NEW DELHI: In an attempt to popularise steam engines that were a quintessential part of yesteryear Bollywood cinema, among the domestic and foreign tourists in the hills, the Indian Railways is planning to introduce a new policy.Under the provisions entailed in the proposal, the railways hope to offer attractive discounts and packages to tourists by the respective divisions in consultation with Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation.In order to give a thrust to tourism on Hill railways as well as enhancing the image of the railways, it has been now decided by Railway Board chairman and financial commissioner to delegate decision making on operations at divisional level rather than the higher authorities.
It has been decided that rates for tourist charter as well as individual charter operation in the five Hill railways will be decided at the divisional level by the concerned officer with approval of the divisional railway manager. Earlier, the approval has to be sought from senior level officer,” said the officer.
The Hill railways, once very popular, lost its appeal after the tourists shifted to road travel with improved infrastructure to cut down journey time.“More and more tourists now opt to travel by roads in hills as that save the journey time. Some of them take the Hill railways journey on a shorter route just for sake of the experience,” said a senior railway officer.
Earlier, railways had decided to reach out to private companies involved in hospitality and event management sector to participate in the running of these heritage lines connecting colonial era hill stations. The idea was also to balance the operational losses and huge maintenance cost.“Initially, several companies had expressed interest but they backed off as none of these lines are profit making. Why would a company invest in a loss making entity,” the officer added.
The railways now plan to take some initiatives by relaxing some strict rules to provide flexibility for hiring of the trains on thelines.There are five hill railways in the country— Kalka-Shimla Railway in Himachal Pradesh, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in Assam, Matheran Light Railway from Neral to Matheran near Mumbai, Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu and Kangra Valley railway connecting Punjab-Himachal Pradesh.
Three of the hill railways, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Kalka-Shimla Railway are collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name ‘Mountain Railways of India’. The fourth railway, Neral-Matheran Railway, is on a tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the fifth is the Kangra Valley Railway.