Two years after the Shimla Toy train derailment which claimed the lives of two British nationals and led to 18 per cent decline in passenger traffic in the UNESCO World Heritage train, the Railway Ministry has decided to go in for aggressive promotion and marketing of Rail Tourism through the seven mountain trains across the country.
However, safety has been accorded the topmost priority, and the Railway Board has directed the authorities to ensure better upkeep of stations and rail infrastructure like bridges and signals en route the toy or hill trains.
The mountain railways refers to the seven narrow or metre gauge railway lines operational around the hill regions of the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, and valleys of Assam and Kashmir.
With the onset of tourist season in India and as part of the rail tourism initiative, the Delhi Rewari Steam Engine will also begin its first run on October 14 and the last on April 14, 2018 with the cost of to and fro travel being Rs 6,480.
The UNESCO World Heritage Kalka Shimla train’s image was dented when two female Britishers were killed following a derailment. Also, the incident saw train witnessing a decline of 18 per cent in its passengers in the last two years.
The Railway Board convened a special meeting on the toy/hill trains with the stakeholders. It was decided to give utmost priority to safety, cleanliness and smooth operations. The Railways also decided to bring awareness among the people and others like film and television producers for usage of this priceless memento built a century ago by the Britishers.
“Special focus will now be given on rail tourism which was ignored for quite some time. Tourism has immense potential within the Indian Railways network. All the mountain trains will be refurbished and we will offer these services for functions and special events at a very attractive price. Some of our hill trains are world heritage. The Delhi Rewari Steam Engine will be chugged by over 80 years WAP engine. The upholstery and other comforts have been reworked upon,” said a senior rail official.
The mountain trains, whose safety and renewed comforts have been given priority are Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the Kalka-Shimla, Matheran Hill, Kangra Valley Railway and the newest addition in this segment are Jammu-Baramulla in the valley and Lumding-Badarpur section in the North-eastern India.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or Toy Train is in West Bengal and operates between Siliguri and Darjeeling, a favorite summer tourist destination.
The train has figured in several documentaries and Bollywood movies.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway, also a world heritage train, runs on a single track metre gauge line of 46km from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam railway station in the Nilgiri hills covering Coonoor and Ooty.
The other world heritage and famous train especially amongst the Europeans are Kalka-Shimla Railway that traverse in Himalayas and Shivalik. In addition to this is the Kangra Valley Railway which covers a distance of 163 kilometres between Pathankot and Joginder Nagar. The valley is known for its natural beauty and scenic view. Kangra valley toy train is one of two mountain railways in Himachal Pradesh and a heritage site.
In the far north east, the Hill Queen Express runs on meter gauge track which operates as Jan Shatabdi between Lumding to Lower Haflong in Assam. Lumding-Haflong-Badarpur Hill Railway route runs through the Borail Hill Range between Lumding and Badarpur.
Not very far from HP and Punjab is the Jammu Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway line in the Kashmir valley. The railway route also has world’s tallest railway bridge, Chenab Bridge, and one of the India’s longest rail tunnel, Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel.
The other proposed mountain train attraction closer to China is the Bilaspur Mandi Leh railway line on elevated track to connect Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh. The track will become the highest railway track in the world.