Destined not to meet

20th January 2006 at 00:00
The destination was a small town in India. Not just any small town, but one that once housed the governors of one-fifth of the world's people. Shimla in the north-western Himalayas was an important place in the second half of the 19th century. It had power and influence. But it didn't have a railway. Every summer the stiff upper lips of India's British masters were beaded with perspiration. Every summer their servants' bodies dripped sweat as they loaded the masters' luggage on to bullock carts for the long mountain trek from hot Calcutta to cool Shimla. It was a tedious journey and - clearly - Victorian ingenuity should have been able to come up with something better.

Surveys for a railway were made in 1884 and 1885. In 1887 a plan was submitted for a 68-mile track which would ascend 1,500 metres via 800 bridges, 900 curves and more than 100 tunnels. Negotiations dragged on until 1900, when construction work on India's greatest narrow-gauge railway finally began.

Tunnel number 33 was the responsibility of a Colonel Barog. Not much is known about this unlucky chap. He was a British railway engineer, he owned a dog, and his tunnel was to be the longest on the line. It had to be blasted through fissured sandstone and needed to be 1,150m long.

Unfortunately the colonel decided to start work at both ends simultaneously.

Imagine his agony, his torment, when he realised that he had calculated the alignment incorrectly. The ends were not going to meet in the middle. The British authorities fined him for wasting their time and money. Barog was in disgrace. He had let the side down. It was all too much and the colonel took his dog and a gun for a walk. Some stories say he shot his pet as well as himself. Others claim that the dog ran to the nearby village to get help for his dying master. If he did, he failed. The colonel was buried in a soon-forgotten grave at the entrance to his ill-fated tunnel. That was boarded up and work began on a substitute nearby. It was called Barog's tunnel. This time the ends did meet in the middle.

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