The trams of Kolkata have fascinated many both within the city and outside.
Buddhadeb Dasgupta used a tram in Grihayuddha. Satyajit Ray featured this pollution free mode of transport in his movie Mahanagar.
Recently, Sujoy Ghosh shot a scene on a tram with Vidya Balan in his super hit film Kahaani.
In the recent past, Mani Ratnam shot a tram scene with Kareena Kapoor in his film Yuva.
A legacy of the Raj, the tram was once the pride of the metropolis.
Horse-drawn trams were introduced in Kolkata in 1873 and the electric locomotive trams began running from 1882.
But the historic mode of transport that plied along the streets and lanes of the city is fast rumbling into the history books, drawing curtains on icon old-world Kolkata.
The city is retiring the trams in order to meet its growing transportation needs.
Several restoration works undertaken by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and Metro projects of the Rail Vikash Nigam Limited (RVNL) under the Indian Railways have left these heritage vehicles marooned.
Tram tracks from Behala, Thakurpukur and Ballygunge depots to the rest of the city no longer exist.
The new result is: Calcutta Tramways Corporation has reduced the number of routes from 54 to a mere 21 in the past three years.
“Currently, there are only 21 trams services in the city. We are trying to take up the issue with various agencies so that we can restore the closed tram routes as well,” said Nilanjan Shandilya, the managing director of Calcutta Tramways Corporation.
While the Joka-BBD Bag Metro project forced the CTC officials to junk tram rakes and tracks from the Joka and Behala tram depots, an underground drainage project work of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation has stopped several profitable routes originating from the Ballygunge depots.
The tram Banalata operates on heritage routes. (HT photo)
“The Joka-BBD Bag, the Behala-Esplanad, the Ballygunge-Tollygunge and the Ballygunge Esplanade routes were the most profitable. Unfortunately, owing to the new projects in the city, we had to stop even these routes as well,” said a CTC traffic manager.
Presently, trams operate in nine places of the city – Belgachia, Rajabazar, Shyambazar, Galiff Street, Bidhanangar, Park Circus, Gariahat, Khidderpore and Tollygunge.
Most of these trams terminate at Howrah Bridge, Esplanade and BBD Bag.
“Besides the KMC, trams in the city have faced the glare of the Kolkata Police, too. Among the 21 routes, trams in two of them – Belgachia to Esplanade and Shyambazar – ply only one way.
This is because police have restricted two-way movement of trams on BB Ganguly Street,” said a CTC official.
CTC’s managing director said that he would send fresh proposals to the state government to restore services, especially from Behala and Joka depots.
“Unfortunately we feel that it would be cleared only next year.
The process is expensive and time consuming, too. I do not see trams plying on the stretch in the next one and half years at least,” Shandilya added.
Under such circumstances, the cash-strapped CTC is relying on its bus route network across the city and its suburbs.
Charaibati, one of the few air-conditioned trams in Kolkata. (HT photo)
CTC has a total of 268 trams, and about 80 of them are on the road. In 2007-08, there were 319 trams in the CTC stable, according to the Statistical Handbook, 2008, compiled by the West Bengal government.
Heritage tours Trams may often be considered rambling relics of the past but in CTC’s Nonapukur workshop in central Kolkata, the workers are running against time to deliver. Under a large factory shed in Nonapukur, surrounded by the wreckage of phased-out trams, stand three wonders – Balaka, Banalata and Charaibati.
The trio is decked up in fresh colours, has spotless glass windows draped with lacy curtains, the thickly cushioned seats look inviting and the small speakers are ready to belt out soft music.
All these three trams have been part of the CTC stable for many years and have been used for films and commercial shoots, before CTC officials decided to run them for the general public for a nominal price.
While Balaka borrows its name from Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of poems, Banalata refers to the iconic poem Banalata Sen by the poet Jibanananda Das, who was killed by a speeding tram near Deshapriya Park in 1954.
“When Balaka and Banalata started rolling out for the first time, the interiors were designed with paintings of the film festival. We have refurnished the interiors with works of Rabindranath and Jibananda,” said Shandilya.
These trams ply on heritage routes of the city covering several buildings like Government House, General Post Office, St Andrews Church, the Black Pagoda, Rabindra Bharati campus, Jain Temple, Presidency College, Calcutta University, Asutosh Museum and Coffee House.
“We are generating huge revenue from these services. Even corporates book an entire tram for an outing on holidays,” said Shandilya. A ticket for these trams costs R100 only.