Toy train fares see steep increase

DARJEELING
6 Feb 2017

Tourists visiting the hills for a getaway from their hectic life and the inconvenience caused by the demonetisation drive will get a fresh jolt as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways has raised the fares for its toy train rides.
Rides on the heritage narrow gauge DHR, especially the joy rides, are popular with both tourists and locals alike. The DHR has raised the fares for the 16km Darjeeling-Ghoom joy ride on steam locomotives to Rs 1,300 from February 1. The diesel rides for the same journey has also been raised to Rs 800 per passenger.
DHR officials said the fare revision was done after two years with the intention to self sustain the heritage train. “The last time we increased the fares for the joy rides was in February 2015. The raise was necessitated because of the existing inflation scenario,” said DHR director M.D. Bhutia.
At present, the DHR operates nine rides on the toy train (six on steam and three on diesel engines) thrice a day to Ghoom and back from Darjeeling. Long distance service is also available thrice a week from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri station on diesel engines.
The fares were earlier revised on February 19, 2015 with the DHR raising ticket prices for the joy rides to Rs 1,100 and Rs 630 on steam and diesel engines, respectively. Before that the fare was at a more comfortable rate of Rs400 for both ride versions.
The increase in fares come in the wake of DHR officials claiming the toy train was expected to break even this fiscal.
The DHR incurs Rs15 crore as annual maintenance cost to run the service.
The fare for the 87 km journey from Darjeeling to NJP on the toy train has also been raised to Rs 1,285 from the significantly lower Rs 360 in first class and Rs 120 in second class. The DHR has decided to do away with the second class altogether.
The daily Darjeeling-Kurseong service has been suspended because of technical issues although the ticket price for the journey has also been increased to Rs680 from Rs210. “There are some technical issues because of which we had to suspend the service. We will continue the service at the earliest with the new rates,” said a railway source.
The source maintained that the difference in the first class and second class coaches was mostly in the sitting arrangement. A first class coach offers more space and can accommodate around 17 to 21 passengers while the second class can house 32 passengers at the most.
Meanwhile, tour operators said the move to raise ticket prices was not justified even though they welcomed the increase for the long distance journey. “For a short 16km ride, charging passengers Rs1,300 is not justified at all. There has already been an increase in fares just a year ago.
Tourists primarily come here for the joy ride and the increase in fares will hit them hard,” said Pradeep Lama, a tour operator.
Pranab Sharma, a local who was at the counter to book tickets for the joy ride, quipped, “If the fares keep increasing this way, it won’t be long for the few locals, who take the joy ride with their children, to shy away from the rides. In fact, I will have to tell my children to watch tourists enjoying the joy rides,” he said in a matter of fact way. (EOIC)