The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ticket to ride for first couple
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Patna, July 11: Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav’s maiden ride on the passenger train that started plying between R Block halt near Patna station and Digha on the outskirts of the city was meant to send out all the right signals.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader boarded the train only after buying a ticket from the new counter to stress the point that fleecing the railways, not an uncommon practice in Bihar, was simply not acceptable to him.

But railway sources stressed on Day 1 that the venture — to initially cover a distance of just over 8 km — would not be profitable in either the short run or the long run. “The DMU train is meant to cater to the needs of the daily passengers. The distance is so small that the service is hardly expected to bring in any money. The capital cost involved is high in comparison. Then you have the history of commuters who are not being interested to buy tickets for travelling in local trains,” they added.

The new train, obviously, is aimed at meeting the “social service” objective of the railways. “The train will be used mostly by the poor, who need to come to Patna to sell their daily produce like vegetables and milk. The road link between Digha and Patna is not very good and the hopping transportation available is quite heavy on poor people’s pockets. This train has come as a good gift,” Ramashish, a vegetable vendor, said.

The Patna-Digha track has a history dating back to 1862 when the British laid it for transporting goods to the bank of the Ganges for further shipment to the north through ferry service. It was also used to transport foodgrains and steel to godowns located in Digha. The Bata shoe factory also made liberal use of the goods train service. However, the movement became erratic in the Sixties.

During the inauguration ceremony, the railway minister said the idea was to construct a “railway ring” from Patna Saheb to Danapur along the Ganges. “The population of Patna has gone up and its impact is reflected in the road traffic situation. This service, especially after it is fully operational, will considerably ease the pressure,” he said.

Laloo Prasad also revealed that he had ordered a survey for laying a track from Patna Saheb to Danapur along the river. The original master plan for the capital included the suggestion to construct a marine drive road” along the bank. The railway minister’s concept of a “marine rail” is an addition. If undertaken, both the projects would be very ambitious.

“Patna, also known as Pataliputra and Azimabad, has a glorious history. It is the karma bhoomi of Ashoka and Jai Prakash Narayan. But the population pressure has come as a problem. I am determined to restore the city’s pristine glory and give it a status of pride,” Laloo Prasad said.

While inaugurating the refrigerated van service a fortnight ago, Laloo Prasad had directed the railway authorities to start the Patna-Digha train within 15 days. Naturally, the minister was delighted today and he even announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for those who made the service possible.

The railway minister did not include the passenger train in his budget speech.

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