Heritage On Wheels – A Brief Look Into The Legendary Trams of Kolkata

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Kolkata has the only operating tram network in India but the 144-year-old British legacy will soon disappear in pursuit of better connectivity. The twin tram depots at Esplanade and Dalhousie are going to be shut down before long because of the expansion of the East-West metro corridor at Esplanade. The KMRC (Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd.) has assured that the suspension will be lifted after three years, but we are apprehensive about the re-establishment.  Here’s a brief look into the trams of Kolkata.

Crawling through the City of Joy

Operated by the WBTC (West Bengal Transport Corporation), formerly Calcutta Tramways Company, the tram system in Kolkata is Asia’s oldest operating electric tram running since 1902. Affectionately called the ‘lifelines of the city’, the Kolkata tramway has withstood the test of time- it has seen the city’s struggle for freedom, brave wars and seen it transform slowly from Calcutta to Kolkata. The city stood in awe as the first horse-drawn tram made its maiden journey from Sealdah to Armenian Ghat on February 24, 1873. The tram has lost much of its grandeur in the current times in the race for faster transport systems, like cabs and bikes. However, despite being slow-moving, it has managed to brave the odds and still survives, because Kolkata is a city that is proud of its heritage. Today you’ll find trams functioning only in Kolkata.

Kolkata-Melbourne tramjatra: A tale of two cities

Ever since the 19th century, Kolkata and Melbourne were the only two cities outside Europe to have trams. This shared sense of history started a friendship between the two cities: Tramjatra.

The story begins when in 1994, Roberto D’Andrea, a tram conductor in Melbourne visited India for the first time. In Kolkata, D’Andrea was surprised at the familiar ring of the tram bell, and soon discovered a stark similarity between his home and this foreign land. He soon befriended the tram conductors in Kolkata who took him to the Belgachia tram depot and enlightened him about the problems they were facing. The tracks were poorly maintained, which often led to derailment and old carriages from the Raj era were still being used. Moreover, there were talks of closing the tram network altogether.

 D’Andrea went back home and conveyed these grievances to his colleagues. And the result was a friendship between Belgachia tram depot and South Melbourne tram depot: Tramjatra.

Tramjatra was not only aimed at resisting the closing of the network but also celebrating the tramways by decorating them. Melbourne already had such a tradition and Kolkata soon incorporated it, and in 1996, four trams were decorated.

Representation of trams in cinema

Kolkata is synonymous to two things- hand-drawn rickshaws and its trams (and of course,roshogollas), and you’ll hardly see a representation of the city in popular Bollywood movies sans its railcars. Trams of Kolkata have been portrayed as an integral element in Bollywood movies shot in Kolkata- like Yuva, Kahaani, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and Barfi, among others.

What’s so good about trams, anyway?

Albeit slow moving, trams are extremely eco-friendly in a city like Kolkata which is tainted by air pollution. Trams of Kolkata also provide a greater capacity of 300 compared to 60 in buses. Apart from being safe, they’re also an economical mode of transportation that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Other than the old world charm, trams add to the romantic lure of the City of Joy. 

Click here to read about a few facts about the trams of Kolkata that will forever change the way you look at them!

Images source: http://calcuttatramways.com

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