Note: The Matheran Toy Train was suspended from operating in May 2016, following multiple derailments. It restarted in November 2017 with a safer brake system, but is initially only running on part of the route from Aman Lodge to Matheran.
The century-old Matheran Hill Railway deposits passengers among the shady greenery of the peaceful, pollution free hill settlement of Matheran -- where all vehicles are banned, even bicycles.
The toy train is one of five historic toy train services currently operating in India. The railway was founded by Mumbai based entrepreneur Abdul Hussain Peerbhoy and had its first run in 1907, after three years spent constructing the train line.
The toy train crawls its way, in a zigzag manner, 20 kilometers (12 miles) up the hill from Neral to Matheran. Due to the steep slope, it takes over two hours to cover the distance. Gradually the scenery changes from grassy slopes to shady, tree covered hills.
Food vendors selling a range of snacks and cold drinks jump on and off the train along the way -- usually while it's moving, which is an indication of just how slow it travels! The train stops at a couple of quaint stations, where refreshments can be purchased as well. It also passes through one short tunnel, interestingly named "One Kiss Tunnel".
Four identical miniature sized toy trains run along the route.
The trains are small, with a capacity of around 100 people. If you feel like having a relaxing and relatively comfortable journey, book a seat in first class, where you'll get a padded seat in a cozy compartment.
Currently, the toy train is only running a shuttle service to and from Aman Lodge station, near the car park, a few kilometers from Matheran.
The journey takes 15 minutes, and there are six departures per day as follows:
- Aman Lodge to Matheran -- 9.20 a.m., 10.30 a.m., 11.45 a.m., 1 p.m., 1.40 p.m., and 2.50 p.m. The details can be found here.
- Matheran to Aman Lodge -- 9 a.m., 10.10 a.m., 11.25 a.m., 12.05 a.m., 1.20 p.m., and 2.30 p.m. The details can be found here.
During the monsoon season (from June to September), the toy train shuttle service continues to operate between Matheran and Aman Lodge. However, it doesn't run all the way to Neral.
From Aman Lodge-Matheran, the revised train fare for adults is 45 rupees in second class and 300 rupees in first class, one way. Children pay 30 rupees in second class and 180 rupees in first class. This about the same price as when the train ran on the whole stretch of track from Neral to Matheran, leading to complaints that it's too costly.
How to Make Reservations
Unfortunately, tickets for the Aman Lodge-Matheran service can't be booked online and must be purchased from the ticket counter.
Otherwise, when the toy train is running as normal, reservations for travel can be made at Indian Railways computerized reservation counters, or on the Indian Railways website.
It's advisable to book in advance, otherwise be prepared to encounter long lines for tickets and waits of up to 45 minutes.
Here's how to make a reservation on the Indian Railways website. The station code for Neral is NRL, and Matheran MAE. Keep in mind that there's also a place near Mumbai called Nerul, so don't get the two confused!
Additional Travel Information
The morning toy train departure times from Neral are supposed to tie in with the Indian Railways 11007 Deccan Express (departs Mumbai CST at 7.00 a.m. and reaches Neral at 8.25 a.m) and 11029 Koyna Express (departs Mumbai CST at 8.40 a.m. and reaches Neral at 10.03 a.m) services.
Since the toy train is not currently operating on this stretch, the other option is to take a shared taxi from Neral to Aman Lodge.