UNESCO extends help to restore Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling: Mamata Banerjee had promised that Darjeeling would become the Switzerland of India, but the restoration of UNESCO’s World Heritage Railway has not moved forward till date. Concerned authorities have been passing the buck and failing to restore the 80-km toy train service between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, which is only partially operational following a landslide back in 2010, UNESCO has now decided to come to its rescue.

Besides a reminder to the Railway Ministry in the form of an official letter suggesting that it has not done enough to maintain its status within the World Heritage List, UNESCO has also offered to provide $600,000 to restore the toy train service. An agreement is this regard is likely to be signed in the coming month.

“There was a communication from UNESCO recently. There can be no denying of the fact that the Toy train service needs to be completely restored as soon as possible,” Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Minister of State for Railways, said.
The train, which covers an 88-kilometre stretch originally passed through places like Siliguri, Sukna, Tindharia, Gayabari, Mahanadi, Kurseong, Tung, Sonada and Ghum. The DHR, which started in 1881, was included in the World Heritage Site list by UNESCO in 1999.

But since the landslide in June 2010, the train operates only in parts – Siligudi to Tindharia and Kurseong to Darjeeling.

North Eastern Frontier Railways, which operates the service, however, blames the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. “The National Highway-55 that runs alongside the track was also damaged during the landslides. Unless that is completed, we can not restore the train-route,” a spokesperson of the North Eastern Frontier Railways said. According to the district administration of Darjeeling, the restoration of road service is on the verge of completion.
When asked about the blame game, Chowdhury promised to look into the matter. “We will do everything possible, what would be best for the early restoration of Toy Train service. I am personally looking into the matter so that there is more co-ordination between the authorities,” he said.

Incidentally, since the disruption of services in 2010, Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy have been at the helm of Rail Bahawan – all from Bengal and TMC – the party which promised to turn Darjeeling into Switzerland.

Perhaps, a helping hand from UNESCO may encourage Railways to take up the long-ignored task.