Indian Railways announces ambitious tourism plan centred around metre-gauge tracks

In a possible quest to boost tourism, the Indian Railways has announced its plan to convert commercially non-viable metre gauge lines into heritage routes. These metre gauge stretches encompass states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Assam and Uttar Pradesh and are lying defunct.

These metre gauge tracks pass through few of India’s most picturesque locations like the Dudhwa tiger reserve in UP, the Vindhyachal mountain range and the Gir forest in Gujarat.

The Railway Ministry had earlier decided to convert five defunct metre gauge lines into broad gauge, but that plan has now been shelved in favour of re-branding them as heritage tourism destinations.

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These five-metre gauge lines are Gujarat’s 42.27 km long Visavadar-Talala line, MP’s Mhow-Patalpani-Kalakand line which is 16 km long, 162 km long Mavli – Marwar line in Rajasthan, Mahur-Harangjao line falling in Assam and 171 km long Nanpur-Mailani line in UP.

Out of these lines, the Mhow – Kalakand line passes through breathtaking hills and valleys of the Vindhyachal range, letting tourists visit the Patalpani waterfall. This line would be solely used for tourism purposes. The Nanpara-Mailani line in UP passes through the Dudhwa tiger reserve, thereby aiding wildlife enthusiasts.

The Visavadar-Talala line in Gujarat passes through the Gir forest and Mavli – Marwar line in Rajasthan encompasses parts of the Todgarh Raoli biodiversity sanctuary. Assam’s Mahur-Harangjao line traverses the hills in the state’s Dima Hasao district and is famous for some of the tunnels along the route.

As per a railway official, all these metre gauge lines have sharp bends, tunnels and offer a potential to create eco-tourism safaris.

Besides the metre gauge lines, the railways are also planning other tourism initiatives like reviving a fireless steam loco currently displayed in Delhi’s national rail museum and using vintage steam engines to haul the world famous “Palace on Wheels” train.

Back in January, reports had indicated that the Railways was gearing for a branding push by possibly outsourcing the ticketing and catering initiatives to IRCTC. The Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani had asked for the identification of tourism and luxury trains, to promote the rail tourism’s brand.

In 2016, the Railways as part of its wildlife tourism initiative had introduced a tiger trail circuit train which via a five day six nights trip, would help travellers visit the Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks in Madhya Pradesh.

Even though the Railways’ tourism initiative has taken long strides, its flagship products in this segment incidentally have struggled revenue-wise. As a report from January, the revenue of luxury tourist trains like Palace on Wheels and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels saw a decline of 24.08 percent and 63.18 percent, as a result of declining passenger capacity from 2014 to 2017. This decline was attributed to limited number of trips by these trains.

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