Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) which was started in 1880 has been attracting thousands of domestic and foreign tourists over the years. The narrow gauge line with small bogies driven by a steam engine was the main attraction of the hill and people in large numbers used to come to enjoy the ride. But the tourists, now, are unable to avail the toy train services between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling due to the apathy of the Central government to set up tunnels in the landslide prone areas.
The toy train services was started between Siliguri and Kurseong way back in 1880 as a part of DHR, while the line up to Darjeeling was opened for visitors in 1881.
The narrow gauge rail line between the New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling covers a stretch of around 78 km, the elevation level of which varies from 100 meters at NJP to 2,200 meter at Darjeeling. The operations between Siliguri and Kurseong were temporarily suspended following a massive landslide at Pagla Jhora and another at Tindhoria in 2011 caused by a massive earthquake measuring around 6.8 in Richter scale.
The experts had felt that the toy train services between the NJP and Darjeeling could not be run uninterruptedly as there were some earthquake prone zone in the hill where landslide were often reported. Special teams from Japan and Italy had visited the Pagla Jhora and Tindharia. The expert teams after examining the area suggested that a tunnel must be constructed in these places, otherwise train services will be affected during the landslides in the areas. It may be mentioned that when Mamata Banerjee was the Railway Minister she proposed to set up tunnels and several initiatives were taken in this regard.
But after the change of guard her successors did not really come up with any plan to construct the tunnels which are the need of the hours. Even in this year’s railway budget there was no allotment for these projects. Various tour operators in North Bengal have expressed their dissatisfaction as the Railway ministry is not considering the proposal of the state government to set up tunnels at Pagla Jhora and Tindharia, resulting in the huge loss of state exchequer.
North Bengal Development Minister Goutam Deb said that the State government had urged the Centre to build up the tunnels in the landslide prone areas, but they had turned a deaf ear to their appeal. “We have requested the Centre to construct the tunnels in those areas but no steps were taken yet. There was no mention of the projects in the budget this year.
“The State government had taken several initiatives to boost up the tourism in North Bengal and lot of stress was laid on the modernisation of infrastructure.
“But without the tunnels it could not be possible to run uninterrupted services. Toy train had been a centre of attraction in North Bengal over the years,” Deb said.
He also mentioned people visiting North Bengal can, however, enjoy joy rides in the toy train between Batasia Loop and Darjeeling which sees a tremendous influx of visitors. DHR was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, only the second railway to have been bestowed upon with this honour after Semmering Railways of Austria which was declared heritage in 1998. After independence, DHR was absorbed with the Indian Railways and became a part of the North East Frontier Railway zone in 1958.