GUWAHATI, May 20: The delight of tourists visiting Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills might be up for a leap this summer. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has introduced AC coaches attached to the famed heritage toy trains, thus aiming for a cheerful twist in the historic hill station’s tourism saga.
“Toy trains are the major attractions for tourists visiting Darjeeling. Since AC coaches have been introduced, more tourists, both domestic and foreign, will come up for the ride, particularly during summer,” said a tour operator in Guwahati.
For the first time in its 137-year history, the toy trains, which climb more than 2,000 metres from the plains of Siliguri to Darjeeling’s hills, were equipped with 15-seater AC compartments last month.
At present, the toy trains run 88 km regularly on diesel engines between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, and back to New Jalpaiguri. There are also joy rides between Darjeeling and Kurseong, a station located between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling at 4,864 feet above the sea level. Chartered services are also available for tourists.
esides the newly introduced AC coaches, the toy trains have two first-class coaches each with a seat capacity of 18. While the fare for AC coaches has been fixed at Rs 1,555, it is Rs 1,295 for first-class coaches. Considering the increasing rush of tourists, the Railways has introduced online ticketing system for the toy trains which can travel 15 km per hour due to hilly tracks.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway under the NF Railway, which is also popularly known as toy train, was opened in 1881, and it is still fully operational.
History has it that an individual entrepreneur, Franklin Prestage, was fascinated by the picturesque Kanchenjunga. Following this, the agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway (EBR), Prestage, settled for a 2-feet rail gauge, and he created the Darjeeling Steam Tramway, which was changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on September 15, 1881. On October 20, 1948, the line was taken up by the Indian Government. In order to travel the twisted routes through the hills, the Darjeeling line was constructed to a gauge of two feet.
On June 29, 1998, the National Rail Museum submitted a report to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with a plea to recognize Darjeeling Himalayan Railway as a World Heritage Site. On December 2, 1999, the UNESCO said the toy train network of India was a World Heritage Site.
Superintendent of Darjeeling Railway Station Suman Pradhan told this reporter that many tourists remain on the waiting list to get tickets for the toy-train rides during the peak season. He said there is 90 per cent occupancy in these cute trains during the off-peak season too.
“Even though toy trains are cancelled due to rains and landslides sometimes, the Railways do its best to overcome such natural calamities at the earliest for the sake of tourists. Introduction of AC coaches will bring more delight to tourists,” Pradhan said.
PRO of NF Railway Nripendra Bhattacharyya said the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a pride possession of NF Railway. He said NF Railway continuously works for keeping the glory of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway intact for the future generations.