December 9, 2020
Udhagamandalam: Even as the controversy surrounding the weekend run of garishly
painted and renamed special trains on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) line between Mettupalayam and Ooty, continues to rage and the clarification by the Southern Railway that they were only charter trains, not finding many takers, the Nilgiris Documentation Centre
(NDC) has joined issue, terming the recent development as an “unimaginative initiative”.
In a statement issued here on Tuesday,the Director,NDC Mr.Dharmalingam Venugopal has observed, “it would appear that the woes of the World Heritage Site, Nilgiri Mountain Railway is never ending. Even as the NMR enthusiasts world over were waiting for the Covid 19 clearance to hop into the train, the sudden appearance of a charted service of the NMR by a private entrepreneur has come as a rude shock to the stakeholders.” He added,what is perplexing is that when the NMR is emerging as the indigenous pride of the Southern Railway, why spoil the party by this unimaginative initiative. The NMR has had several rebirths during its more than 120 year run but this time it appears more as a new birth with a new colour and a nomenclature.
During the centenary of the NMR in 1999, the Swiss Locomotive Machine Company (SLM), which originally supplied the engines, came up with a
package offer to modernize the line. The proposal included increasing the number of locos, making them more eco-friendly, adding more coaches, nationwide and global marketing strategies and raising the fares substantially.
Nothing came out of the proposal but subsequently the railway workshop at Trichy made a remarkable breakthrough in modernizing the NMR with indigenous technology. In fact, NMR became a symbol of British heritage and Indian technology.
However, the SLM study categorically stated that even after modernization, the NMR cannot attain financial viability and that the Indian Railway should continue to bear the losses as a social obligation. The study also cautioned that investments in the modernizations of NMR should not be passed on to private entrepreneurs as they ‘would be free of such social obligations and could fix the fares corresponding to the ticket demand’.
More importantly, the report recommended that, the proposed modernization of NMR should not be considered as an isolated investment but as a contribution to the economic development of the Nilgiri region.
The insensitivity of the chartered operator is also regrettable. The NMR passes through 40 kms of thick forests, tea plantations, villages
and townships. Most of the path is infested with wild elephants and other animals. Painting the coaches in bright incandescent colours
will be provocative to wildlife and endanger the lives of the passengers.