Trams in Kolkata
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|Number of lines||25 routes (as of 2012)|
|Operator(s)||Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC)|
|Number of vehicles||257 trams (125 in operation)|
|Track gauge||Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Electrification||550 V DC overhead lines|
The Kolkata tram is a tram system in Kolkata, India, run by the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC). It is currently the only operating tram network in India and the oldest operating electric tram in Asia, running since 1902.
An attempt was made in 1873 to run a 2.4-mile (3.9 km) tramway service between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street on 24 February. The service was not adequately patronised, and was discontinued on 20 November. In 1880, the Calcutta Tramway Co. Ltd was formed and registered in London on 22 December. Metre-gauge horse-drawn tram tracks were laid from Sealdah to Armenian Ghat via Bowbazar Street, Dalhousie Square and Strand Road. The route was inaugurated by the Viceroy, Lord Ripon, on 1 November. Steam locomotives were deployed experimentally in 1882 to haul tram cars. By the end of the nineteenth century the company owned 166 tram cars, 1000 horses, seven steam locomotives and 19 miles of tram tracks. During 1900, Electrification of the tramway, and reconstruction of tracks to 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge) began to happen. The first electric tramcar in Asia ran in 1902 from Esplanade to Kidderpore on 27 March, and on 14 June from Esplanade to Kalighat. The Kalighat line was extended during 1903 to Tollygunge, the Esplanade line to Belgachhia (via Bidhan Sarani, Shyambazar), and the Esplanade to Shialdaha route (via Binay Badal Dinesh Bag, Rajib Gandhi Sarani and [present] Mahatma Gandhi Road) opened.
Esplanade to Bagbazar route through College Street opened in 1904. During 1905, Howrah Station to Bandhaghat route was opened to trams in June. Electrification project completed. Bowbazar Junction to Binay Badal Dinesh Bag, Ahiritola Junction to Hatibagan Junction routes opened during 1906. Lines to Shibpur via G.T. Road were prepared in 1908. Esplanade to Shialdaha station via Moula Ali Junction, Moula Ali Junction to Nonapukur, Wattganj Junction to J.Das Park Junction (via Alipur), Mominpur Junction to Behala routes opened. Sealdah Station to Rajabazar route opened during 1910. Mirzapur Junction to Bowbazar Junction and Shialdaha Station to Lebutala Junction routes opened during 1915. In 1920 the Strand Road Junction to High Court route opened. S.C.Mallik Square Junction to Park Circus route (via Royd Street, Nonapukur) opened during 1923. The Barhabazar Junction to Nimtala route opened in 1925. During 1928, the Kalighat to Baliganj route opened. The Park Circus line extended to Garhiahat Junction in 1930. The Rajabazar line extended to Galiff Street during 1941. The Calcutta system was well connected during 1943 with the Howrah section through the new Howrah Bridge in February. With this extension, the total track length reached 42.0 miles (67.59 km).
During 1951, the government of West Bengal entered into an agreement with the Calcutta Tramways Company, and the Calcutta Tramways Act of 1951 was enacted. The government assumed all rights regarding the Tramways, and reserved the right to purchase the system (with two years' notice) on 1 January 1972 or any time thereafter. The Government of West Bengal passed the Calcutta Tramways Company (Taking Over of Management) Act and assumed management on 19 July 1967. On 8 November 1976 the Calcutta Tramways (Acquisition of Undertaking) ordinance was promulgated, under which the company (and its assets) united with the government. The Howrah sections were closed in October; the 1971/1973 Nimtala route was closed down in May 1973, and realignment of the Howrah Station terminus occurred. Total track length was now reduced to 38 miles (61.2 km). Tram tracks on Bentinck Street and Ashutosh Mukhopadhyay Road closed during 1980 for construction of the Kolkata metro; following construction, these stretches were not reopened. Overhead wires were present until 1994 on Bentinck Street. Tracks on Jawaharlal Nehru Road remained after realignment, making a new terminus at Birla Planetarium; the Birla Planetarium route closed in 1991. An overpass was constructed on that road in 2006. The Sealdah Station terminus (along with the Sealdaha – Lebutala stretch on Bipin Bihari Gangopadhyay Street) closed for construction of a flyover in 1982. The site is now occupied by Sealdah Court and a bus terminal. On 17 April 1985, tracks were extended connecting Manicktola to Ultadanga via Manicktola Main road and C. I. T. Road 3.7 km (2.30 mi). This was the first Tramways extension since 1947.
