Kolkata: The 132-year-old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), which has been running a shortened service since 2010 due to landslides and earthquakes that has uprooted its tracks at various places, is now being restored by UNESCO.
The 88-kilometre railway system, commonly known as the “Toy Train”, is on the brink of getting an “endangered” status and even being de-listed from the list of World Heritage Sites. The UN body is appalled that three years have passed and till now neither the Indian Railways, nor West Bengal government has taken up the job of repairing first mountain railway in India and only the second in the world to have received the heritage status.
In a letter to Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar this week, Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and UNESCO representative for India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, said that the railways needed to do much more than what it has done to protect the heritage site. “In view of the serious concerns raised by the international community regarding the condition of the DHR, it is important that your ministry demonstrate its active commitment to the protection of DHR so as to maintain its status within the World Heritage List,” the letter said.
Now, the body has taken on the responsibility to fund the repair of the track at a cost of $665,154 (Dh2.444 million), and will sign an agreement with the Indian Railways in September, where railways will be the nodal body for implementation and UNESCO will provide the technology. It has given the railways a strict time frame of 24-months to implement the same and wants the full track to be functional starting from Siliguri to Darjeeling.
Presently, DHR runs four trains between Dajeeling and Ghum and two between Karseong and Darjeeling and one as junge safari connecting Siliguri to Rontong.
According to the Adhir Chowdhury Minister of State-Railway, “we also want to restore this line. The central government had allocated funds, but state Public Works Department and National Road Transport Ministry has been squabbling and could not do the job. A coordination committee will be formed between UNESCO, railways, Road Transport Ministry, Bengal government and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration so that there are no further delays and problems during restoration work,” informed Chowdhury.