As India’s economy grows, increasing motor vehicle traffic has taken its toll on the venerable tramway system in Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, capital of the Indian state of West Bengal.
This article by Sayantan Bera, from Down To Earth (described as India’s only science and environment fortnightly), offers a poignant look at how the once-bustling network fell victim to the internal combustion engine and its thirst for more road space.
As Bera notes, central reservations for the tram tracks have been given over to added lanes, meaning tramcars “now run in the middle of the road and passengers have to get past speeding traffic to catch a tram.”
Despite repeated requests from tram workers the lines were not realigned to sides of roads which would have allowed more passengers to board. The result: within four years of de-reservation of grass patches earnings from sale of tram tickets dipped by 42 per cent, according to the West Bengal Statistical Handbook, 2008.
One of the article’s most telling quotes comes from Manik Ghosh, an employee of the state-run Calcutta Tramways Company for more than 30 years: “Why would people want to risk their life to catch a tram?”
At the same time, Bera points out that while massive investment continues to be poured into the city’s metro, “the 60-odd km tram network could have been modernised at a fraction of that cost,” according to Sitangshu Sekhar Ghosh, works manager at the Nonapukur trams workshop.
Be sure to check out the outstanding gallery of photos, titled “The Last Car,” which accompanies Bera’s article.