Kolkata's trams, that have been plying in the city for over 130 years and are a unique symbol of the city, are set to get a makeover.
Calcutta Tramways Co. (CTC), the century-old company that operates the common man's transport vehicle in this crowded megapolis of 16 million people, said plans have been drawn up to introduce at least 20 modern tramcars soon.
Of these, a proposal to introduce 10 modified electric trams now awaits a green signal from the West Bengal government.
"We are planning to run altogether 20 modified trams in Kolkata within the next two years, if everything goes as per plan. We've already placed a proposal with the state finance department for sanctioning the required fund for 10 new-look trams," Calcutta Tramways Co. (CTC) chief accountant officer-cum-secretary Ramendra Nath Ghosh told IANS.
Two trams - with polycarbonate transparent body, spacious interior and large open windows - are already undergoing upgradation.
"We've introduced two new-look trams in Kolkata on an experimental basis and the two under upgradation will hit the city's streets in the next couple of months," Ghosh said.
While the exteriors of the new trams stands completely transformed, the insides have also been changed by the CTC engineers.
Ever since the first horse-drawn tram of the city rolled out on metre gauge tracks on Feb 24, 1873, the 'heritage wheels' have virtually become a logo of Kolkata - a city of over 15 million people.
CTC was formed in 1880 and registered in London on Dec 22 that year. The company was taken over by the West Bengal government in the 1970s.
"Kolkata's tram has not been modernised for ages. Even if we intended, we couldn't revamp keeping in mind the distinct heritage feature of this slow-paced transport," CTC managing director P.K. Chattopadhyay said.
Earlier the company had welcomed proposals from various companies to modernise the "heritage transport".
"Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) gave us a proposal saying it will take Rs.10 million to upgrade each tram while a Czech firm asked for Rs.240 million, including the manufacturing costs and the technology transfer, to carry out the job," Chattopadhyay said.
"The amount Rs.240 million was for both technology cooperation between the Czech firm and CTC, as we wanted to imbibe the technological upgradation at our own facility, and also for manufacturing trams," he said, adding that the existing technology of the trams dates back to 1903 and the last tram CTC bought was more than 18 years ago.
"We've indigenously upgraded each new-age tram with only Rs.1.17 million. With this amount, we have mainly changed the exterior of this transport and also made some minor systematic changes in it," he added.
Chattopadhyay said at present over 100 trams trundle out of the depots on a regular basis despite several constraints like having only six percent of road space, non-viable routes and the ongoing construction works in and around Kolkata.
Sources said currently CTC has a fleet strength of 272. The capacity was around 319 in the 1930s when this means of transport was very much in vogue.
The company is also looking for sponsorships and a Mumbai-based company has evinced interest to provide fund for the building of new-look Kolkata trams. The annual expenditure of running trams on Kolkata roads is more than Rs.1.5 billion.
(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )