After running successfully for 107 years, the famed Kalka-Shimla Railway is facing a problem that the authorities are finding difficult to fix: The toy train is choked with garbage.
Refuse thrown by passengers-eatables, empty packets et al-from the narrow gauge 'toy train' on the tracks have been littering the legendary 103 tunnels along the picturesque, 96-km route set in the Himalayas scales to a height of 7,000 feet to Shimla.
After trying out several approaches to solve the problem, the railways have had enough.
Northern Railway is now tying up with NGO Worldwide Fund for Nature-India, better known as WWF-India, for ecological management of this railway. The network is a Unesco World Heritage property. A memorandum of understanding is being drafted.
"It is a huge problem. We have done everything, from writing to the municipal administrations to sending out messages to locals, to try and stop people from littering the tracks. But nothing has worked," divisional railway manager, Ambala divion, PK Sanghi said.
What triggered the alarm over cleanliness was the revelation on a routine inspection of tracks about a month ago. Inspectors found the tunnels filled with garbage, so much that inspection was difficult. In a cleanliness drive that followed, the railways employed scouts and guides and also children of their officials to clean the tracks. The token drive unearthed 562 bags full of garbage-each bag containing about 2 kg of garbage.
With seven trains doing a total 14 trips in peak season and five trains doing 10 trips rest of the year, the scope of littering is significant.
What helps is that to facilitate views of the scenic route, the trains have large windows without grills.
The Indian Railways incurs a loss of around R18 crore every year to keep this piece of rail heritage alive.