On 31 December 1986, further extension of tram tracks from Behala to Joka was completed. In 1993, the Howrah Station terminus closed and tram tracks removed on Howrah Bridge; the cantilever bridge proved too weak for trams. All routes terminated there were shortened to the Barhabazar (Howrah Bridge) terminus (formerly Barhabazar Junction). The High Court terminus closed for reconstruction of Strand Road in 1995. Rails and wires were removed from there and from Strand Road, Hare Street and Shahid Kshudiram Basu Road. The site is now occupied by the newest building of the Kolkata High Court. During 2004, the Garhiahat Depot – Garhiahat Junction link on Gariahat Road closed for construction of the Gariahat overpass. The Mominpur – Behala stretch on Diamond Harbour Road closed in 2006 for construction of an overpass at Taratala. Initially, there was a plan to route tracks on that flyover after its completion, but the road was later converted to a National Highway and the plan dismissed.
During 2007, the Wattgunge Junction – Mominpur Diamond Harbour Road, Mominpur – Jatin Das Park Judges Court Road, Jatin Das Park – Kalighat Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road routes temporarily closed for reconstruction. The Galiff Street terminus was realigned during 2008. Irregular service from Bagbazar to Galiff Street converted to regular by Route 7/12. Rails and wires removed from part of Bidhan Sarani route (restored by end of year). The Tracks on R. G. Kar Road from Shyambazar five-point crossing to Belgatchia tram depot temporarily closed down for reconstruction during 2009. During 2011, the Joka-Behala stretch and Behala depot closed down for construction of the Joka-BBD Bag metro project while the Ballygunj-Kalighat stretch and Lalbazar-Mirjapur down line closed for reconstruction. On 10 October 2013, the Tollygunge-Esplanade tram route reopened after it was closed for seven years when the route was concretised. On 30 September 2014, a tram functioning as a museum opened to the public and displays the history of the tram system. However, despite the attempts to preserve the system, there are plans by the state government to gradually phase out the tram system due to criticisms that the trams occupy too much road space, slow down other road vehicles due to their slow pace and carry too few passengers.
For closed routes, see the latest Kolkata tram map on right.
CTC owns 257 trams, of which 125 trams are running on the streets of Kolkata on a daily basis. The cars are single-deck articulated cars and can carry 200 passengers (60 seated).
The early horse-drawn cars were imported from England, as were the steel tram cars manufactured before 1952. Until then, most Kolkata tram cars were bought from the English Electric Company and Dick, Kerr & Co. After 1952, the cars were built in India.
Rolling stock experiments
The introductory rolling stock was single-coach, like at the time, in other Indian cities (Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kanpur), because the new mode of transport was experimental. Since it gained popularity quickly, another coach was attached some years later (as in Mumbai), which is now standard. Double decker trams (like Mumbai's) were never yet used in Kolkata. Triple-coach trams were unsuccessfully tried. Single-coach trams were used on the Shibpur line until its closure in 1970.
Earlier stock was of the SLT type. It was double-coach with three doors, four wheels under each coach and no wheels between coaches. SLT trams had no front iron net, but had a front-coach trolley pole. The both-end type had a front iron net and a rear-coach trolley pole. SLTs were the first double-coach trams, introduced only on the Kolkata side of the Hooghly River (not on the Howrah side). They were gradually replaced by articulated trams on all routes. The SLC type was introduced much later on the Bandhaghat line, and continued until its closure in 1971; after that, SLC trams began running on the G/H and T/G lines on the Kolkata side. Articulated trams were in use until 1989.
There are several types of rolling stock:
- Old SLC Type – The first double-coach tram with wheels between the coaches, manufactured at the Nonapukur workshop. It is sometimes called an 'elephant car' by the CTC; its cab and back side is narrow and slightly slanted forward, like the head of an elephant without the trunk. It was introduced as a higher-speed tram with an improved engine, designed to run on express routes such as Galiff Street, Baliganj, Tollyganj, Behala and Khidirpur. It was longer than an articulated tram, and was the first tram with a cab door. Although now fewer in number, SLC trams are still running (mainly on south Kolkata routes). One tram was modified with glass in front, and another with many lighted signs (making it resemble a moving billboard).
- SLC Type – This modified variation has a pivot, and is less stylish than articulated trams; it is also manufactured at Nonapukur. The only difference is that its front and back are straight, not slanted. It was also introduced as a higher-speed tram, with an improved engine, designed to run on express routes. Later, this type enjoyed more general use. "Modi-SLCs" are still in use, except on the Bidhannagar line due to its steep incline under the Kankurgachi rail bridge. Three cars are still used as water cars.
- Articulated SLC Type – This is a slightly less-stylish variation of the articulated tram, also manufactured at Nonapukur. The only difference is that its front and back are overhanging, and narrow towards the ends. It also had an improved engine, but was suitable for local routes. Later, this type was also used on express routes. Some early cars were well-maintained, and these are also still in use.
