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Save tram, save city
Tramjatra activists walk along tram tracks dragging sticks with flags to drum up support for the eco-friendly vehicles

A few weeks ago, on a misty (read polluted) winter morning, some people were seen engaged in an unusual activity along the tram tracks near the Victoria Memorial Hall.

They were tram crusaders, dragging sticks with yellow flags along the tram tracks between the Maidan and Esplanade; trying silently to highlight the importance of the public transport system in the city. They wanted to drum up support for trams in Calcutta, which is fast gaining international notoriety for its polluted air and its potential climate change impact.

“We undertook a similar campaign in Melbourne earlier. Calcutta requires trams to combat the pollution generated by fossil fuel-driven vehicles,” said Mick Douglas, a tram activist from Australia.

The campaign was part of Tramjatra, a Calcutta-Melbourne save tram campaign, which has been on a roll for almost a decade.

Using trams makes environmental sense as fossil fuels like petrol and diesel are not used for running them, which means less emission on road. True, the generation of thermal power — which runs the trams — gives out some amount of greenhouse gases, but unlike in buses or cars (or the katatel-fuelled autos) this emission is from a single source and is relatively easier to control.

The tram system was the first public transport to be introduced to Calcutta in 1867. Today it lives under the constant threat of being scrapped any time. The tramways of Calcutta have suffered utter neglect and mismanagement in the last decade, though in the same period, many important cities across the world have been turning to trams to combat global warming.

“It’s true that tramways were discontinued in many places during the latter half of the last century. However, transport experts and governments all over the world soon realised the mistake as liquid fossil fuels started becoming increasingly scarce. From the year 2000, tramways have come back in more than 100 cities across the world mainly to combat environmental pollution,” said Debasish Bhattacharya, a scientist and a champion of the “save tram” movement in Calcutta.

He said that some 50 per cent of the tram stretches in the city was closed and the tracks were often of poor quality. Above all, the position of the stops in the middle of busy roads makes trams risky.

While international tram systems like Yarra Trams are tying up with global climate change campaigns, trams in Calcutta are forcing activists to step up their campaign.

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