|Mr Gopal Tandon|
Calcutta is the only Indian city with trams.
Electric trams were the sole public transport until 1920, when the public bus was introduced in Kolkata. However, tram service until the 1950s was quite smooth and comfortable (although most new lines and extensions were built in pre-independence India). In 1950 there were around 300 tram cars, which were regularly operated on many routes in Kolkata and Howrah. Single-car trams operated on the Shibpur line until its closure; all other lines had double cars. Due to the large number of tram cars, the trams ran frequently (about a 5- to 7-minute wait between trams on all routes). This was possible due to less motor traffic on the roads than today. Derailments were very rare because of careful maintenance. All checkups were done at night, the water car was used for track smoothing and the tower car for wire-checking. Each tram was washed in the depot daily. Breakdown vans and overhead-wire inspection vans were ready at many junctions for quick repairs. Regular inspection of tracks, wires and so forth was done carefully. Tracks and track-bed gravel were replaced periodically for smoother service.
Anti-tram sentiment began about 1955, and spread around the world. Many countries (both developed and developing) began closing their tram systems, and India was no exception. Tram service closed in Kanpur in 1933, Chennai in 1955, Delhi in 1962 and Mumbai in 1964. Kolkata's network survived, but in a truncated form. At the same time the automobile boom began, quickly spreading throughout India.
Many streets were narrow (which was acceptable for tram service), but now cars, buses and lorries also used those roads. The government considered closing the trams, as an alternative to controlling motor traffic. Some routes (Bandhaghat, Shibpur and Nimtala) were closed for that reason, although traffic jams have not been alleviated. Many streets in Kolkata which have no tram line experience daily gridlock.
Although most track beds have been converted from stone to concrete, earlier paving of Strand Road closed the High Court route. Construction of the subway line also destroyed an important north-south connection, from Lalbazar to Jatin Das Park via Esplanade and Birla Planetarium. The development of overpasses is another reason for the decline of Kolkata trams. The Sealdah, Gariahat and Taratala overpasses were the main cause for the closing of the Sealdah terminus, Gahriahat link and the Joka route (which also made way for a national highway). There were many closures between 1970 and 1980, and many thought that it was the beginning of the end for trams in Kolkata, but the situation changed after 1990. At that time, many cities around the world began reevaluating tram service. Greater numbers of automobiles increased air pollution. High prices of petrol and diesel fuel on the international market also made electric-powered street rail more attractive.
Trams have many advantages:
- Clean and green - enhances the environment; no emissions at street level
- Safe - less prone to accidents
- Speedy - short trip times
- Avoid traffic congestion - through segregation and priority of routes
- Smooth and comfortable
- Civilizing - a city transported by trams is a less lonely place
- Acceptable and accepted - only rail-borne modes of transport can actually get people out of cars
- Reassuring - tram lines give confidence in accessibility
- High capacity - only metro systems have higher carrying capacity
- Affordable - the cheapest form of comfortable mass transit
- Versatile - can run at high speeds on rights-of-way way and can reach inner-city historic centers
- Adaptable - can cope with steep grades and tight curves
- Inspiring - modern trams can be aesthetically pleasing
- Heritage - Tramcars are a part of history.
Trams were the brainchild of the then-Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. His motives were to ensure better public transport for the native people, better passage of goods from ports and dockyards to their respective destinations, and rapid mobilisation of police contingents to sites of anti-British protests. Thus, trams were the first mode of police transportation in Kolkata since police cars, vans, buses, lorries and armoured cars were not been introduced until 1917. The trams of Kolkata had played a major role in stopping Hindu-Muslim riots during the pre-independence era; in contrast, many trams were also burned by local people as an act of protest against colonial rule, since the tram was viewed by many Indians as a "British" import. Even after independence, during the 1960s many trams were burned for raising fares by only one paise (1/100 Rupee).
The Kolkata tramway has many vintage features. It still uses a trolley pole and foot gong (after a failed experiment with electric horn during the late 1980s), which is rare among international tram systems (except heritage tramways and standard networks like Hong Kong and Toronto). It has tram cars with no front glass or destination board – instead, iron route-boards hang from the front iron net. The last new rolling stock was manufactured in 1987 by Jessop India Ltd, and many trams from 1939 are still running. The recent de-reservation of tram tracks flies in the face of international trends. Although trams are faster, and derailments rare, it is often impossible to get up or down from a moving tram on wide roads such as Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Road, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Basu Road, Acharya Satyendra Nath Basu Sarani, Satin Sen Sarani, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Lila Roy Sarani, Rash Behari Avenue, Deshapran Birendra Shasmal Road or Shyama Prasad Mukhopadhyay Road. Only one new branch (Bidhannagar) and one extension (the short-lived Joka) were built after independence, and no extension of the network is planned. With a mix of good and bad, however, the Kolkata tram is still running as Asia's oldest operating electric tram and the only tram in India.( Bharat)