Darjeeling, Oct. 18: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway today ran toy trains with its only functional diesel locomotive after a day’s halt because contract workers refused to load coal in the steam engines.
S. Hajong, the chief public relation officer of Northeast Frontier Railway under which the DHR falls, said over phone from Maligaon that the contractors were likely to be paid soon.
“We hope the DHR services will be regularised before Durga Puja as a huge number of tourists take the joy rides during the festival,” he said.
He did not specify why the contractors had not been paid since March, resulting in pile-up of dues running to over Rs 1 crore.
Several toy train trips were cancelled yesterday after DHR employees refused to run the locomotives saying they were threatened by the contract hands, who are on an indefinite strike to protest the non-payment of dues ahead of Puja.
DHR director M.D. Bhutia said: “We resumed the joy rides (today) but the coaches were pulled by a diesel engine. There were problems in operating steam engines.”
Sources in the DHR said the employees were forced to cancel the 8am joy ride today as they were “unsure” whether the contractors would allow them to run the train.
“We, however, got information that the contractors wouldn’t stop us from running the trains today. We then decided to run the joy rides,” a DHR employee said.
The contract workers supply coal and water and clean the tracks.
“Since there were problems in loading coal into the steam engines, we decided to resume the services with diesel locomotives as no contractors are involved in any job related to diesel machines,” Bhutia said. The DHR has 13 steam locomotives, which are almost a century old.
As the hill railway has only one functioning diesel engine, the DHR did three joy rides between Darjeeling and Ghoom at 10.40am, 1.20pm and 4pm.
Suresh Periwal, the chairman of the north Bengal and Sikkim chapter of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said many foreigners come to Darjeeling to take rides in steam engines and not in trains hauled by diesel locos.
“One has to realise that for the foreigners, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and many come specifically for the ride on this heritage train. Incidents like these will not help tourism in the hills.”