अकोला, दि. ११- कधीकाळी वर्हाडवासीयांची लाइफलाइन समजली जाणारी शकुंतला रेल्वे गाडी थकली असून, शंभर वर्षांंपेक्षाही अधिक काळ लोटल्यामुळे जागोजागी ढासळत चाललेला रेल्वे मार्ग आणि वारंवार उद्भवणार्या इतर तांत्रिक अडचणींमुळे मूर्तिजापूर-यवतमाळदरम्यान धावणार्या लेकुरवाळय़ा 'शकुंतलेला' गुरुवारी एक दिवसाची विश्रांती देण्यात आली आहे. डीझल इंजिनच्या साहाय्याने धावत असलेल्या 'शकुंतले'ला मूर्तिजापूर ते यवतमाळ हे ११२ कि.मी. अंतर कापण्यासाठी सात तास लागतात. किनखेड, विळेगाव, भडशिवणी, पोही, कारंजा लाड, सोमठाणा, सांगवी, वरूडखेड, दारव्हा, तपोना, लाडखेड, लासिनासह आसपाच्या इतर वर्हाडवासीयांना अंगाखांद्यांवर घेऊन धावणार्या शकुंतलेचा ११२ वर्षांंहून अधिक काळ उलटला आहे. या कालखंडात एकदाही न बदललेल्या नॅरोगेज रेल्वे मार्गाची अवस्था अत्यंत दयनीय झाली असून, वातावरणातील बदलांमुळे तो जागोजागी जीर्ण झाला आहे. लोहमार्गाच्या दुरुस्तीचे कारण स्पष्ट करीत, गुरुवारी एक दिवसाकरिता ५२१३१/५२१३२ मूर्तिजापूर-यवतमाळ-मूर्तिजापूर ह्यशकुंतलाह्ण पॅसेंजर रद्द करण्यात आली असल्याची माहिती मध्य रेल्वेच्या... more...
भुसावळ येथील जनसंपर्क अधिकार्यांनी ह्यलोकमतह्णला दिली.
Most Indians know of only one Shakuntala, the one Kalidasa made famous in his Sanskrit play ‘Abhijnana Shakuntalam‘. They have not heard of Shakuntala Railways, the only railway in India that is still not owned by the Indian government. The reason as to why this railway line does not come under the Indian Railways is still unclear, but when the entire railways was nationalised in 1952, this line was strangely left alone.
a time when Indian Railways is making plans to introduce high speed bullet trains in the country, Shakuntala Express, one of the last vestiges of the colonial era railways, continues to enthrall train lovers around the world. The antique train runs on India’s only private railway line between Murtazapur and Yavatmal in Maharashtra, chugging along the 190 km stretch at an average speed of 20 km per hour. Here is the fascinating story of the iconic Shakuntala Railways, the last piece of colonial railway legacy in India. Shakuntala Express The Shakuntala Express, a romantic name by all accounts, is a train not many in the country are aware of. But, in Yavatmal and Achalpur (Amravati district) in Maharashtra, it is the lifeline for poor villagers. It was an era of private railroad companies in 1910 when Shakuntala Railways was founded by a British firm called Killick-Nixon. The private firm floated the Central Province Railway Company (CPRC), a joint venture with the colonial British government in India, for laying railway tracks to be used for transporting cotton from Vidarbha, and finally to Manchester in England. The track had trains running on it by 1916 and soon it was being used to ferry passengers too. The trains on this track were run by Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) which operated in Central India. This practice continued even after the GIPR became a part of Indian Railways post independence. Shakuntala Railway is still owned by CPRC, presumably because the government of the day simply forgot to nationalise it, and CRPC is still owned by Killick-Nixon, a British firm. Even though Killick-Nixon has since moved from British to Indian hands, it still leaves us with a privately run train running on Indian tracks! Old lever from GIPR. Made by McKenzie & Holland, Worcester, England. A ZD-steam engine, built in 1921 in Manchester, pulled the train for more than 70 long years after being put in service in 1923. It was withdrawn on April 15, 1994, and replaced by a diesel engine that now pulls the carriages. Old-time passengers recall how during the steam engine days, the train used to stop virtually anywhere where passengers hailed it. Today, the track falls under the Bhusawal division of the Central Railways (of the Indian Railways) but CRPC still owns the Murtazapur – Yavatmal (113 km) and the Murtazapur – Achalpur (76 km) railway tracks. Central Railway which runs the trains on the two sections is supposed to pay royalty to its private partner and CPRC, which owns the lines is contracted to maintain them. This contract has been renewed six times since Independence – every 10 years, railways have a chance to exercise the option of taking over the line. Interestingly, the trains running on these tracks are the only ones in the country where the guards double up as ticket clerks, as there are no railway staff at most of the stations on the two routes! Narrow gauge Shakuntala passenger train to Yavatmal at the curve near Murtazapur. Unlike most railway lines in India that uses broad gauge lines, the Shakuntala Railways still use narrow gauge lines and makes just one return journey every day. At present, the train takes around 20 hours to cover the 190km distance between Yavatmal and Achalpur in Amravati district. According to the locals, while a bus from Murtazapur to Yavatmal takes just a few hours, it costs ₹ 150, which is six times the train fare. The trains, therefore, have become a lifeline for poor people
A historic railway service flounders for an inflexible privatisation policy, notes Bibek Debroy. I know of only one Shakuntala, the one Kalidasa made famous. I know of nothing that suggests Shakuntala had anything to do with Vidarbha, though Kalidasa (and some of his non-Shakuntala characters) did. You may not have heard of Shakuntala Railway, but it is supposedly named after Shakuntala, princess/queen of Vidarbha. There is no reason why you should have heard of Central Provinces Railway Company Ltd (CPRC). It was formally incorporated in 1910, has three directors and does everything... more...
