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  • I wonder if Sayantan ever

    I wonder if Sayantan ever drove on Kolkata roads while trams queue up, stalled, blocking half of the road and the rest is taken care of by clueless drivers! Trams need to go, and for good.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I suppose there are two parts

    I suppose there are two parts to this article, viz., drawing attention to a heritage that has remained a part and parcel of the city's evolution and the practical concern about public transport.

    On the first part, I agree with the author that it is the responsibility of citizens to preserve a heritage. But the the fulfillment of responsibilities are often circumstantial which brings us to the second part: the issue of public transport.

    I agree with Sayantan, that in several cities across the world trams are being revived and they have a "dedicated lane" for operation.Those efforts are truly commendable. But if we look into closely to the case of Kolkata, I fear that there are several factors that makes this task almost impossible and in some ways improbable.

    In megacities like Kolkata(especially with a very limited space and a huge population concentration over 13 million)there is no other way than to go for metro systems or over-head light rails. If you look into all megacities (cities over population of 10 million), that have a good "public transportation system", you'll find a good metro network. And coupled with that a mix of other arterial public transports.

    Besides population what I think remains another major challenge is our vision about transportation policy. The direction in which Kolkata is headed, gives very little deference to issues that are "public" and involves consideration for the environment. We are more about "private luxury and satisfaction" than about "public good". Our policy makers and the many citizens are more interested in roads and highway (or flyovers) expansion to accommodate the ever increasing number of cars, as opposed to providing incentives for public transport development and reduce car driving through proper policies (such as designating car free zones, high parking fees etc.). The local Govt. has JNNURM Grants which if intended can be more efficiently and transparently used for such purposes.

    I truly think that efficient public transportation is the key to make today's cities sustainable...but unfortunately in the process some heritage might need to be sacrificed depending of other social conditions.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply


    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Nooooooo! Don't take them


    Don't take them away. Please.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I like both the text and the

    I like both the text and the pictures. The images especially make me remember my evening tram ride way back in 2007. It will be sad if they disappear.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Sayantan, I very much enjoyed


    I very much enjoyed this thoughtful piece on the factors which have contributed to the system's demise. I have referred to your work in a post on my own blog about tramways:

    I am a journalist myself, albeit beset by a lifelong interest in urban transport -- and especially trams. In both contexts, I especially enjoyed your vivid photography.

    Well done. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Roger DuPuis

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Let me defend myself! To

    Let me defend myself! To begin with, I also acknowledge that depending on private transport cannot be the future. A city must develop a mass transport system. The point is, however, that tram, in Kolkata, cannot become the preferred mode of mass transport. Let me explain, why.
    Kolkata is one of the most densely populated metropolitan cities in the world (refer to this: How many of these most densely populated cities (MDPCs) have tramways in operation? None, but Kolkata. Shenzhen and Taipei have LRT, but thatÔÇÖs a different story. Why no MDPC has tram in operation? This is not coincidental. Tram, as a mode of public transport in MDPCs, is a matter of past. MDPCs in general, and Kolkata in particular, need a transport that does not occupy the existing road space. Giving tram its right-of-way is refusing others the same right. ThatÔÇÖs a problem, not the solution.
    Should private vehicles in Kolkata be refused its right-of-way? From the strict environmentalist point of view, it should be. There should be high financial barriers such as high annual license fee, road tax and prohibitively high parking fee that will work as a deterrent to owning a car. Is that practical, or likely to happen? No, for more than one reason. This decision is politically risky. A state like Singapore or China can afford to take that risk, but Indian politicians have strong reasons for not taking the risk. In a globalized democratic economy where disposable income and aspiration of the middle class are growing at a breakneck speed, ownership of private vehicles is bound to rise. That is how it is. And, can you actually deny the pressure of the automobile lobby in the design of the capitalist system in India? So, denying private vehicles their right-of-way is not likely to happen in India, or in Kolkata. LetÔÇÖs get this perspective right.
    So, this leaves little room for any mass transport that will exclusively occupy the scarce road-length of Kolkata. Hence, tram is ruled out. Can LRT be an alternative? Theoretically, it can be. For that, it will require an elevated, or underground, exclusive path. ThatÔÇÖs what Kolkata Metro requires. IÔÇÖm not pretty sure whether the cost of building the elevated pathway for LRT would be significantly lower than the cost of extending the Metro network. For reference, the cost of building the LRT network in Seattle was $179 million per mile.
    It should be noted that the argument in favor of LRT in Kolkata, or in any city in the third world for that matter, has a severe flaw. The argument is essentially influenced by the Western arithmetic, where the rate of private vehicle ownership is much higher than the third world. While comparing the carrying capacity of LRT vis-à-vis the traditional mode, it should be remembered that the traditional mode here is not private vehicle, but traditional mass transports like buses. This would make the comparison less tilted towards LRT.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • A well researched article on

