Darjeeling: For the first time in its 137-year-history, the toy train will have an air-conditioned compartment from next month. The toy train climbs more than 2,000 metres from the plains of Siliguri to Darjeeling’s hills.
Railway Board chairman Aswini Lohani said this would happen in April. “Some tourists I met pointed out that the first-class service in the long-distance journey from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Darjeeling was not good enough. So we have decided to introduce AC coaches from April. There will be no change in fare,” said Lohani.
The train that will have the AC compartment will, however, be powered by diesel locos. The vintage steam locos are currently used only for a joyride between Darjeeling and Ghoom.
Railway officials say they are responding to tourists’ demand for greater comfort but environment scientists and climatologists see in this an irrefutable proof of climate change.
Kurseong and Kalimpong have already became unbearable without fans in summer.
Climatologists, who have been crying hoarse about climate change, now say that the sight of an AC coach trundling into Darjeeling station will be plain surreal.
The toy train climbs more than 2,000 metres in its eight-hour uphill journey. Multiple zigzags and loop lines on the narrow guage along the 87-km route make this feat possible. This unique railway line along with British-built B-Class steam locomotives and the stations make up the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which has a World Heritage Site tag from Unsesco.
Lohani said the Railways would also attempt to revive the six-steam engines. Seven of the 13 steam engines with DHR are in running condition. “We have plans to offer steam-engine rides from Siliguri to Darjeeling. We want to make DHR world-class like other railways. We will restore all the steam engines and operate them twice-a-week for DHR enthusiasts,” he said.
At present, an hour-long, 16-km trip on board the train powered by the steam loco from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back costs Rs 1,300.