also known as ladder or cog system) was described thus:

'Mr. N. Riggenbach obtained a patent in 1863 in France for a system of mountain railways on the principle of the Ladder Rail.  However till 1868 no one came forward to finance the scheme. In 1868, in U.S.A. upon Mount Washington near Boston, a similar railway with an ascent of 33% was started. Three engineers, thereon, Mr. Riggenbach (Mechanical), Mr. Naeff and Mr. Zschokke (Both Civil Engineers) associated to establish such a railroad on Rigi. From Luzerne Govt. they obtained a concession in 1869. A company was formed with a capital of £ 50,000 and a railway line of 3.26 miles with average ascent of 1 :4 was constructed by 1871-72.'

Major Dowden published a letter from the Rigi Railway Company that they can assist any such project in India. Technical details of track, locomotive, and coaches were supplemented along with suitable line sketches. Economics of the Rigi railway system was also mentioned in the article. This was the first attempt to publish information about rack-rail system for Indian Engineers.

The most ardent supporter of a rack railway for Nilgiris was Captain (later Major) J.L.L. Morant, R.E., and District Engineer of the Nilgiri District. In two long articles along with numerous plates (No. CUCV, July 1875 and No. CUCXXVI, January 1876), Captain Morant described the 'Central Ladder' system of mountain railway known more commonly as Rigi Railway. These articles included,

a)   a translation from German, the fifth Administrative Report of Rigi Railway Company for the year 1874,

b)   a translation from French, a report of M/s Riggenbach and Zschokke on the construction and working of a railway over the Arlberg on the Rigi Mountain.

In 1877, Captain Morant described the new Rigi cogwheel locomotive and commented that 'the rack-rail system has many points in its favour and we regard it as decidedly preferable in every respect to Mr. Fell's system of centre rail with horizontal gripping wheels'. Mr. J.B. Fell patented his central rail system in 1863; the first engine was also built in 1863 in Birkenhead but had no impact on Indian Engineers for mountain railways on the Indian sub-continent.In the next article (No. CCXXXI of 1877), Captain Morant gave a detailed analysis with the title 'Mountain Railway for the Nilgiri Hills'.

It was no less than a Project Report. The estimate for the rack-rail line from Mettupalayam to Coonoor was £197,237 (Rigi system) and £ 302,452 (Fell system). This estimate included the cost of rolling stock also. The editor commented, 'Although the Government of India are not at present prepared to sanction at the expense of the State the railway above referred to, it is possible that private enterprise may raise the requisite funds; and the question continues to occupy the attention of local officers. Captain Morant deeming that the reluctance of Government to undertake the railway in question was due in part to the want of complete information in regard to the cost and details of working of the several systems, has continued to collect further data, and to correspond with the most eminent pioneers of mountain railway construction in Europ e.Major Morant in 1878 published two more articles - one on the Rack-rail system applied to a trunk line over the St. Gotthard. Another was a translation from German, original article was by Mr. N. Riggenbach, giving construction details of rack railway and their rolling stock. The article and 12 plates vividly described the system.

In 1877, the Governor of Madras Presidency, the Duke of Buckingham, got estimates prepared for an alternate proposal, a railway line from Mettupalayam to a point 2 miles north of Kallar and an inclined ropeway from here to Lady Canning's seat and another rail­line from the head of ropeway to Coonoor. This proposal was considered too hazardous and so dropped.

To quote from the Administrative Report of Indian Railways for the year 1880-81, 'the proposal for extension of the Mettupalayam branch to Nilgiri plateau was first mooted in 1875. It has now assumed a more definite character, a Company having been started in Madras to float the undertaking. It will. probably be on metre-gauge, will have comparatively easy gradients from Mettupalayam to Kallar at the foot of the Nilgiri Hills, 5'/2 miles, and from thence up to Coonoor Ghat, 61/2 miles, the gradients will be very heavy. The production of tea, coffee, and cinchona is still increasing on the Nilgiri Hills, and it is anticipated that the traffic which will seek the line at once give a fair return. Traffic will be higher. In February 1881, permission was granted to the Agents of the Company to open out the existing track between Coonoor and Kallar to a width of 3 ft. through Government wasteland, but little work will be done until the company asks for fewer and more reasonable concessions. The matter is still under consideration'.


