Routes to progress

Print edition : February 15, 2008

At the Shalimar goodshed of the South Eastern Railway in Kolkata. The SERs core competence has traditionally been in freight transport. - A. ROY CHOWDHURY

The Eastern Railway and the South Eastern Railway have taken measures to facilitate travel in the region.

At the Shalimar

The Eastern Railway and the South Eastern Railway have played a major role in promoting tourism in eastern India. The first journey on the Eastern Railway route covered a distance of 25 kilometres, from Howrah to Bandel in 1854. It has come a long way since then and now covers over 2,384 km, with a fleet of around 1,500 trains catering to the needs of nearly 70-crore passengers a year. Practically all tourist spots in the northeastern region, including the hills in the north, the Sunderbans in the south, the forests of Bethuaduari, and historical places such as Murshidabad are covered by the Eastern Railway.

It has dedicated lines linking areas near Kolkata that have heavy tourist flow throughout the year, such as Belurmath and Dakshineswar. Many of the stations are modelled on the tourist sites. Our Dakshineswar station is so similar to the Kali temple in that town that visitors sometimes pay obeisance to the station, Samir Goswami, Senior Public Relations Officer, Eastern Railway, told Frontline. During the Durga Puja, all major stations under the Eastern Railway are illuminated to create a festive mood.

During festival seasons in nearby States such as Bihar and Jharkhand or whenever there is a heavy rush of pilgrims, the Railway provides maximum comfort to travellers by running special trains, arranging sheds in open platforms, and instructing licensed vendors in stations to store puffed rice to meet the demand of poorer pilgrims. In fact, in 2007, as many as 989 special trains were run on different occasions by Eastern Railway, and 3,138 additional coaches were attached to trains to cope with the vacation rush. Nineteen stations were also provided with facilities to serve the handicapped.

Out of the 51 Satipiths (the places on earth where the parts of the dismembered body of Sivas first consort Sati are believed to have fallen) in the country, 11 fall under the Eastern Railways zone of operation.

The Eastern Railway has set up Rail Museums in New Delhi and Kolkata in which some of the relics from its past have been put on display, including three of the countrys oldest locomotives standing on three tracks of different gauges complete with artificial platforms. There are also many interesting features that provide a glimpse into the functioning of the Railway when it was started. A coal-fired generator, more than a hundred years old, which used to be drawn by bullocks into workshops, is one of them. Even the old salon in which an ailing Rabindranath Tagore made his last journey from Shantiniketan to Kolkata on July 25, 1941 has been preserved near Bolpur station near Shantiniketan.

The South Eastern Railway (SER), formerly the Bengal Nagpur Railway, was a byproduct of the Great Indian Famine of 1878. It was formed in 1880 to carry relief and foodgrain from Chhattisgarh to the famine-affected areas in Vidarva (now Vidarbha). And now it has emerged as the blue chip of the Indian Railways by virtue of not only its profit-earning capacity but also its contribution to nation-building. The Railway, before its trifurcation in 2003, accounted for nearly 40 per cent of the freight traffic of the Indian Railways.

Even though the SERs core competence has traditionally been in freight transport, it was never done at the expense of passenger services. The freight-passenger ratio of the SER was 80:20. After the trifurcation, this stands at 70:30. Its contribution to the promotion of tourism in the East is substantial. This has been made possible thanks to the punctual running of trains, the augmentation of coaches during busy seasons and the running of special trains during the summer, winter and Puja holidays.

The Beyer Garratt steam locomotive on a heritage run in 2006.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Beyer Garratt

The SER connects two of the most popular beaches in the eastern part of India Digha (West Bengal) and Chandipur (Orissa). Two years ago, there were no direct trains to Digha.

For picnickers from Kolkata, the SER makes accessible numerous picturesque spots between Howrah and Kharagpur such as Phuleswar, Ghatshila, Ulberia and Kolaghat. It also makes travel easier to places such as Orissas Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Simlipal Tiger Reserve. Ranchi, the picturesque capital of Jharkhand, also falls within the SERs zone of operation. For pilgrim tourists, the Adra division of the Railway provides direct passage to Vishnupur and its temples.

The Railway takes part in a lot of local festivals the Chandipur Beach festival, the Digha Beach festival, the Adra Utsav, the Jai Chandi Pahar Mela, and so on. Its displays at the festivals provide information on important tourist spots in the country and the best way to reach these places conveniently. It was the only Railway in the country to run two hotels in Ranchi and Puri (Orissa). Though it still runs the Ranchi hotel, the Puri hotel now falls under East Coast Railway.

SER is the only Railway that has, in 2006, restored the Beyer Garratt Loco a steam locomotive grounded 50 years ago. We are now thinking of opening it up to the public for joyrides, Archana Srivastav, Chief Public Relations Officer, SER, told Frontline.

The SER has also taken several initiatives to ensure maximum customer satisfaction. It is the first railway in the eastern sector to install a platform ticket vending machine, at Howrah station. Three computerised current reservation counters and unreserved ticket counters have also been installed at Howrah. With a view to enhancing passenger information services, the SER has installed interactive voice response systems (IVRS) at nine stations Rourkela, Tatanagar, Ranchi, Adra, Bankura, Kharagpur, Bokaro Steel City, Jharsuguda and Balasore. It is also the first railway to run the passenger reservation system on all days, including Sundays.

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