| The tracks hanging after the landslip. Telegraph picture
Siliguri, July 4: A stretch of the toy train tracks was left hanging in air this afternoon as the earth beneath gave way, barely an hour after the heritage wheels had chugged towards Siliguri.
The area — between Tindharia and Rongtong stations — where the landslip occurred around 4.30pm is known as the “sinking zone”. But today’s was a big one.
“The earth under a 10-metre stretch of the track has given way. The tracks are intact, but there is nothing underneath up to a depth of 30 metres,” said Mehtab Singh, the Northeast Frontier Railway divisional manager.
The foreboding of the calamity came early. So, an engineer supervising work to bind together crumbling earth at Lalmati — which gets the name from the reddish colour of its soil — stopped the train just before it reached the stretch and asked around 50 passengers to get down and walk across to the other side.
The same procedure had been followed when the train to Darjeeling passed the area at 11 in the morning.
The driver ran the train very slowly over the stretch as the passengers and railway officials watched with bated breath.
The down train reached Siliguri at 5.20pm, over two hours behind schedule.
A railway source said the train, comprising a first-class and two second-class compartments pulled by a diesel engine, had mostly tourists on board.
“It was held up at Tindharia station, about 4km above the spot, while gang men laid ‘packing’ — a combination of wire, boulders and cement —under the tracks to reinforce loose soil,” the source added.
The spot had seemed vulnerable since June 28, when gang men first saw the earth giving way. “We have been reinforcing the stretch with earth and packing every day since,” said an engineer.
Railway officials said the toy train service would be closed for at least seven days.
“A lot of work will have to be done to restore normal operations. We will try to get it done as fast as possible, but even temporary restoration will take about a week,” Singh said after the inspection.