Amid concerns over the Centre’s plans to monetise the World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), the much-awaited Toy Train services between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling resumed after around one-and-a-half years today.
As it resumed its services, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) also said it will be introducing the ‘Jungle Tea Safari’ from 30 August. The 87.21-km journey in the train, which has been a major attraction among tourists, had been suspended on 22 March last year due to Covid-19. It covers 12 stations during its scheduled 7 hours 20 minutes journey.
The joy ride services–Darjeeling-Ghum-Darjeeling-have, however, already resumed recently. The DHR was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The train will embark on its journey to Darjeeling from the New Jalpaiguri station at 10 am daily.
There will be 17 seats in the first class and 29 seats in the vista dome coach for passengers in three coaches hauled by the diesel loco. A parcel van has been included in the Toy Train after a gap of 30 years. The fare for a seat in the first-class coach is Rs 1420, while it is Rs 1200 for a vista dome.
“We are hopeful that we will get a tremendous response from tourists as the service takes a peak especially during October,” said the Katihar divisional railway manager, Subhendu Kumar Choudhary, who flagged off the train today. Sources said the Railways will offer a 20 per cent discount on tickets during the lean period–January-February and July-September–to draw tourists. NFR also said that all passengers will have to follow the Covid protocol.
Railway officials said the resumption of the services will boost the local economy. “Over one lakh passengers had travelled in 2019-2020 fiscal, and in order to keep up the trend, some steps were taken. But the pandemic and the situation has taken a heavy toll on the services. Earlier, the 104-day-long strike in the Hills in 2017 had a large scale impact on the DHR.
With the resumption of the service, tourism and hospitality sectors of the area are expected to reap benefits; thereby helping the local economy,” a senior railway officer said. Tourists express joy A tourist from Varanasi, Sandip, said today it was a “unique pleasure” to take a journey in the DHR.
“I have travelled in other mountain railways like the Kalka-Shimla, but I am boarding the DHR for the first time. It is a unique experience,” he said. A resident of Howrah, Satya Prakash Dixit said he had been waiting for the resumption of the regular services.
“I quickly decided to take an opportunity to board the DHR after noticing a tweet of the Katihar division. Tourists like me were eagerly waiting for the services, and accordingly, I took a train from Howrah for this purpose,” Mr Dixit said.
Private tour operators also expressed happiness at the development. The general secretary of the Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network, Samrat Sanyal, who took a ride on the train today, said they will work on a draft plan for branding, promotion and sales for the DHR.
Meanwhile, the train had to stop for a brief period at Salbari on the outskirts of Siliguri as motorcycles and e-rickshaws had been parked on the tracks. Jungle Tea Safari The Railways will introduce a new service ‘Jungle Tea Safari’ between Siliguri Junction and Rongtong from 30 August. “We are going to launch a new service–Jungle Tea Safari. There will be a vista dome dining coach for passengers where they will be offered tea and snacks during the two-hour trip.
It will be an enjoyable ride for them,” Mr Choudhary said. The train for the same will depart from Siliguri Junction at 4 pm every day and the fare will be Rs 1000 during the lean period and Rs 1200 during the tourist season.
In Darjeeling, the Darjeeling Railway Station manager, Suman Pradhan, said the train had not been running its entire route since March-end last year due to the Covid pandemic. According to Mr Pradhan, the train from Darjeeling will leave around 8:20 in the morning