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14 Jun 2017

Unrest cloud on toy trains

An idle toy train at Darjeeling station. Picture by Passang Yolmo
BIRESWAR BANERJEE, TT, Siliguri, June 13: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) has suspended toy train services for an indefinite period in the wake of the unrest in the hills.
DHR officials said the services, suspended since Friday, would resume only when normality was resorted. Some expressed concern that if the toy trains, a Unesco World Heritage, remained stalled for a number of days at a stretch, the UN body might raise an objection.
"Considering the present state of affairs in the hills, we have decided to stop the DHR services for some time. We will resume all our rides, right from the direct service between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling to the joy rides, only after the situation becomes normal," said M.K. Narzary, the director of DHR.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-triggered unrest has affected the tourism industry at a time a number of people flocked to the hills for their summer vacations. A warning by Morcha chief Bimal Gurung that "anything might happen" has prompted a majority of the visitors to leave for the plains.
The toy trains of Darjeeling are one of the major attractions for tourists.
"The toy train rides are a major attraction for tourists visiting the region. We have to think about their safety. We apprehend that if any untoward incidents like ransacking of the coaches or locos happen, they would pose a threat to the security of tourists and the engines that have been running since the British period," the director said.
The DHR has 13 century-old steam engines and six diesel locos.
Apart from services like the one between NJP and Darjeeling, nine joy rides are organised from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back every day.
A section of DHR officials expressed fear that Unesco might send a reminder to the service operator if the trains were halted for a month or so.
"We had to face a similar situation a couple of years back, when landslides had affected the direct service between NJP and Darjeeling for months. During those days, we were reminded by Unesco that it is a world heritage and necessary steps should be taken to ensure that the services resumed along the route. It was important for the conservation of the toy trains," an official said.

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