In 1882, Mr. N. Riggenbach, came to the Nilgiris and started preparing detailed estimates for a rack railway, which it was calculated, would cost only £ 132,000. Major Morant of the Royal Engineers, who was then District Engineer, in the Nilgiris, and who took an abiding interest in the scheme, assisted him in this work. A local Company under the name "The Nilgiri Rigi Railway Company Ltd." was formed to construct the line and the Government gave it some encouragement and concessions in the matter of acquisition of the necessary land under the Land Acquisition Act and in laying a railway line from Mettupalayam to Kallar.

The Company, however, requested the Government to promise a guarantee of four per cent on an outlay of £150,000 for 15 to 20 years; but the Government was not prepared to comply with this request'without reciprocal conditions. Finally, an agreement was reached between the Government of Madras and the Company as a result of which a limited guarantee was promised by the former.

The prospective investors of England were, however, not satisfied with the nature of the Government guarantee or the sufficiency of the estimates and thus the necessary capital for the proposed Company was not forthcoming.

The Company, therefore, requested the Government to modify its terms and lend the services of a British Engineer to scrutinize the estimates. As they could not afford to pay for the British Engineer, Mr. Richard Wooly of Coonoor agreed to advance some money on condition that he should be given contract for the construction of the railway line. His offer was accepted and from that time onwards began his connection with the Nilgiri Railway of which he eventually became the first Agent and Manager. This Company could not raise the requisite capital and was liquidated.

"The Nilgiri Railway Company" was formed in 1885 with a capital of Rs.2.5 million and the proposal for construction of a rack line was dropped for a short while in favour of an adhesion line, similar to the Darjeeling railway on a gradient of 1 in 30. However, very soon, the rack principle came to be favoured and in 1886 a contract was entered into between the Secretary of State for India, Government of Great Britain and the New Company. In 1889, the requisite capital was raised in London and in August 1891, Lord Wenlock the then Governor of Madras Presidency cut the first sod.

The original intention to have a direct rack railway on the Riggenbackh to system had by this time been dropped in favour of somewhat longer and more substantial line using the Abt type of rack rail. Rigi system uses a Ladder type or central rail with the toothed wheel engaging the runs of the ladder, the Abt system has two adjacent rails in the centre of the track with the teeth on the top out of step with each other. Perhaps the choice was made due to the recommendations made by Sir GuilfordL. Molesworth, Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for the State Railways who in 1886 visited Harz Mountain Railway working on Abt System and strongly advocated this system in preference to Rigi System. The financial health of the Railway Company deteriorated and construction work came to standstill.

At this stage, a new Company in the same title was formed in February 1896, which purchased the interests of the liquidated company and set about the task of completing the construction of the line. Another agreement was concluded between this Company and the Secretary of State for India, whereby all Government land required for the line was granted free and the Government gave a guarantee of three per cent on the capital during the construction period. The Madras Railway operated it under an agreement with the Government.

The Government purchased this line in January 1903, for Rs.3.5 million, although the capital outlay up to that time was of the order of Rs.4.9 million. The Madras Railway Company was asked to manage this railway line on behalf of the Government. Subsequently the management was entrusted with South Indian Railway on 31st  December 1907 at the time of the expiry of Madras Railway's contract. The line was extended to Ootacamund from Coonoor in 1908 on the same gauge over a distance of 11¾  miles at a cost of Rs.2.44 million. The terminal station is now styled as Udagamandalam. The progress of construction is tabulated below :




The railway line from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam is 46.61 km long and lies partly in Coimbatore District and partly in Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu, on the eastern slopes of the Western ghats. Mettupalayam is at the foot of the hills with an elevation of about 330 metres and Udagamandalam on the plateau with an elevation of 2200 metres. The average gradient of this line is about 1 in 24.5. The rail-line is laid to Metre gauge (1000 mm).

