Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kolkata Trams: experience and details: Slow by compulsion, not by design!

When I planned Kolkata visit, one of the main agenda was to experience the tram system. Everyone who had experienced tram dismissed it as slow, useless things wasting space on Kolkata’s roads. I had to find out for myself how true those statements were.

Watch this 3 min video I made on Kolkata trams:

I got my first glimpse of tram as I got down from bus somewhere near Esplanade on my way to hotel from airport. That time I couldn’t board it as it wasn’t heading in the direction of my hotel.

Later in the evening, we boarded the tram somewhere near Golf course/Fort William area. I didn’t have a clue where to get down, hence took ticket for the last stop, which cost Rs 5 per head.  The Kolkata tram fares are a bit cheaper than buses which cost Rs 6 onwards. Golf Course/Fort William area wasn’t heavily crowded by traffic  on a Friday afternoon, so the tram was moving fairly fast. Both compartments of the tram were full and I couldn’t take pics or talk to anyone. Our first and short ride ended when I got down somewhere near Eden Garden area.
Above: Tram near Golf course
Below: Tram's engine compartment
 Interiors of the tram

Below: An old tram engine, now not in use.

Next day we had some time to kill and we boarded the tram infront of Birla Mandir. This time it was kind of deserted, I got seat in the front row right behind the driver and started taking photos and videos. One of the passengers initiated the conversation with me. His name was Ashwin and he made me understand some benefits of the Tram system. The points he said are summarized as below:
  1. Trams began operational sometime in 1980s. They are operational even today. With near zero expense on maintenance, Trams are probably the only transportation infrastructure that continues to provide ROI even after 3 decades.
  2. Trams are NOT SLOW by design. They are slow because rest of the road users aren’t considerate of trams. They park on tram track, they overtake/cut across and so on. A tram driver has to factor all these and has to wait till the track becomes clear so that he can proceed. This is the single most reason why trams are slow. If there were dedicated corridors for trams and other road users are a bit more considerate towards Trams, they can be much faster. Imagine Shatabdi Express driver having to slow down before every level crossing and wait for the crossing to be clear- in such as case, Shatabdi will need a day if not more, to reach Blr from Chennai, instead of designated 5 hours it takes now. Lots of time you can hear tram driver shouting at people outside to stay clear of the path.
  3. When tram tracks were initially constructed, there weren’t roads next to it. Only mud tracks. That time, trams were fairly fast and were used a lot by people. But as the communist govt built roads, they sidelined the trams. Roads were built on left and right side of the tram lines and road users began criss-crossing the tram tracks without any regard for the locomotive. Onus fell on tram driver to ensure safety of everyone- those inside and outside the tram, hence he had to be slow and considerate.
  4. Electric motors produce more power than engines with internal combustion technology, and these are pollution free. Focusing more on trams could have reduced pollution and fuel consumption.
  5. The engines were made in Japan by a company called Jessop ( Earlier, reversing the tram was achieved using a wheel on the right hand side of the driver (which can be seen in the picture). But now, the gear box has a way to reverse the engine.
  6. Trams can’t overtake and move on a predictable way, hence they are very unlikely to cause any accidents (unless other roads users drive in haphazard manner).

Above: Tram driver controls
Below: Mr Ashwin who shared lots of details about the tram system
Tram driver doesn’t have a seat. He needs to stand all day. I feel very bad about this. Some elevated seating could have been provided. His cabin is very basic and rudimentary. You will feel sorry for him having to work standing each day.

The conductor told us that trams are running in loss. They are run more as a heritage than a mode of commute or source of revenue.

Where to find tram: They are found in plenty in Esplanade area, in-front of Birla Mandir, JatinDas Park metro and many other places. The existence of tram tracks on the road hints that trams might be operating there. Wikipedia has full details on the tram network

Some tips to revive tram system:
  • Let trams have right of way. Other road users should be prohibited from crossing tram’s track. They should wait till tram moves ahead to cross the road. Those who violate this should be penalized. If speed can increase a bit, trams can attract commuters who take buses and taxis.
  • Use existing track infrastructure, modernize the coaches. It should attract more people.
  • There were no display of tram information anywhere- about tram timings, where they are headed, where to wait for the trams etc. Providing some display regarding these in bus stands/other public places will enable more and more users to adopt tram for their day to day commute.
A photo of yellow trams of Berlin for comparison [More on Berlin trams here]
Other Kolkata posts: Sunset on River Hoogly * Birla Mandir * Kali Ghat temple


Vishal Grover said...

Great Article on Kolkata Tram. Loved it.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Vishal

The wild said...

I totally disagree with you that the kolkota trams are giving ROI.The tram is probably the most ill maintained ,unclean tram i have ever come across and no i dont consider them giving any sort of ROI.I have been to Kolkota and seen these trams.

Yes you can get cheap transport which is run down in all aspects but i dont think its value for money ,there you should be a basic minimum standard for comparison of transport not just cheap fares.

Whats more even the passenger numbers have fallen drastically out of 300 only 170 are being run and the tram company finances are in very bad shape,so i dont think it ticks any other box except thats its cheap and just abt manages to run

Its a dead horse being flogged until it will run no more

R Niranjan Das said...

Nice post. This is definitely a wonderful experience.

Avik chatterjee said...

Nice article on trams. Liked the pictures as well.

But Trams became operational much before 1980. This started post independence though the original starting year may be controversial and debatable.

Athenas Take said...

My last ride was when I was in 3rd standard, looks like the tram hasn't changed one it.

Anindya said...

Hey nice write up . being from Kolkata I feel Nostalgic

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Anindya: Thanks

@AT: yes, doesn't look like it is modernized since decades

@Avik chatterjee:

I meant current set of trams which are electrically powered. Initial variants were horse powered and steam engine powered.

@Niranjan: Thanks

@The Wild: Thanks for your comments. Yes, it is running in loss. When I said ROI, I meant it is still generating revenues. Not upgrading the coaches and many other ignorance have resulted in loss of revenue. I believe the system can be made popular and profitable if some interest and effort is put into.

What are your thoughts?

Tomichan Matheikal said...

These trams are retained merely out of nostalgia, I guess.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Probably yes.. But if operators are serious, there are lots of scope for improvement