    A well researched article on trams in Kolkata. How sad that the govt has no clue in solving multifarious problems of a huge metro like kolkata keeping in mind the existing infrastructure and the pollution free alternative already available! Truly a sad state of affairs.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Amitava, in a city where road

    Amitava, in a city where road space is limited to 4-6 percent of total area there is no alternative to an efficient public transport system. Trams carry more passenger per unit of road space than either bus, auto or cabs. And the cost of building and running a tramways network is much cheaper when compared to heavy metro rail systems.

    Thats why more than 200 cities have revived their tramways in the form of light rail network, while kolkata naively ignored its tramways and never invested a penny in upgrading the technology or to extend the network. Be rest assured that when you drive your own vehicle, and so do others, we will end up with a bottleneck much worse.

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Srestha, my basic contention

    Srestha, my basic contention is that trams systems do not occupy as much road space as we seem to presume. If you happen to board a tram in the dalhousie square terminus you will be amazed to see how it navigates a 15 feet lane with ease. A tram carries 150 passengers in a go. Which other vehicle would do so in such little space? The fact is that Kolkata always thought of trams as a heritage element and not as a practical means of mass public transport. Metro can definitely help, but we have to keep in mind the enormous infrastructure costs. Does it make sense to uproot the existing 60 kms trams network to build 14 kilometers of metro at a cost of Rs 4000 crores?

    I completely agree with your views on the public transport outlook of kolkata. Some hard decisions need to be taken (parking fees, taxes etc), but our policy makers are always bowing down before the automobile industry.

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks Roger, for featuring

    Thanks Roger, for featuring the piece on your light rail transit blog. In India, our public transport policy is skewed, favoring the automobile industry. We need a strong anti-car policy, for instance, like Singapore, where high taxes, parking fees etc discourage car ownership. Very few cities in India have dedicated corridors for public transport and the increasing number of private cars more often than not bring cities to a grinding halt. Kolkata happens to be the only city where still the century old trams network work but might not eventually survive decades of palpable neglect.

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Amitava, the moot point is

    Amitava, the moot point is what sense does it make for Kolkata to do away with an existing trams network covering more than 60 kilometers in length? Give me an example of any mode of transport- public or private- which carries more passengers per unit of road space than trams. Its illogical to compare kolkta’s existing network to the 179 million dollar per mile Seattle LRT. I am not talking about building a new LRT network: it take only a miniscule investment to realign tramlines to the sides of the road so that commuters are at least able to board trams.

    And why do transport policies in Indian cities have to play stooge to the automobile lobby and private vehicle owners? Really, you do not need a dictatorship to start dedicated corridors for public transport. We are not talking about ‘what is likely to happen’ given the ‘political risks’ associated. It’s about a normative public transport policy, and not merely understanding the existing state of affairs. By the way, what makes you think a burgeoning city- less than 2 percent of which own private vehicles, I suppose- will object to a ‘right of way’ public transport? After all, the masses are going to benefit from such a system.

