Good news for Darjeeling toy train

Boost Services between New Jalpaiguri and Tindharia to be restored before Durga Puja

SILIGURI: With railway officials hoping to restore services of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), more popularly known as the toy train, between New Jalpaiguri and Tindharia before Durga Puja, tourists and travellers have something to look forward to this festive season. Unless, of course, there are sudden landslides and all the hard work comes to virtually nothing.
darjeelingServices of the DHR, a Unesco world heritage site, between New Jalpaiguri and Kurseong have been stopped for three years now, that is, since June 2010. But services between Kurseong and Darjeeling have, however, remained uninterrupted. (The stretch from New Jalpaiguri to Tindharia is 35km.)

It bears recall that the National Highway 55 and the DHR tracks, which run parallel to each other, had suffered major damage during landslides, first at Paglajhora in June 2010 and then again at Tindharia on September 28, 2011.

Since then, a section of the NH-55 and DHR services up to Kurseong are completely closed. Sources add that so severe were the damages that both the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the North East Frontier Railway are still struggling to repair the road and the DHR tracks.

But the North East Frontier Railway, under which the DHR falls, restarted work to restore the tracks below the railway locomotive workshop at Tindharia after it received reports that Unesco was seriously considering withdrawing the heritage status to DHR.

The DHR, which started its journey in 1881, was accorded the world heritage status in 1999. When contacted, DS Kumar, the additional divisional railway manager based in New Jalpaiguri, told Hindustan Times, “We hope to restore the DHR tracks at Tindharia soon and the services between New Jalpaiguri and Tindharia are expected to resume before Durga Puja.”

Kumar also said that the railway authorities have used a portion of the Tindharia locomotive workshop area while restoring the tracks.

Though it is expected that the DHR services in this section would resume before the pujas, it would take more time for the stretch till Kurseong to become operational as the damage by the landslide at Paglajhora has not been repaired.

Incidentally, the Union ministry of road transport and highways has already sanctioned R 83.77 crore for the restoration of NH-55, the work for which is yet to begin.

A railway official said that the start of restoration work on DHR tracks at Tindharia was prompted by the Unesco’s threat. In fact, Moe Chiba, programme specialist for culture, Unesco, New Delhi, had once said, “The New Delhi office has expressed concern regarding the current status of the DHR, which has been affected by several landslides.” It is mandatory for all Unesco heritage sites to be maintained by a comprehensive conservation and management plan (CCMP).

Parliamentary House panel inspection:  The parliamentary standing committee on railways inspected the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a Unesco World Heritage network on June 14, a part of which is out of service since 2010 after landslides damaged the tracks.

This is the first time after 2010 that a parliamentary team inspecting the hill railway network.

DHR sources said a team of around five members conducted the inspection of important stations along the 80km DHR tracks from Siliguri to Darjeeling during their two-day visit.

Between Siliguri and Kurseong, no toy trains run because of the damage to the railway tracks following landslips at two points in 2010 and 2011.

“The trip is mainly to assess the present condition of the DHR. They will eventually make recommendations to improve the condition and services of the hill railway to the Railway ministry,” a DHR official said today.

“The inspection of important sites along the DHR tracks including the two landslide spots, the workshop, the DHR headquarters at Kurseong and stations along the way were done and now they will evaluate the working conditions of the locos (both steam and diesel) and carriages, take stock of the services and administrative affairs of the hill railway,” he said.

The Indian Railways had taken some steps to improve the DHR after the Unesco, New Delhi office, issued a warning in March expressing concern over the delay in restoring the toy train tracks that were breached at Tindharia and Paglajhora.

In the second week of May, the DHR started building an alternative route to bypass the landslide-hit stretch at Tindharia, 30km from here, on NH55. The Tindharia landslide that washed away a part of NH55 and DHR tracks happened in September 2011. But in 2010, a landslide at Paglajhora, 35km from here, had washed away part of NH55 and tracks running parallel to it.

The slide at Tindharia had also affected a loco workshop perched 200ft above the landslide spot. No restoration work was taken up after the incident and heavy rain further damaged a part of the only DHR workshop in July last year.

Another setback for the hill railway came when a major portion of Sonada station, 52km from here, was gutted in a fire in October last year. No repair has been taken up so far.

“The parliamentary standing committee will make its recommendations to the Union railway ministry about areas that need immediate attention like track restoration, improving performance of rolling stock (locomotives and carriages) and upgrading the infrastructure,” the DHR official said.