DHR goods train revival faces uphill path

KURSEONG 25 APRIL: Some argue that to revive the old glory of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), it is necessary to revive the DHR goods trains. The path to revival, however, seems difficult.

Besides its famous joy rides, the DHR also carried different goods from the plains to the hills. But with the passage of time, the compartments carrying the goods vanished altogether from the DHR. It was learnt that during the development of Darjeeling as a sanatorium by the British, the DHR played an important role as a goods carrier and was the sole means of transport for both passenger and goods. The DHR then was thought to be as fast as the ponies that were used as a means of transport to reach Darjeeling and took days and was back-breaking. A long line of compartments, including those of goods, were pulled by the steam locomotive to reach different stations and towns on the way to Darjeeling.

Not only was it cheap but also convenient, and the goods that it carried consisted of building materials, tea products, timber, textile, ration commodities to cattle’s being transported from one place to another. In fact, it was the commercial backbone of Darjeeling then. It was learnt that at its peak it had a fleet of 22 steam locomotives and presently only 12 of them are in use and under maintenance along with four diesel hydraulic locomotives that were introduced later.

A DHR official said that as time passed, other modes of transportation that were faster than the DHR came into being. This brought down the demand of the steam locomotives.

Notably, several of the previous coaches and goods carriers used by the DHR in earlier days have now been preserved as heritage in museums across the country and in the hills. The DHR was given heritage status in 1999 by UNESCO, but with the dwindling of its important uses, the train now seems to live on past reputation only. It has been reported that even the World Heritage Status that it had been given could become a thing of the past. Under such circumstances, could the heritage site status of the DHR be withdrawn by UNESCO?

Hence, some people believe that the old glory of DHR must be revived whether it is the goods train carrying material across the hills or carrying local passengers and tourists to Darjeeling.

When asked, the DHR Director M D Bhutia, said: “The demand for DHR transport came down after vehicles started to ply and even the goods train that was used consistently across the hills slowly lost its prominence. By 1992 the goods train totally disappeared from the transport scene. Even the revival of the goods train in the hills is not viable. We are ready to bring back the goods train once more but there also has to be a demand for it on a regular basis.”