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Toy train ride back after four months

Truncated service begins from Siliguri to Sukna

Cheer is back: The toy train at Siliguri Junction on Sunday. Picture by Passang Yolmo

Siliguri: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on Sunday resumed toy train rides after four months with a truncated service from Siliguri to Sukna.

The resumption of the services, though partially, has given tourism stakeholders some reasons to cheer as the 104 shutdown turned visitors away from the hills. The DHR authorities had stopped the toy train service on June 12 following the launch of the statehood agitation by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. In the four months, the DHR lost a revenue of around Rs 3 crore.

"We have started the rail service officially for the first time after the agitation just to send a message to tourists and common people of the region that they can enjoy the historic toy train ride from Siliguri," N.K. Narzary, the director of the DHR, said at Siliguri on Sunday morning.

The Unesco world heritage property has a special significance for the tourism industry in the hills as most tourists prefer to take toy train rides during their visit to the hills.

Samrat Sanyal, a tour operator, explained that the moment toy train services resumed, there would be a message that things were normal in the hills.

DHR officials said initially, the train service would be restricted between Siliguri Junction and Sukna. "The resumption of the service is bound to bring the tourists back... We are planning to extend it gradually to Rong Tong (15km from Siliguri)," Nazary said.

The train left Siliguri for Sukna around 9.18am on Sunday with a handful of passengers. But senior railway officials, who were present at the station, said once people came to know that the services had resumed, the passenger count would rise.

"We operated with two coaches and one diesel engine today (Sunday). We will also inform all railway stations across the country that the toy train rides had resumed. Once the number of passengers increases, we will add coaches," Nazary said.

Rail sources said during the 104-day strike, there was no maintenance work on the 87km long tracks between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.

The tracks were hit by landslides during the monsoon and growth of bushes. During the agitation, alleged Gorkhaland protesters torched Sonada and Ghayabari stations.

"Major obstacles to the resumption of the rail movement between NJP and Darjeeling are three major landslides that damaged the tracks. The guard wall of the tracks near Batasia Loop that is along the 12km stretch between Ghoom and Darjeeling was damaged," said Nazary.

The DHR officials said another landslide had similarly damaged the tracks near Tung, Kurseong, where at least 12m of ground below caved in and there was a disruption at Paglajhora, too. "Our technical staff is working to restore the line and we are also taking help from the national highway division of state PWD. We want to complete the work soon so that we can resume the full toy train service by the end of this month," the director of the DHR said.

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