The Rail Enthusiasts Society (RES), comprising a group of people from different occupations, including former railway officials, sought a collective initiative by the railways, tourists, and local residents of the hills and plains for the conservation of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).
The DHR earned world heritage status from Unesco in December 1999.
“We are overwhelmed by the love for DHR among common people in the hills and tourists. Even during the off-season, so many joy rides of toy trains in Darjeeling are being arranged. We want a collective approach from the citizens here to preserve one of the world heritage sites of India’s mountain railway,” said Sanjay Mukherjee, convener of the society based in New Delhi.
Mukherjee, a retired railway official, is leading a 30-member team of RES during their two-day visit to the "Queen of Hills" to check the current state of affairs of the hill railways.
RES members attended a seminar on “Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- Past, Present and Future” held at a tea estate on the outskirts of Siliguri on Sunday evening.
“At the seminar, talks were also held as to how tea and toy trains can be promoted in the tourism sector for more footfall,” said a source.
Representatives from the DHR Lovers' Society, stakeholders of the tourism industry, railway officials, representatives from the tea industry, and educationists attended the event.
“The world-famous railway is our rich heritage which is deeply connected with equally famous tea and tourism of the hills for nearly 150 years now. We need to work for its preservation by involving the locals,” Mukherjee added.
Established in 2015, RES has around 250 members across the globe.
During their trip, the RES delegation visited the century-old DHR workshop at Tindharia and attended technical sessions with local residents.
“Issues like improving the toy train services to make it more popular among tourists and locals were elaborately discussed in these sessions,” said a delegate.
The RES team members also came up with suggestions like the introduction of more short-distance services like Siliguri to Sukna or Kurseong to Darjeeling and the improvement of the infrastructure of the Tindharia workshop.
“We also want the railways to electrify the tracks so that the toy train service becomes more eco-friendly,” said a member of the team.
Till now, the toy train runs with steam and diesel locos.
The delegation, sources said, will return from the hills on Tuesday.
“We will prepare a comprehensive report, with suggestions for improvement and conservation of the DHR, and submit it to the railway board,” he said.