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7 Feb 2017

Toy train travel rate hiked - Shell out Rs 1,285 for Darjeeling-NJP ride

Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 6. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is no longer cheap with the Unesco world heritage property scrapping second class coaches between Darjeeling and New Jalpaiguri and increasing the first class travel fare manifold.
Now, a passenger has to pay Rs 1,285 for the journey, instead of Rs 120 earlier.
Apart from the 10-time hike in the travel cost between Darjeeling and NJP, the DHR has also revised fares for all 11 services that start from Darjeeling.
The DHR operates nine joy rides (six with steam engines and the rest with diesel locos), apart from one service each to Kurseong and NJP.
The new fare came into effect on February 1, and second class coaches were scrapped on the Darjeeling-NJP route on the same day. All joy rides have first class coaches. Even though the DHR authorities say second class coaches will be attached to the daily Darjeeling-Kureong train, the option is not currently available as "second class coaches are currently being renovated".
As of today, the DHR has only first class coaches.
"The fares were last revised on February 18, 2015, and the new rates have been fixed after taking into account the inflation in the past two years," said a senior DHR official.
Even though he said the fare hike was a policy decision, other DHR officials admitted in private that the railway was losing on revenue as many tourists were skipping the joy ride and taking second class coaches to travel from Darjeeling to Ghoom for a minimal fare.
"The fare for the Darjeeling-Ghoom-Darjeeling joy ride was as high as Rs 1,100. But many were only taking a one way ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom on a second class coach (either on the Kurseong train or NJP train) for Rs 30," said an official.
As per the revised fare, a ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom either on the Kurseong train or the NJP train will now cost Rs 410 as the second class coach on the Kureong train is not operational now.
Pradip Lama, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, said: "Budget travellers constitute a large segment of tourists in Darjeeling and this move will come as a damper. Even the local people will be alienated."
It is estimated that around 4.5 lakh domestic tourists and 40,000 foreigners visit Darjeeling annually.
Lama said the fare for the 16km Darjeeling-Ghoom joy-Darjeeling ride was already "very high". "For 16km, tourists will have to pay Rs 1,300, which is very expensive. Had the facilities been of world standard, this could have been justified. A lot of things are found wanting in coaches," said Lama.
The railway official said the first class coaches were being refurbished. "The first class coaches have only 18 seats compared to 32 in the second class rakes. There will be separate luggage racks and the seats will face each other with more space," said the official.

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