The other day a heartwarming news item came, of all the places, from my hometown, Gwalior. It was reported that the Gwalior municipality is planning to introduce tram services like those in Kolkata making use of the tracks that were laid during the reign of the Scindias. Some of these tracks even now run through the city. Earlier, however, many more areas were covered by these tracks many of which have since been uprooted as they fell in disuse.
The reporter, apparently, was unaware of the fact that all the four metro towns of the country were served by trams, the most efficient of which was the BEST of what was then known as Bombay. The authorities of Bombay, Delhi and Madras were quick to remove the tram lines to provide for more road-space for the burgeoning automobile traffic. Kolkata, for some reason lagged behind and failed to do away with the tram services. Perhaps, the pressure of the commuters who did not wish to lose a cheap mode of transport did not allow the authorities to discontinue the services.
Soon, however, with the rise in environmentalism the authorities saw new virtues in these services that ran on non-polluting electric traction. The tracks had already been removed from quite a few areas of Kolkata before the city woke up to the system’s advantages and the services that are now being run are, necessarily, a bit too truncated.
The news item made my mind travel back in time more than 70 years to the early and mid-1940s when we as children used to travel in Gwalior State Railways for visiting the Gwalior Fair or to see the Scindia Gold Cup hockey matches. We used to catch the train as it came from Kampoo at the cute little Elgin Club Station (right in front of Victoria College across the Private Road) and go rocking and swaying as we went through the Jiwaji Club, the Jhansi Road, the Gwalior Railway Station on to the Race Course or a little further up, the Gwalior Fair. It was a very enjoyable ride for us children in a mini train. The Scindia Gold Cup and the Gwalior Fair would be held in the month of December – the season of jujubs and roasted peanuts. The children would fill themselves up with either of the two and muck up the compartments.
While the narrow gauge trains did not serve the city so very well they did connect the outlying areas like Kampoo where the Gwalior Potteries was located or MotiJheel about four miles away which had the water works. But it was out of the town and was frequented by tigers. The Old Gwalior and Birla Nagar townships were also served through Gola Ka Mandir. The town has now expanded on all sides and the surrounding rural areas have now been included in the town. While the city has become an educational hub it has since acquired an industrial area at Malanpur as also an air force base.
As I see it tramways will suit the town immensely. In the US they call them “light rail” and the system of Portland, Oregon was in the news sometime back wherein it came in for praise for providing clean, non-polluting, efficient public transport. I have had the good fortune of using some of the US and European systems and found them efficient. The one in Vienna is very good. The Viennese system also offers an alternative mode for visiting the neighbouring spa town of Baden. The tramways are cheaper than metros as one doesn’t need to provide stations at every stage – a stop like a bus-stop would be just fine. Besides, one does not need to go in for costly tunneling or building over-bridges.
Kolkata tramways are now offering a mobile restaurant as well as a stationary one as also one for tourists for their sight-seeing forays in the town. Possibilities are immense, what one needs is only imagination. That is not the case with a metro system which generally runs somewhat removed from a city’s boisterous life and prevailing confusion.
A growing town has to have profusion of public transport so that people do not have to use their personal vehicles and foul up the city’s environment. These are the days of multimodal transport for the benefit of commuters. Each mode satisfies the need of its particular clientele. Take for instance Bangkok. Forty years ago it had only buses which now reportedly have been converted to run on gas. It also has developed a metro system that is still expanding. In the meantime it came up with another mode of transport – the sky train. Chinese have all kinds of sky trains – running on tracks or suspended from tracks. Hence mobility in a metropolis like Bangkok is not a problem.
One can only wish that the Gwalior municipality completes its preliminary work on drawing boards and launches the tram services as early as possible. I, for one, would like to wish it Godspeed!