Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Ever wonder about trams in Kolkata?

I was reading Nice guy Hemanth’s article Ever wonder about Trams in Madras. It had me wondering about trams in Kolkata where till recently, you could ride one. On my last trip in Dec 2003, I noted that most of the overhead tram cables were removed to make way for the mushrooming flyovers. The Kolkatans assure me that these flyovers are sorely needed and have helped to ease the traffic jams. And yet, I can’t help rueing the phasing out of one of the oldest tram lines in the world.

When I first came to Kolkata in 1988, the front bogey was 50paisa and the second one (called the second class) was 40 paisa and was a boon to the poor. It was not an uncommon sight to see the first bogey nearly empty while the second one bursting at the seams. And it was not the poor alone who profited. The elderly too preferred the stately progress of the trams and could avoid the perilous ascent and descent from a public bus. (The seasoned kolkatan is a champion of running ascent and descent. The buses don’t halt, only slow down fractionally)!

The trams had their share of problems. There were frequent power failures and technical problems with the old trams and often one would stop and others would pile up behind it and often blocking roads and adding to the general congestion.

But that was a small price to pay compared with the gains. They were possibly the only mode of public transport that didn’t add to the already dangerous levels of pollution in Kolkata (Scroll down to the bottom of the hyper linked pages for the alarming facts on air pollution in Kolkata). There was this Norwegian who would once a year, at his own expense, take out huge full-page ads in both the English language dailies The Statesman and The Telegraph requesting the state government not to remove the trams.

But its too late to think about that. What with the state government’s inability to implement the conversion of buses to natural gas, inept pollution control board, bad sewage system, I cannot imagine the state governments losing much sleep over the bad effects of the removal of the trams. The flyovers have altered the once familiar Kolkata landscape forever and the tram tracks are now over grown with grass. Very soon, all we will have are our recollections and photos as we huff and cough our way through the smog filled roads of Kolkata.

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