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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kolkata’s famed trams slowly drive into history

Long before Calcutta, as it was known then, became the first Indian city with a metro, it pioneered another form of urban public transport: the tram (or streetcar, as it is known in some parts of the world). Starting in 1873, with horse-drawn trams and, briefly, steam locomotives, the service went electric in 1902, and remains the oldest operating electric tram system in Asia.

In the late 1960s, Kolkata had52 routes covering around 70 km. As recently as 2011, there were still 37 operating.

Today, though, trams are in crisis. Only eight routes remain — five in the north of the city, three in the south — covering 17 km. According to sources in the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC), other numbers plummeted too: from 2011 to 2018, operational trams fell from 185 to 40, passengers from 75,000 a day to 15,000, and daily revenue from ₹3.3 lakh to ₹62,000. Government funds for tram services fell off a cliff too: from ₹5 crore in 2011 to ₹25 lakh in 2018. And the staff strength reduced from 7,324 to 3,600.

A WBTC official said the key reason for the decline is the traffic policy of the State, notably the construction of the B.B.D. Bag Metro station at Dalhousie, Central Kolkata, an area where all tram routes start or end

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