Locos in Darjeeling run out of steam, service hit
Darjeeling: While a month long commemoration is on to mark 20 years of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) being inscribed as a world heritage, for the past three days the steam locos have been out of steam, hence not running.
Incidentally the DHR was inscribed a world heritage by UNESCO on 5th December 1999. A month long celebration was flagged off on November 6 from Darjeeling and will continue till December 5 with a grand closing ceremony.
"For the past three days I have trying to get a ride on the steam loco. I have been told at the ticket counter that the steam rides have been suspended. They have not been able to tell me when the steam ride will resume. I am a train enthusiast and one of the primary reasons for my visit to Darjeeling is to ride the steam loco," stated a foreign tourist, not wishing to be named.
The railway authorities remained tight lipped regarding the suspension of steam services. "The three diesel joy ride services are operational along with the diesel services to Kurseong and NJP," stated the railway personnel at the counter.
"I have been informed that the steam services have been suspended," stated MK Narzary, Director, DHR. However he did not divulge as to why the sudden suspension of services.
The station manager, Darjeeling, could not be contacted for comments.
It has been learnt that the sudden suspension is owing to problems between contractual workers and coal contractor. A coal contractor is engaged for a period of two or three years. A new contractor has taken over recently.
The contractual workers have demanded for a raise. As both the sides have not reached a negotiation yet, the contractual workers have gone on a cease work and have refused to carry coal which inturn has robbed the locos of steam.
There are 6 coal carrying workers, 2 coach cleaning workers and 2 shed cleaning workers under the contractual system.
The steam loco joy rides are the main attraction and are a hot favourite among tourists, specially foreign tourists.
At present with the tourist season on the DHR was operating 6 loco joy rides and 3 diesel joyrides.
For the 16 km joy ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back the fare is Rs 1600 (Vista Dome coaches) for steam service and Rs. 1000 for the diesel services.
This is not the first time that contractual workers have stages a cease work. In 2018, also delay in payment of wages by the contractor had resulted in steam services being suspended for around 3 days.
Along with this there are various other problems like encroachment, dumping of garbage on the tracks, plaguing the world heritage.
Interestingly, A UNESCO team is slated to visit Darjeeling to review the 20 years of heritage tag to the DHR in December.
In the year 1879 work first started on the DHR, then called the Darjeeling Steam Tramways. The name of the rail company was then changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company in 1881 on completion of the Darjeeling to Siliguri.