Narrow gauge gets a new lease of life
Statesman News Service
KATWA, Oct. 13. — Withdrawal of bus fare concession for daily passenger’s in Burdwan has had a positive effect on the narrow gauge rail services.
The Burdwan-Katwa vintage rail has witnessed an increased passenger inflow in the past one week. The railway officials said that the ever-neglected trains plying between the district town and Katwa, a distance of 53 km, has observed a 30 per cent increase of passengers.
The Eastern Railway has placed an order for two new engines in order to improve services of both the Ahmedpur-Katwa and Burdwan-Katwa narrow gauge services recently. The new engines, according to Mr JN Singha, railway manager, Katwa will help increae railway services between Burdwan-Katwa and Ahmedpur-Katwa.
Mr Singha said, “The officials have already rushed to Motibagh to procure the engines which are likely to be the economic ones.” There are five engines in possession of the Katwa railway authority of which two are rail cars. The rail cars consume 30 litre of diesel to cover the distance between Burdwan and Katwa. The ZDM-5 type of engines require 80 litre each to cover the same distance and are less fuel efficient. The Katwa railway authority for this reason has stressed on the rail car type of engines this time.
Presently 5 Up and 5 Down trains ply between Burdwan-Katwa and 4 Up and 4 Down trains ply a distance of 52 km between Katwa and Ahmedpur in Birbhum district. Katwa junction remains as the connecting link between Burdwan and Birbhum districts. In 1966 the Indian Railway had taken over the operation of this narrow gauge from it’s owner, Mcloyed & Company.
The excessive time consumed by the narrow gauge trains to reach either of the destinations had de-popularised the services which earlier had been a lifeline in this part of Bengal. The speedy bus services reaching Burdwan town from Katwa subdivisional headquarters in two hours replaced the vintage mode of communication.
The rail journey takes 2.45 hours as a minimum time to cover the track distance of 53 km from Katwa to Burdwan town. Engines chugging along at the maximum speed of 30 km per hour is the reason behind this, the railway officials said. The situation of Ahmedpur-Katwa section is the worst as the trains take more than four hours to cover the of distance. The maximum speed limit fixed by the engineering division of the Eastern Railway is just 15 km per hour. Mr Sinhga said: “After the flood in 2000, the experts from Howrah, after inspecting the condition of tracks had prescribed that as the maximum speed limit.
The engineering division still is reluctant to withdraw the speed limit. We are helpless.”
The slow pace of the trains are not caused only due to poor track conditions. The ancient engines are also a major drawback.
The narrow gauge has remained a single track line since it’s inception.
Naturally the tracks cannot afford to have two trains heading in opposite directions at any single time.
To facilitate the crossing of trains the Mcloyed & Company had arranged for crossings in five places along the track.
Only eight years ago, the ER authority had given crosing stations like Nigon, Koichar, Srikhanda to private hands, had withdrawn railway operation systems and the stations were reduced to halts. Presently the Burdwan-Katwa section is the only such region that has a crossing point at Bolgona station.
The Up and Down trains have to reach the crossing on time to facilitate crossing.
Mr Robindranath Chatterjee, MLA, Katwa and chairman, Katwa municipality said: “The ER has arbitrarily withdrawn the crossings causing extensive damage to the services.
That has further deteriorated our services as a train, either Up or Down, has to wait until the train from the opposite direction meets at Bolgona.” He added: “This causes an undesired delay in the journey schedule.”
Mr JN Singha, the railway manager, Katwa said: “Due to limited crossing points a number of problems crop up when one of the trains arrive late at Bolgona, which is 26 km from Katwa. The passengers are greatly inconvenienced. Otherwise that does not pose a serious trouble.”
Because of the problems associated with the narrow gauge lines the railway ministry has lost courage to continue with the services.
Except for introducing diesel locomotives in the early 1990s, the ministry of railway has not assured fresh investment as yet.
Only in last railway budget, fund for converting the narrow gauge to broad gauge was proposed.
The railway has identified poor turnout of passengers and their unwillingness to buy tickets as the reasons behind the losses incurred by the narrow gauge section.
By privatising certain stations the railway had made an attempt to ensuring revenue.
But the poor services played spoilsport.
The casual commuters board the moving train to reach short distances and due to lack of ticket checkers most of them get down without having bought a ticket.
Mr Chatterjee, the Katwa MLA said: “Its easy to catch the train and easier to get down as it only gives the villagers a relief from walking. These people do not feel the need to buy tickets.”
The fare rates are however quite moderate in this section of the ER. When the minimum bus fare from Katwa to Burdwan reached Rs 23, the train fare remained Rs13.
The matter of cheaper fare has sincerely been felt by the commuters these days when the Burdwan District Bus Owners Association banned the daily passenger’s concession.
The passengers, most of which are small businessmen and farmers with some office goers, have started reconsidering the mode of communication to be availed.
The Katwa station itself has recorded a 30 per cent increase in ticket sale in the past one week.
Mr KF Moula, assistant station manager, Katwa said: “The average sale per day is between Rs 700 and Rs 1000 and that has started increasing these days.”