A nostalgia-driven ride called the Kolkata tram

Kolkata, also known as the City of Joy, and capital of West Bengal, has many things that make it unique among other Indian cities. One such thing is its electric tram network, which is not only the last surviving tram network in India, but also the oldest electric tram system in Asia. Started by the East India Company around 1873, the Kolkata tram network rose from a single route to virtually connecting every major part of the city. They were a safe and reliable means of transport for the thousands of people who call this city their home.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

However, with the advent of other modes of public transport such as the Kolkata metro, which were much faster than the trams, the decline of this centuries old  marvel of late 19th century urban infrastructure began. Today, many of the routes have been closed due to increasing traffic problems, while those which are operational barely get any passengers. But just like every old thing in Kolkata, the trams too are struggling to prevent their extinction. Every day the motormen, the points-men, the ticket-collectors and the other employees who have kept the network functional, carry out their duties not because they have to, but because they love their wok. The article explores how the lives of the many employees, are deeply connected to the Calcutta Tramways Company and how they are trying their best to keep its legacy alive, no matter what.

Photo credit: Shankar S/Flickr

With technologies dating back to the early 20th century, such as a token system to mark attendance of the employees, the Kolkata tram network is nothing short of  a  museum dedicated to  the history of transportation.

Despite the fact that the tram company makes heavy losses, the government as well as the employees, who love the slow tram cars  like their family, efforts are always on to increase revenue and to ensure that this clean and green mode of transport can regain at least some of its past glory. These efforts have taken the form of new air conditioned tram cars replacing the old worn out ones, special heritage runs for visitors, and even a tram museum inside one of the cars. Even though the future is uncertain for the network, it’s really hard to imagine this great city without its trams, which have played such a big role in making Kolkata a truly unique place.

  • SUPRIYO
    SUPRIYO

    Heritage Enthusiast

    Supriyo Dutta is a civil engineer by profession, with a deep interest in architecture and heritage. He extensively travels to various heritage sites, especially those that very few people know about.

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