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 2 years ago | Reply
  • I think the article raises a

    I think the article raises a very important question of the following kind ÔÇô the features desirable in any specific mode of public transport. This is discussed in the context of trams vis-├á-vis other modes of public transport. It seems from the article that capital infusion in trams for modernizing technology and keeping it as a viable alternative mode of transport was deliberately withheld. This was precisely due to the step-motherly attitude of the government, for unknown reasons, which led to a systematic negligence based on a peculiar assumption that trams are inefficient. Comparing trams today with other modes of transport is of course a non-starter; since trams were facing a vicious cycle of indifference which other modes of transport were not experiencing hitherto. The moot point is since trams primarily use alternative energy source and are environment friendly with carrying capacity higher than for example buses ÔÇô careful evaluation is required, on efficiency grounds, than currently undertaken before arriving at conclusions. This is especially true in the context of a city which already carries the basic infrastructure for this mode of transport.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Mr.Sayantan Bera 's article

    Mr.Sayantan Bera 's article is extremely timely and appropriate.It is ridiculous to argue in favour of private transport owned by a minority asking for a lion's share of road space.Trams can definitely coexist with other forms public transport.It is also much cheaper than private transport and it is the tragedy of this country that the politicians and bureaucrats lack the wisdom to understand this.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I have never been to Kolkata

    I have never been to Kolkata but I have used trams in Europe and Australia and I love them. I cannot believe the Govt is spending billions when all they need to do is improve what is already there. A tram network is much faster for short and medium commutes because a metro network always involves going underground or taking the stairs to board a train where as in a tram you are simply embarking and disembarking on the road itself. It is much safer than buses because the tram driver cannot change lanes like the road belongs to his grandfather.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • The article by Sayatan Bera

    The article by Sayatan Bera is very thought provoking. I had been using these trams during my
    employment in Kolkata in fifties. They were the pride of the city and the nation at large. However, the politics played havoc with this service, like any other industry. There is still time, when it can be brought back to its old glory and with further improvement. The following are the steps:-

    1. Develop a feasibility report highlighting the routes based upon requirement. The Metro is not only high cost, but also can not fulfill the requirement of a developing city.

    2. Establish elevated tracks wherever required after due survey.

    3. The trams are based upon old DC traction system. These can now be economically converted to cost effective AC traction system. Such modification in the traction system can be undertaken by its workshop
    using maximum indigenous equipment. One coach of the tram can also be air conditioned and get better revenue and comforts. The energy requirement of the tram system is a fraction of that required by buses. Moreover they can run at a higher average speed. As a matter of fact, this can give rise to a new industry in Kolkata. The existing buses can also economically be converted to pollution free buses by
    its own workshop

    New and more in numbers of modern trams can be built, not only for Kolkata but also other towns as cost effective short gestation solution as part of LRT system.

    The solution is well known to the decision makers; but unfortunately there is no political will. I am sure that such a cost effective Tram/LRT system may easily be funded even partially by bankers. I

    New Delhi

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I just happened to go through

    I just happened to go through your article and it really touched, moved and inspired me. I have been always a supporter of Tram and many times took the ride when I was in Kolkata. Apart from heritage, I feel this is the most economic, environment friendly, safe, silent mass transport which is favored worldwide. Perhaps this is AsiaÔÇÖs only Tram that runs here, in our own city. Thanks for such a healthy column. I am with you.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • another 6 kms of trams track

    another 6 kms of trams track uprooted for extension of kolkata metro. our city planners are talking about more flyovers and the need to have more car parking spaces! when will common sense prevail?

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Mr. Bera, If you receive

    Dear Mr. Bera,

    If you receive this comment, please try to visit the webpage "". Which I had initiated today after having a trouble time in last three days due to Bus and country wide stick.

    I found you reports and photographs really can do lots more. I like the last photo of the series. The boards on the ground the way our last Government grounded. It may be the same for new government too, if they not explore this existing mode of transport in time.

    Kind Regards
    Satrajit Roy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
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