The ruling gradient is 1 in 40 on the section between Mettupalayam and Kallar, and 1 in 12.28 from Kallar to Coonoor and 1 in 23 from Coonoor to Udagamandalam.

The sharpest curves on the section are 17.5 degrees. There are about 208 curves on the section, out of which 180 curves are 10 to 17.5, degrees. 76 numbers of curve lubricators have been provided on the sharp curves.

With the exception at Kallar; the facing points at other stations are non-standard with 1 in 16 crossing. At Kallar, 1 in 8'/2 points and crossings is provided at the Coonoor end top point and 1 in 12 at the Mettupalayam end. The track consists of 50-Ib rails. On the rack section, wooden and steel trough sleepers are laid alternately.

There are 250 bridges on the section, out of which 32 are major and 15 are road over/ under bridges. The total lineal waterway works out to 31.63 metres per km The longest bridge is Bridge No. 25 at km 9/11-12 of 3 x 18.29m and 12 x 3.66 m girder spans.

There are 16 tunnels between Kallar and Udagamandalam, all of which are in excellent condition. Most of the tunnels are unlined. The     location (km from Mettupalayam) and their length (in feet) are tabulated below:­

The rack section commences from km 7/8-9 and ends at km 26/8-9. The rack rails consist of two toothed steel bars laid in a double row at 44 mm apart and 64 mm above the running rails so that the tooth of one is directly opposite to the gap of the other to ensure that the engine pinions do not work off the racks when negotiating curves. This gave it a common nomenclature of Alternating biting teeth with acronym Abt, also the family name of the originator of Abt System. The rack bars are of two standard lengths i.e., full bars with 26 teeth of length 3.12 m and half bars with 13 teeth of length 1 .56 m. The pitch of rack teeth is 120 mm.

The racks are laid at a constant distance of 455 mm from the inner rails (452 mm in the case of 25 mm thick rack bars) and are screwed by bolting to cast iron chairs fixed to the sleepers with fang bolts.

The rack bars were originally imported from England. This import continued till 1956-57 and thereafter, owing to stringent foreign exchange position at that point of time, import was not permitted, and mild steel IS 226 rack bars were used. Today the rack system consists of 50% of old high tensile steel 22 mm thick rack bars and 50% indigenous 25 mm thick mild steel rack bars, obtained from the Railway Engineering Workshop at Arakkonam.

The entry to the rack is affected through a specially designed entry tongue laid in special channel sleepers fitted with bow springs and connecting links, which is connected finally to the rigid bars. At all stations, except the now closed Kateri Road, the racks are discontinued over points and crossings. At erstwhile Kateri Road station alone, until 1982, the points and crossings were provided with through rack system due to the steep gradients on either side.

The section from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam is provided with stone ballast and the cushion varies from 75 mm to 150 mm.

It was originally proposed to locate the terminal station in Ootacamund at Charing Cross, but it was eventually decided in 1904 to construct it at the present place in St. Mary's Hill. This involved the re-alignment of the latter part of the line and the construction of an embankment across the Ooty Lake near Willawbund.

Trains are operated on the Nilgiri Railway on the Absolute Block System and the block instruments in use at the stations are of either Theobald or Neale's Tablet type. The stations are of Class B for block working and are equipped with rudimentary interlocking with Home signals only in each direction. Trains stop at each station and are not allowed to run through. There are no catch sidings or slip sidings provided at any of these stations. Engines are attached always at the Mettupalayam end of the formation, pushing the loads while going up. Each of the coaches and wagons are provided with a brakes-man who independently operates the hand brakes and the rack brakes on whistle codes obtained from the driver.

The stations of Nilgiri Railway and their height from mean sea level are given below:

Kateri Road Station was not in the original scheme and thus the 'Index Plan' of 1899 does not show this station at the time of opening of the section up to Coonoor.

