Fearing that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) - declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO in 1999 - may lose the status unless renovation of the damaged railway tracks is undertaken, Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury urged the West Bengal government on Monday to begin work immediately.
“Since the tracks are on a national highway, the Ministry of Railways approached the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways regarding this, and funds amounting to Rs. 87 crore were sanctioned about a year ago. But the State government has been apathetic and has not done its work as yet,” Mr. Chowdhury told The Hindu over telephone from Berhampore.
“If the railway tracks are not repaired, the DHR could be declared ‘endangered’ by the UNESCO. This will be humiliating for the entire country,” Mr. Chowdhury added.
DHR toy train services are available for only half of the 83-km-long route between Kurseong to Darjeeling and from Siliguri to Rongtong. The other tracks were damaged in landslides in 2011.
“The Public Works Department is responsible for carrying out renovation work. Landslides at Paglajhora and Tindharia had destroyed the tracks and we are unable to take the trains beyond a point,” said A.K Sharma, Divisional Railway Manager, Katihar division of the North East Frontier Railway within whose jurisdiction the DHR falls.
Meanwhile, the DHR had taken up an initiative to revamp the 14 railway stations under it, he said, adding that work in the Sukna railway station has been completed as a pilot project.
The revamping of stations involves improving the overall infrastructure to attract more tourists, Mr. Sharma added.
Senior railway officials admit that due to the damaged tracks and frequent shutdowns in the hills called for political reasons, the DHR has not been able to attract many tourists this year.