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Toy train travails: N Bengal pins hopes on Didi

Last updated on: February 25, 2011 10:06 IST

Toy train travails: N Bengal pins hopes on Didi

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Probal Basak & Shine Jacob in Kolkata/Darjeeling

"I will turn Darjeeling into Switzerland." This was one promise which railways minister Mamata Banerjee had made to the people of Darjeeling before the last Lok Sabha elections.

"Amid various incentives for West Bengal in her Budget speech, if the Trinamool stalwart forgets her promise on the the toy train, it may well sound the death knell for the iconic service of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is in the Unesco's world heritage list.

For the last eight months, the toy train service between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling is partially suspended, following a landslide and the authorities are unsure of when the narrow gauge route would be revived.

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Image: Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train.

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"We want the minister to include the development and expansion of toy train services in her budget. All the tourists coming here want to take a ride on it.

For the last eight months, nobody has been asking for the package and with the pace at which the Railways is working, it seems services may not even start this year," said Samrat Sanyal, president, Eastern Himalayas Travel and Tour Operators' Association.

Meanwhile, the Railways' is passing the buck on to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, saying it can start work on the track only after National Highway-55, which runs alongside the track and which was damaged during the landslides, is repaired.

"The track passes alongside the road. Even the road transport connectivity is disrupted here.

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Image: Mamata Banerjee.
Photographs: Reuters
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"The restoration of tracks will take place as soon as the road construction is complete," said S Hajong, spokesperson of the North Eastern Frontier Railways.

Darjeeling district magistrate, Mohan Gandhi, said, "Work on the road has started, and it will take another three months to be completed. Then it's up to the Railways to restore the train service."

Since the landslide in June, the toy train covers only a 35-km area from Kurseong to Darjeeling.

However, Unesco officials are considering this as just an 'operational issue', which has to be sorted out by the Railways.

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Image: Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train.

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"It will take more than a year to start services again. The problem is that officials are not taking decisions faster. Ultimately, the region is suffering from it.

 "I hope 'Didi' will do some magic," said a distressed staff at the narrow guage shed in Siliguri. During her visit to Darjeeling last year, Banerjee had promised the people that the region would be transformed, and would now become the 'Switzerland of West Bengal'.

Whether she would be able to make good her promise or not, locals here want her to at least bring back the Darjeeling of the past.


Image: Darjeeling, West Bengal.

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