Sunday, December 27, 2015

Swiss Mountain Railway- can we replicate in India?

Switzerland has mastered the art of setting up safe, efficient and reliable mountain railway system. It is able to ferry lakhs of tourists every day to various peaks across the country through the mountain railway and in return, pocket millions of dollars of tourist money.

For tourists, it is very convenient. No need to spend days trekking to the mountain top, no need to spend time or effort- just spend the money and you will be ferried to top of Europe and back within a day (or any other peak for that matter)

Below are some photos I managed to click of Swiss Mountain railway, on my way to Jungfrau-joch (top most point in Europe). I had to change 3 trains- Geneva to Bern, Bern to Interlaken, Interlaken to Wengen and from there one final leg to Jungfraujoch. It did cost me a lot (About 210 Euro for 3 day Swiss pass, extra ticket for Wengen to Jungfraujoch, totaling close to 24000 INR, four times the cost of my Copenhagen-Geneva flight ticket (Swiss pass is not applicable in some part of the mountain railways, though you are likely to get some discount)- on the positive side, I could cover great distance and altitude in very short time.


The Swiss mountain railway systems are very capable, have impeccable safety record and extremely reliable in their operation. They have built funicular trams that can climb a hill at 60-70 degree gradient. They can transport hundreds of people up and down in one go and there's brilliant connectivity between train systems that ensures that tourists do not have to wait for too long for a connecting train. Trains also offer adequate information/entertainment to guests. Helicopter rescue is on standby all the time.
Can we build such a mountain rail system in India?
India has taller peaks than Switzerland, more beautiful valleys and destination. But most of these are accessible only road or on foot. Railway network till top of the hill is almost non-existent. A thought came to my mind if we will ever be able to build a mountain railway system like that of Switzerland. In association with Nepal, can we built a railway system till Everest Base camp? or to Leh? I think we will never be able to setup a viable mountain rail system due to multiple factors
1. In India we won't be able to price the tickets high at par with Europe. This means huge investments made in mountain railway may never deliver positive returns
2. Unlike European mountains which are relatively stable, Himalayas are more prone to landslide, avalanche, earthquakes etc. Safety will be a huge concern
3. As such we are very lax towards safety. Mountain railway system needs extremely demanding maintenance, safety precautions and alertness to predict and avert accidents. Unless we can bring that attitude in public and staff alike, mountain railway system is a risky proposition
4. We will need stronger measures and will to ensure tourists do not litter the mountain or do not crowd the compartments or violate other rules in any way.

My exposure to Himalayas has been very minimal, so I am not able to comment much whether extreme mountain railway is viable in India. Your comments are always welcome.

Also see: Niesen peak * Ice Palace at Jungfraujoch * Swiss countryside pictures *


Arun Prasadh said...

Let us better not have these. More the crowd more spoilt will be our beautiful mountains. Also i dont think we will spend that huge amount to go up the mountain;)

Ranjana's craft blog said...

Whatever points you have written are absolutely right and I agree with Arun Prasadh's opinion too.

SandeepaChetan said...

Kashmir railway is catching up. It has a potential to boost tourism in Kashmir once it is fully functional.

Antarik Anwesan said...

The pictures look amazing. The problem with implementation in India would be similar to all kinds of new projects that are brought here, biggest of them being 'citizen responsibility'. Also, in the implementation, how much care would be taken to not harm the natural environment? I doubt if that is something that would be given much thought to...
Anyways, if this can happen in India, it would be a revolution and surely attract a lot more tourists.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Arun-True, we would need lots of cultural change and political will power to execute this kind of projects.

@Ranjana- Thanks

@Sandeep- thanks for letting us know. I am yet to visit Kashmir- hope to do so at the earliest

@Antarik: Thanks. Agree - lots of things need to be changed for this kind of projects to work in India