Millennium Post

Get ready to fork out much more for a ride on the iconic toy train

If you are planning to take the 87 km toy train ride from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to Darjeeling (diesel loco), be ready to fork out Rs 1285. In a sudden move, the DHR has hiked the fares of the services manifold from February 1, 2017. Earlier the same trip used to cost Rs. 365. The second class has also been removed for this trip with only first class available.

Interestingly, the price hike did not feature in the annual Railway budget. Fares of other trips offered by the DHR have also been hiked. For joy rides from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back by diesel loco, a 16 km ride, the revised rate stands at Rs. 800 from the earlier Rs. 630. For the same trip by steam loco, the price has been hiked to Rs. 1300 from the earlier Rs. 1100.

Price for the trip from Darjeeling to Kurseong in first class by passenger train has been hiked from Rs. 210 to Rs. 680. Since February 1, second class coaches have been removed from this service. The second class is a favourite among students and daily commuters. The second class fare was Rs. 60.

Railway authorities claimed that there is a glitch with the second class coach. After repairs, the second class coach will continue running in the Darjeeling- Kurseong section.

The revised rate board displayed at the Darjeeling Railway Station however does not mention the second class fares prompting doubts on whether the second class services will be reintroduced.

The Railway has blamed "inflation" for the sudden price hike. "It is owing to inflation, running costs have gone up. Since 2015 there has been no fare hikes in the DHR. Hence it was a policy decision to increase fares this year" stated MD Bhutia, Director, DHR.

Sources however claim that the fare hike has been implemented to make the DHR more viable and to break even running costs. Reports state that even a few years ago the DHR used to incur an annual loss of around Rs 10 crore. However, current figure projections are a clear indicator that it is on a recovery path.

Nardendra Mohan, Area Officer, DHR stated "Earlier the recovery percentage was 30% (30% of the expenses being made up from the income.) The current figures show that it is now 50%. At this pace, we will soon become self sustainable."

In the financial year 2013-14 the income of the DHR stood at Rs 1.84 crore; in 2014-15 it was Rs. 3.24 crore and in 2015-16 Rs 5.45 crore.
In 2014-15 around 69 to 70,000 passengers availed the DHR services; 2015-16 saw 1 lakh passengers, and for this financial year the projected figure is more than 2 lakh passengers. The DHR was marked as a World Heritage site by UNESCO on December 2, 1999.

Not all are complaining. "The DHR is a world heritage. It has to be self sustaining in order to survive. The Railways can use the income for bettering services and for value addition.
Tourists usually prefer the joy rides. Very few tourists have the patience to undertake the 8 hour long ride from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling. However the second class service should be reintroduced in the Darjeeling- Kurseong route which is availed by students and daily commuters" stated Pradeep Lama, General Secretary, Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents.

He stated that earlier the joy rides were losing out as the fare for the Darjeeling to Ghoom and back joy ride service (16km) by diesel loco earlier was Rs. 630 whereas the fare for the Darjeeling to NJP (87 km trip) was Rs. 365/- prior to revision. "Tourists preferred the NJP trip rather than the joy ride which was more costly despite being shorter" added Lama.

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