RAIPUR: A 128-year-old narrow gauge rail route from Raipur to Dhamtari and Rajim has been slowly chugging away into history. But a group of foreigners have seen an opportunity to build a heritage on the wheels that could bring in tourists and rake in the moolah for the state.The narrow gauge rail was built by the British in 1890 and used to serve the purpose of supplying timber and other goods for the Empire till the 1940s.
Once touching the Odisha border during the British regime, it has gradually shrunk to 66 km.
After the end of the British Raj, a major portion of the line was dismantled, leaving only the stretch between Raipur to Dhamtari and a branch to pilgrim town of Rajim.With rapid growth witnessed in Raipur after Chhattisgarh was carved out in the year 2000, the line was further reduced by 18 km. The train now departs from Kendri in the outskirt of Raipur. The result was a substantial decline in ridership from over 1,100 passengers to less than 500 per day, which poses a threat to its existence for being economically unviable.
But recently, a group of nine rail enthusiasts from England, Australia and Scotland took a joyride on this route and were fired up about its potential for heritage tourism.Suggesting a way to make the line operationally viable, Nigle Eacock from Australia said it could emerge as a sustainable tourist attraction and “survive on the resources it generates”.
Their idea has delighted the Raipur railway division staff and Raipur residents alike. “Foreign visitors are more aware of today’s tourism trends and look for something special. The concept shared by them raises hopes of boosting tourism in the state through heritage railways,” said Vishwajeet Mitra, president of Chhattisgarh Nagrik Sangarsh Samiti.
Chris Giles from Scotland was particularly impressed that the name of makers Barron Steel and BNR Steel, embossed on the rail line, was still clearly visible. The foreign tourists regretted that a rail route with so much potential remained in doldrums. Switzerland, where almost all narrow gauge routes are cited to have considerable tourist potential, could serve as an inspiration for the railway authorities in India, they suggested.
“The Raipur-Dhamtari landscape is very rich, especially from early spring to winter as the paddy fields through which this railway line runs has a picturesque setting. The area is also known for excellent wood work and bell metal/wrought iron figurines made by the locals,” said Raipur-based Ravish Kumar Singh, senior divisional operations manager (railways).