History of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
By 1871 Railway lines had been laid till Goalundo (now in Bangladesh), and proved profitable to the Eastern Bengal Railway (EBR). Such was the good dividend being obtained that its directors shot down any proposal for extension towards Siliguri, let alone Darjeeling. Thus it was left to the state-owned Northern Bengal Railway (NBR) to lay a track from Poradaha to Damukdiya on the right bank of the Ganga (13 miles), and then a metre-gauge stretch from Saraghat on the left bank to Siliguri (197 miles), the Ganga crossing being made on steam ferries. But neither NBR nor EBR was willing to take on the hills of Darjeeling, and sink money in an enterprise that appeared to be unprofitable.
While corporate organisations did not attempt a rail route to Darjeeling, an individual not only dared envision it, but also translated his dream into reality. After train services reached the plains of Siliguri in 1878, Franklin Prestage, Agent of the Eastern BengaL Railway, foresaw the utiLity of a rail link between the hills of Darjeeling and the plains. He submitted a scheme for the construction of a two feet gauge railway line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. His scheme was mainly driven by hard economic considerations viz., the huge difference in the cost of essential commodities between Darjeeling and Siliguri, the need to carry out tea for export and the inability of the existing road to handle the growing traffic.
In a detailed scheme submitted to the Government of Bengal and approved by the Lt. Governor Sir Ashley Eden, he pointed out how a railway could substantially reduce the cost of transport between Darjeeling and the plains. Rice, which sold at Rs. 98 a ton at Siliguri, cost Rs. 238 at Darjeeling! He was also convinced that the cost of construction of the 2 feet gauge rail-line would not be prohibitive, and locomotives, small but powerful enough to climb steep gradients, could be designed.
Prestage received final sanction for his project on April 8, 1879 and formed the Darjeeling Steam Tramway Co. However, the idea of operating the line as a steam tramway was soon abandoned and, on September 15, 1881, the company adopted the designation of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Co. (DHR), which remained effective until it was taken over by the Government of free India on October 20, 1948. Throughout that period Gillanders Artbuthnot & Co., one of the oldest managing houses in Calcutta, handled its financial, legal and purchasing interests.