The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Loss brake on toy train rides
- 10 bookings cancelled, rs 5 lakh lost

Siliguri, Dec. 24: The festive season has brought little cheer to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) with the loss of revenue mounting because of the dried-up tourist traffic in the past three months.

“Over the last couple of months, we have cancelled 10 chartered bookings of toy train service from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling. Our regular services also have been hampered because of the lack of tourists since October this year,” said Subrata Nath, the director of the DHR. A single chartered booking costs Rs 20,000.

“The loss in total (chartered and regular) earnings is around Rs 5 lakh,” Nath added. “Although we are running our regular services from Darjeeling to Ghoom and Darjeeling to Kurseong, the number of travellers is very poor. Most of the time we get less than 50 per cent of the usual passenger load.”

Currently, the DHR — an Unesco World Heritage site and one of the biggest tourist attractions — runs only one pair of trains from the plains. The one from New Jalpaiguri starts around 9am and reaches Darjeeling at 5pm. The downhill ride from Darjeeling starts at 9.15am to arrive at New Jalpaiguri at 5.15pm.

“We have stopped our day-long tour — from Siliguri Junction to Tindharia and back — since Durga Puja as there were hardly any tourists. Now, when it is time for another festive season, we hardly have the bookings that we usually expect at this time,” Nath said.

The DHR faced similar losses in the period from April-July because of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha led statehood agitation in the hills, followed by landslides in monsoon. The Morcha had in June asked the tourists to leave the hills on a day’s notice. Since then, tour operators alleged that tourists have been wary of visiting the hills. During that period for at least two months the toy train service between NJP and Darjeeling was shut. Nath had then told The Telegraph that the DHR was losing out on Rs 30,000 daily.

Sanjay Goswami, the director of a tour agency here who once introduced different packages for DHR lovers like Heritage Safari (Siliguri to Tindharia and back), “joy ride” in the DHR from Darjeeling to Ghoom echoed Nath. “Our packages are still there, but the response is poor,” Goswami said.

According to Goswami, last year during this time, he had hardly any vacancy in his packages. “After the strikes and bandh threats, nobody wanted to go to the hills. Now we have less than 30 per cent of occupancy per trip.”

Goswami said on days of full bookings, 70 passengers can be accommodated per trip. The tour director also said in December and January last year, he had no Sunday that was without a booking. But this time he has less than half the bookings for the Heritage Safari.

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