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Light Rail for better public transport

Calcutta

Mike Russell, 20th March 2006

Our speaker made a five-day visit to Calcutta in November 2005 along with a number of friends, some of which were present. His presentation consisted of slides in the first half, and a very polished 70-minute video of Calcutta Tramways after the interval.

Mike had previously visited the city in 1989 and was able to make comparisons. In the north of the city the routes over the Howrah Bridge had been cut back in 1994. The section from Strand Road to the High Court had closed in early 1995. Part of the outer circular Road route was closed, but evidence of track renewal and new pointwork, led him to think it was only temporary.

On the southern group of routes there had been two major changes. A new extension opened in 1986 had been withdrawn. The east-west link had been re-laid, but the Ballygunge route was off at present.

Some of the track was in an appalling condition with dropped joints and raised check-rail, due to the system being starved of funds. Approximately two thirds of the track is in need of relaying. Compared with 1989 the vehicles are shabby, although a few vehicles have been repainted recently in fleet livery, replacing all-over advertising. The highway authority has taken over some of the reserved track and loading islands, for road widening, to the detriment of the trams. This has reduced speeds and made boarding more difficult leading to loss of traffic in some areas.

The daily number of trams in service is 165, rising to 200 in October, when there are a number of festivals. There are currently 7 operational depots, 2 for the northern routes and five for the southern routes. The tramways employ 9000 staff, many as pointsmen, due to the lack of powered points on the system. By comparison there are 18000 licensed rickshaws, although steps are being taken to reduce the number of licences issued.

The video included a fascinating look inside Nona Pukur Works with trams in various stages of overhaul. It included a detailed look at the foundry, which enables the tramways to be self-sufficient.

Also included in the presentation were views of a number of 2-axle works cars, dating from the earliest days of tramways. To celebrate 125 years of operation a stylish new 2-axle car numbered 125 has been built on a 21E truck, and is available for private hire. We were privileged to see this car out on tour.

The talk gave the audience a good insight into the current Calcutta tramways scene, with many varied and fascinating street scenes as well as on board views. Mike paid tribute to the friendliness of both staff and management who had made his visit so enjoyable. Despite the lack of money the tramway system continues to serve large parts of the city.

John Laker, 21/3/06

London Area – 20th March 2006


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