you expect a company to do. Many people may be unaware that CPRC still runs a railway network in India. This isn't one of those railway networks on private estates, plantations, sugar-mills, collieries, mines, dams, harbours, ports and steel plants. Nor is it a line that a private company temporarily builds and operates, to be eventually handed over to Indian Railways (IR). CPRC is unique. Once upon a time, CPRC used to have other lines, like Dhond (Daund)-Baramati (opened 1914-15), Pulgaon-Arvi (opened 1917-18), Pachora-Jamner (opened 1919) and Darwha-Pusad (opened 1931). These became part of IR, continued as narrow gauge and remained neglected lines or were wound up (Darwha-Pusad). The only exception is the strange case of the Ellichpur-Murtazapur-Yeotmal Railway, owned by CPRC and known as Shakuntala Railway. Murtazapur/Murtizapur is in Maharashtra (Akola district) and is a junction in Bhusawal division of Central Railway (CR), along the main Mumbai-Nagpur-Howrah broad gauge line. However, a narrow gauge line also passes through Murtazapur, divided into a 76-km northern stretch between Murtazapur and Achalpur/Ellichpur and a 113 -km south-eastern stretch between Murtazapur and Yeotmal/Yavatmal. The Yavatmal stretch was opened in 1903 and Achalpur stretch in 1913. Both segments were constructed and operated by Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR). In 1925, GIPR became part of IR. Therefore, as a legacy, IR started to operate narrow gauge trains along Shakuntala Railway (the train is known as Shakuntala Express). Locomotives were initially steam, replaced with diesel in 1995. Usually, when one thinks of liberalising railways, one has in mind private train operations (and other forms of private provisioning of goods and services). Track is presumed to be owned by the government. If you don't do that, there will be accidents and safety issues. There will be management and coordination problems. So runs the refrain. Therefore, the liberalised foreign direct investment and private investment policy don't contemplate private ownership of tracks and related infrastructure. When built by the private sector, it will have to be handed over to IR. Shakuntala Railway is the opposite. The track is owned by a private company and trains are run by IR (meaning CR). Sure, this is a narrow gauge line, what might be called a branch line. Shakuntala Railway is still owned by CPRC, presumably because the government of the day simply forgot to nationalise it. Since GIPR was only an operator, who owns Shakuntala Railway? Killick Nixon (set up in 1857), the agent for CPRC, does, though Killick Nixon has now moved from British to Indian hands. There is a contract between CPRC and CR, to be renewed in 2016. Under the contract, CPRC can keep 55 per cent of passenger revenue, giving the rest to CR. Naturally, CPRC is meant to maintain track. But it doesn't possess the resources and CR has refused to give CPRC the 55 per cent, because CR was forced to spend on renewal and repairs. In fairness, CPRC disowns the contractual liability and this is now stuck in a judicial dispute. By the way, that 55 per cent is worth just over Rs 2 crore. Total annual passenger earnings (there is no freight) are hardly Rs 5 crore 9Rs 50 million). Through a cotton cultivating tract, Shakuntala Railway once transported cotton to Manchester. But today, CPRC is not interested in it. In 2016, when the contract is renewed, IR can pick up the line for 10 years' revenue, say, Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million). Given the state CPRC is in, IR may get it for less. However, IR isn't interested. To rehabilitate 189 km of track, IR will have to spend at least Rs 1,890 crore. Once in a while, demands arise for nationalising the line, with little traction. As of now, once a day, there is an irregular passenger train that runs on either side of Murtazapur, towards Achalpur and Yavatmal. If the train is irregular, what other choice for passengers? They travel by road, at five times the cost. Ipso facto, someone granted the flexibility of choosing fares should be able to tap the market better and modernise Shakuntala Railway. It can't be IR and has to be someone other than CPRC. Why not hawk Shakuntala Railway, lock, stock and locomotive, to some other private player? That's sacrilege. Don't you know what happened when Margaret Thatcher privatised ownership of railway infrastructure in Britain? Private ownership of track and related infrastructure is taboo, unless it happens inadvertently, as with Shakuntala. Those who resist change will argue Shakuntala is an exception, it's a "branch" line. A nuanced opposition is understandable. But why is there this blanket opposition to private ownership of track? Do people in IR not know about their own history and Shakuntala? The writer is a member of the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog. The views are personal.
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