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Austrian model for toy train

Darjeeling, Sept. 18: If the Tata Energy Research Institute (Teri) initiative, supported by resource personnel of the Austrian Railway, is anything to go by, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) seems set to add “class” to its heritage status.

R.K. Pachauri, director general, Teri, said: “The presence of resource persons of Austrian Railway could help mould the action plan to convert the toy train into the leading tourist attraction. The Austrian Railway is a top tourist draw in their country and there is no reason why the DHR, which is unique to Darjeeling, can’t do the same.” The DHR management has proposed development of the train on the lines of the “Palace on Wheels”.

The “facelift” drive follows results of a survey conducted by Teri, which showed that the number of “toy train tourists” had plummeted from 3,600 a month in 1996 to only 600 during 2001.

The proposal will be placed for review during the upcoming three-day workshop, organised by the Union tourism ministry, on the development of tourism in the Darjeeling hills. The “heritage on wheels” idea is slated to be taken up as a case study to realise the importance of the train to the hill economy.

The Centre had sanctioned Teri to implement the project on tourism development.

Teri suggestions include include “introducing the toy train as a high-end tourist product”. Pachauri said: “Services must be of the highest quality, if we contemplate wooing international tourists.”

The Teri report states a joint venture, similar to the one between Indian Railways and the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation for the Palace on Wheels needs to be drawn up either with the autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council or the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation.

“Such a venture will limit the implications of the railway budget as it will not have to make budgetary provisions for the entire project but only extend equity participation,” Teri sources said.

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