The tragic history of Dehradun – Mussoorie Electric Tramway project

A dilapidated tunnel (part of the ambitious Dehradun - Mussoorie Electric Tramway project) is visible along the old bridle path or the Kipling trail from Rajpur to Mussoorie.
Old Bridle path or Kipling trail to Mussoorie. A dilapidated tunnel is visible on the right

The 2nd half of the 19th century saw massive expansion of the railway network in British India. The first steam engine (Mary Lind) ran between Pirankaliyar and Roorkee on the 22nd December 1851 and 2 years later, the 1st passenger train ran from Bombay to Thane.

Haridwar got 1st connected in 1886 through a branch line from Laksar as part of the ambitious Awadh – Rohilkhand railway network. The next plan was to link Haridwar with Mussoorie, a project, if it had realized then, would have made the ‘Queen of Hills’ the 1st hill station in entire North India to have rail connectivity and only the 2nd in entire country (Darjeeling rail project was completed in 1881). Unfortunately, the rail project until Mussoorie never materialized, and Shimla bagged that title when the 1st train chugged into the hill station in 1903.

There were 2 serious attempts made to bring rail connectivity to Mussoorie. Let’s try and understand each of these attempts in slightly more detail.

1st attempt (1886)Haridwar – Harrawala – Rajpur – Mussoorie trainPlan shelved in 1886
2nd attempt (1921)An electric tram project from Dehradun to MussooriePlan shelved in 1925

1st attempt (1886)

Once Haridwar was connected to the Awadh – Rohilkhand Railway network in 1886, the British wanted to extend the rail line till Mussoorie. Mussoorie/Landour was becoming a sought-after hill station for the British people and soldiers. Its pristine climate resonated with the European weather.

The proposed rail line was Haridwar – Harrawala – Rajpur – Jharipani – Mussoorie. The evident exclusion was Dehradun town, and the project did encounter a stiff resistance from the administration and local business community of Dehradun.  It did not take much time before the Mussoorie project was shelved and it was decided to build the Haridwar – Dehradun Line. The rail-line from Haridwar to Dehradun became operational on 1st March 1900.

2nd attempt (1921)

The rail connectivity to Mussoorie saw a fresh lease of life when in 1921 some private stakeholders (investors) decided to come together to build an ambitious Dehradun – Mussoorie Electric Tramway and they set-up a public limited company in the same name with a share capital of INR 36 lakhs. The major stakeholders included a). Belti Shah Gilani ( a businessman from Gujranwala, now in Pakistan) b. Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha province in Punjab c. Maharaja of Jindh province

The electric tramway was supposed to run from Dehradun station to Rajpur to Jharipani and Barlowganj and finally terminating in Landour area of Mussoorie (at Himalaya Club, now a hotel). The whole project was envisaged to be operational by 1925.

The project ran into trouble since the beginning. Maharaja Ripudaman was a staunch nationalist who never had good terms with the British regime (he was later even exiled to Kodaikanal). Many tunnels were dug between Rajpur and Barlowgunj (they can even be found today) for the construction of the rail-lines. It is believed that a tunnel near Jharipani caved-in and it led to death of many workers who were working on the project. This led to a huge political unrest against the project. Misappropriation of the funds led to the eventual death of this tram project. Beltie shah was tried and found guilty (the press even dubbed him as “Guilty Shah”). The court proceedings of that time where-in Beltie Shah was accused of financial irregularities can be accessed at . The company was eventually liquidated in 1926.

The tram project died a slow death. If you take the trek path (known as the Old Bridle path or the Kipling trail) from Rajpur village to Jharipani, the tunnel is still very much visible. The Oak grove school (that still exists) in Jharipani was supposed to have the next station beyond the toll spur at Rajpur village.

2 tram stations were even built during that period and their structures still exist.  One of the stations is just opposite the Parade Ground and the other is located right on the Rajpur Road at Dilaram Chowk. The buildings are now used by Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited (UPCL).

It would have been a unique experience to travel to Mussoorie had the tram project been successfully executed. Fast forward to 2021, a new ropeway project connecting Dehradun with Mussoorie is under construction. Once completed, the journey between the twin cities is expected to be completed in a mere 15 minutes. But this would be a post for some other day.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s