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Landslip toll on toy train in tourist season

Siliguri, April 19: An unseasonal landslide has forced the authorities of toy train to run a truncated daily service from Kurseong to Darjeeling at the onset of the tourist season. At other times, the service is from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling.

“There has been a bad landslip between Gayabari (36km from Siliguri) and Mahanadi (3km away) on Friday and since then we have halted operations on the NJP-Kurseong stretch,” Darjeeling Himalayan Railway director P.P. Roy said today. As a result of the landslide, eight-metre-long tracks have been hanging as earth has caved in from beneath the lines.

“The landslip is about 15 metres (in depth) and our engineers have already started work. The spot is in a low-lying area and it’s quite cumbersome to carry out the restoration in such a location. We are hopeful that the job will be completed in a fortnight,” the DHR director said.

Disruption of toy train services because of landslides, usually a monsoon phenomenon, is a crisis that the DHR faces almost every year. Last year, landslides along the tracks took place towards May-end. The NJP-Darjeeling services were suspended throughout the monsoon and resumed in September.

“The impact was not felt much last year because the calamity occurred during the lean season when not many tourists visit the hills,” a DHR source said.

This year, though, the crisis began at the onset of the tourist season, which starts from April and continues till mid-May. The passenger traffic on the 1D and 2D services that are run by diesel regularly from NJP to Darjeeling and vice versa is the highest during the tourist season.

The DHR authorities said following the landslide on Friday they were forced to run the diesel service between Kurseong and Darjeeling. A daily steam service 9D also operates on the route.

“We are definitely incurring losses but to tap the current tourist inflow we are running 1D/2D on the Kurseong-Darjeeling section. The other services in this section are running as usual,” Roy said.

The director, however, refused to spell out the quantum of losses incurred daily.

For chartered rides, too, tourists have to contend with the toy train journey from Sukna (10km from Siliguri) and Tindharia (20km away).

“There are three chartered rides lined up for the coming week. We will run them between Sukna and Tindharia,” the director said.

The stakeholders associated with the tourism sector, however, think that the move to run the diesel service from Kurseong will not benefit the DHR much.

“Tourists generally prefer to board the 1D train from NJP or Siliguri Junction so that they get to enjoy the landscape and the forests through which the toy train passes on its uphill journey. They wouldn’t want to travel to Kurseong by road and then board the Darjeeling-bound train from there,” said a Siliguri-based tour operator.

“Moreover, when the 9D (steam service) is already in operation in that section (Kurseong-Darjeeling), an additional pair of train is not required. The DHR authorities seem to be doing their best under the circumstances, but I don’t think it’s a viable alternative.”

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