PATNA: For thousands of people in Bihar’s Munger and Bhagalpur districts, travelling by train no longer has the same meaning as Indian Railways withdrew two local trains known for generations as the “coolie” or ‘shramik (workers) train’.
The Jamalpur-Dhanuri and Jamalpur-Sultanganj trains were withdrawn on Tuesday for not being unable to meet expenses incurred in keeping the train service alive.
The service was started by the British-managed East Indian Railway Company in 1896, exclusively for transporting employees of Jamalpur Railway Workshop (JRW) in Munger district, which was set up in 1862.
But the two trains, each consisting of eight coaches including the guard’s van, had become a lifeline for thousands of people in villages along the 40-km Jamalpur-Dhanuri and 29-km Jamalpur-Sultanganj routes.
Although originally conceived to transport only 100 passengers, the trains used to remain hugely overcrowded, with more than 500 passengers travelling in it for their sundry work.
The two trains had been running twice daily each day, except on Sundays. Since the service was exclusively for JRW employees, there was no provision for its bona fide passengers having tickets. The local people had been enjoying a free ride, knowing well that it was illegal and that there was never any ticket checking.
Withdrawal of the two trains left the employees of the 155-year-old JRW and the Malda division of Eastern Railway, which managed this train service, with a deep sense of loss and nostalgia. Employees of JRW, many of whom still used to take these trains to reach and return from the world-famous factory, say the trains had acquired heritage status and should have been continued.
“It is a living, thriving piece of history that chugged away into the pages of history books,” said Rakesh Kumar, a guard of ‘coolie train’ after he travelled on it for the last time.
Although the Railways have cited no reason for withdrawing the train service, railway officials said the rising costs of running it had made it an “unviable” service. “About `40 lakh was spent each month on these short-route trains, and the gains were very little,” said one official.
Mohit Kumar Sinha, DRM of Malda division of Eastern Railway said, “Unlike 20 years ago, very few JRW workers were using these trains as several transport options are now open for them to reach the factory. JRW’s strength has also fallen from over 15,000 workers to about 9,000 these days.”