| A solitary passenger sits in a compartment of the Airport-Dum Dum Cantonment train. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
First train: 7.40 am.
Second (and last) train: 9.50 pm.
Passengers on each train: Less than 20.
Project cost: Rs 112 crore (from the rail budget).
Report card: A for idea, Z for implementation.
Hop on to the ghost train leaving the airport.
The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport-Dum Dum Cantonment rail project was meant to serve as a vital link between the airport and the city — just like in cities abroad. Today, four months after the project went on track, the trains run empty.
And why shouldn’t they' There are only two trains a day and that, too, at the strangest hours; hardly any air passenger is aware of the service; pre-paid taxis are easily available and quite affordable compared to foreign cities...
So, the number of tickets issued from the Airport station counter struggles to cross 500 a month.
“The train has not found patrons. Not many people are using this facility. We do not think any air passenger uses it,” admits Soumitra Majumdar, CPRO, Eastern Railways.
On Tuesday morning, Metro realised just why.
First, finding the gate to the Airport station — a white enclosure on the approach road to the domestic terminal — is a tough ask. Once you spy it hidden behind trees, you buy a ticket costing Rs 5 and take the stairs up to a platform neat and clean, and 275 m long, overlooking the car park of the domestic terminal.
There are no permanent staff members at the deserted station. “The people at the counter come from other stations. After this train leaves, they also leave,” says Kajal Kundu, holding temporary charge of the platform for the morning cycle.
When the local train trundles in at 7.40 am, finding a bogey with a passenger is mission impossible. After all, the nine coaches hardly have 15 passengers.
First stop, Jessore Road station, where another few passengers trickle in. Then, the train joins the main line at Dum Dum Cantonment station en route to Sealdah.
“If the schedule is revised and frequency increased, people can easily take the local to Dum Dum Metro station,” says a frequent flyer.
But there are no plans to salvage things. “In the long run, we might add one more train, but the main line is so busy we cannot add more,” says CPRO Majumdar.
The length of the track from Airport to Dum Dum Cantonment is 3.2 km, of which 2.8 km is elevated. “If the tracks were on ground, the cost would not have crossed Rs 25 crore,” observes Majumdar.
The one official consolation is that a fixed asset has been created. “In future, more and better trains might be started,” hopes the Eastern Railway official.
Till then, hopping off an aircraft and hopping on to a train is just not an option.