It’s journey’s end for these slow coaches with a long history

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on November 27, 2014

Towards zero Locals waiting for the narrow-gauge train to arrive at Kaichar station. - ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

The last of McLeod’s light rail service will grind to a halt next week

Three coaches, each a tad smaller than a city bus, are tugged by a miniature engine running at a snail’s pace of 15 km an hour.

The stations, referred to as ‘halts’, have no platforms and passengers wait alongside the tracks.

Welcome to the world of light rails, a British India legacy once managed by McLeod & Company of the UK.

British legacy

McLeod had set up four such narrow-gauge lines around Kolkata in phases from 1915, during the First World War.

Three routes have already been shut down and now the last such passenger train service, running from Katwa to Balgona in Burdwan district, will be closed on December 1 for conversion to broad gauge.

The service ran on private ownership till 1966, after which it was handed over to the Eastern Railway.

While most passengers welcome the change — the conversion will cut down travel time on the 27 km rural stretch by half from the current two hours — those working in the trains are becoming emotional.

“They were like my sons,” says Mohammed Inamul, who has been taking care of the archaic machines for the past 35 years.

With the Katwa-Balgona narrow gauge service on course to be wound up, Indian Railways will be left with at least 10 more such services, mostly in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The Railways has already initiated the process for gauge conversion in some of the routes, mostly in the Bilaspur and Raipur sections. The exact details are not available. The toy train services in Darjeeling, Nilgiri and Shimla are not included in this list as they enjoy heritage status.

Preservation plans

According to an Eastern Railway official, plans are afoot to preserve the rakes and engines for display at different rail museums.

Interestingly, a steam engine that used to ply along one of the McLeod operated lines was sent back to the UK as an antique.

This was done at the request of Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Trust.

Published on November 27, 2014

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