The track is maintained in conventional style. 9 gangs consisting of one mate, one key man and seven gang men maintain the rack railway from Mettupalayam to Coonoor.     Each gang has about 3-km long section under their charge. The track-gauge used by these gangs is custom made and with the same gauge, one can check vital dimensions of the rack-rails.

Sleepers are wooden or steel trough types. 15-16 sleepers per rail are provided for.


The Nilgiri Railway is a feat of engineering, unique in many ways. The line is a metre-gauge, practically level for the first 4½  miles, to Kallar at the immediate foot of the hills. As soon as the train leaves Kallar, the rack rail appears and the long climb begins. In the next 12 miles to Coonoor the line rises 4,363 ft. curving almost continuously as it clings to the mountainside, crossing lofty viaducts or tunnels through the hard rock. In this distance, there are thirteen tunnels, the longest being 137.96m (451 ft) in length. The gradient posts read 1 in 12½  with monotonous consistency.

Construction expenses were heavy; because in addition to the tunnels, a big bridge over the river Bhavani at the foothills was necessary. Besides this large bridge, 26 other bridges smaller in sizes were constructed and heavy expenditure incurred in rock cutting and blasting.

'Still it has been worth it. To quote a South Indian Railway spokesman in 1935, 'Those engineers must have been lovers of nature when they decided on the alignment. Aside from the question of utility, the wee train as it winds its upward way, passes through a panorama of diversified scenery unrivalled anywhere; pausing frequently to refresh itself at stations, terra-cotta coloured and flecked with green, tucked snugly away amid the eternal quietude of these hills. Over deep ravines, lofty escarpments tower overhead, and the water of some mountain river hurling into beautiful cascades on its downward gambols: changing to scenes of peaceful rural simplicity. As the train tops the edge of the plateau and pursues its journey, stern crags fade into gently undulating hummocks, dotted with scattered villages; patches of cultivation fringed by tall and slender Eucalyptus trees, with perchance, a faint cool mountain breeze soughing their lofty, tufted crowns, tuning in playful caprice, the bluish-silvery tinted leaves.'

The bridgework, the stone piers, abutments and arches are as imposing as they were built a hundred years ago, stone was abundantly used and the stonework was of excellent quality.

The line was built up to Coonoor through  the Agency of Nilgiri Railway Company; the work was completed in 1899. Later, the extension of line up to Udagamandalam was built through the agency of Public Works Department. At that point of time, the assistance of army was also taken to complete the last bridge between Fernhill and Udagamandalam. The cement blocks indicate 'No. 11 Co., 2nd Q.O.S&M, 1907-8' in bold letters.

M/s T.S. Chinnaswamy, the contractors built the station building of Udagamandalam, the Contractors in 1909. It was then Ooty station. The first Station Master of Ooty was Bob Hill. Mr. Hill had an imposing personality. He remained the Station Master of Ooty for 21 long years from 1909 to 1930. His photograph, an impressive one, decorates the present Station Master's room.

After completion of Mettupalayam­ Coonoor section, at the time of opening of the line, Nilgiri Railway commissioned M/s Boesinger, the famous photographer from Coonoor to capture the glimpses of the engineering marvel built by them. M/s Boesinger produced a thick album containing 22 photographs of 12"x10" size. An index plan, a suitable emblem, major technical details and a list of senior officers of Nilgiri Railway were also added in the album. Some of the photographs of Boesinger are reproduced in this book. The photographs were taken in 1898 and 1899.

The emblem of Nilgiri Railway contains the following inscriptions in Latin:­


In 1928, Nilgiri Railway faced a severe calamity. A number of bridges collapsed and the restoration was a stupendous task. Rao Sahib H.J. Bellie Gowder, Contractor from Aravankadu, a Nilgiri town, did Restoration. The devastation was repeated in 1930 and so was the restoration by Rao Sahib.

 ( Source : Window on Nilgiris  CD by the Tourism Dept. of Tamil Nadu Govt)