- Renovated SLC Type – After many years of SLC and articulated trams a new type of rolling stock arrived in Kolkata, made by Burn Standard India Limited. It is stronger, heavier and faster than earlier designs. A result of the decision around 1982 to continue tram service, it changed the image of Kolkata trams. The improved stock began running throughout the city network on all routes. Some trams were partly modified with front glass; two were modified to resemble Melbourne's B-class trams, with fluorescent lights, back glass and double ends. These are the most common trams in Kolkata.
- New Cars – Before the introduction of the single-coach tram in December 2012, this was the last new rolling stock, built by Jessop India Limited and a variation of the pivot type, introduced about 1984. Some trams were partly modified with front glass; one was modified with fluorescent lights, FM radio, digital advertising and route boards. These are the second-most-common tram in Kolkata. Three years after its introduction, the closure of Kolkata's trams was again considered by the government, so no more modern stock had been introduced.
- Single-Coach Type – Currently this is the latest new rolling stock, one of which has been running since 24 December 2012. These trams are claimed to be faster and more manoeuvrable than the current double-coach trams with the carriage being longer than the carriages in the double-coach trams. There are now plans to introduce more single-coach trams across the city, including air-conditioned coaches, possibly replacing the double-coach trams with the single-coach and reopening some closed tram routes.
Recently, two trams were completely renovated to world-class standards with front and back glass, fluorescent lights, FM radio, digital display boards, slanted seats and a fibreglass ceiling. More renovated trams are planned; from 2008 to 2010 the Nonapukur workshop manufactured 19 new-look trams, of which four are in the final stages of completion. The rooftop is clear polycarbonate sheeting with a wide window space, comfortable seating and better visibility from inside and out. Nonapukur Workshop is now manufacturing new tram cars and renovating existing steel-body (BSCL) cars. After plans for banquet/cafeteria trams and air-conditioned trams to attract commuters and foreign tourists as well as to increase revenue for the company, one single-coach air-conditioned banquet tram has now been introduced and offers heritage tours to north Kolkata in the morning and south Kolkata in the evening. However, the AC tram received poor patronage when it was introduced, although there are plans for more AC trams in Kolkata. In addition to passenger cars, there is a museum tram, rail-scrubber cars (which polish the tracks using jets of water), flat cars for goods transportation (some of which are modified from obsolete single-coach Howrah trams) and a tower-inspection car for checking wires.
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- 1st class – Rs. 5& Rs. 6.00 (depending on distance)
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- Length: 19.5 m (64.0 ft)
- Width: 2.1 m (6.9 ft)
- Weight: 20 or 22 tons empty, depending on design
- Car manufacturer: England pre-1952; India post-1952. Burn Standard Company in Howrah manufactured numbers 207 to 299 from 1982. In 1986 some were manufactured by Jessop. 684 to 700 were operational, but only 170 operated before 2013. As of 2013, 257 trams are operational with 125 trams operating.
- Length: 17.5 m (57.4 ft)
- Seating: 60 per car
- Speed: 60 km/h (37.3 mph) (max); avg speed: 30 km/h (18.6 mph)
- Controller: Three types – Cam (manufactured in London), GEC (manufactured in England) and Fuji (manufactured in Japan). Fuji is the most modern.
- Traction motor: Four types: TDK, Mitsubishi, Fuji and Bhel. EE-made traction motors are still in use – for example, 133A and 309/1B.
- Propulsion: Traction motor pinion, directly coupled via pinion-and-gear mechanism with drive wheel
- Track gauge: Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)
- Brakes: Pneumatic type through air compressor (DC 550V)
- Voltage: 550 volts DC in overhead wires.
- No vestibule or door shutter
- Single-ended car
- Current drawn by trolley pole
Depots and terminals
There are seven tram depots – Belgachhia, Rajabazar, Park Circus, Gariahat, Tollygunge, Kalighat and Kidderpur; nine terminals – Shyambazar, Galiff Street, Bidhannagar, Ballygunge, Esplanade, B. B. D. Bagh, and Howrah Bridge; and one workshop at Nonapukur. Rajabazar and Tollygunge depots are the largest in terms of tracks and area, respectively. Kidderpur depot is the oldest, and Kalighat the smallest. The Esplanade terminus has the most tram routes.
Alignment and interchanges
- While almost all routes are on-street running, the tram runs on reserved track across the Maidan between Esplanade and Kidderpore.
- The tram passes over the railway bridge between Shyambazar and Belgachhia, near Tala.
- The tram passes under the railway bridge between Maniktala and Bidhannagar, near Kankurgachi (only under-level track), and between Kalighat and Tollygunge, near Rabindra Sarobar.
- The tram runs parallel over metro track from Shyambazar to Belgachhia, and from Jatin Das Park to Tollygunge.
- The tram track crosses metro track at Aurobinda Sarani, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bipin Bihari Gangopadhyay Street and Lenin Sarani.
- The tram runs on both sides of the road on Lenin Sarani and Surya Sen Street, and on either the right or left side on part of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Road, part of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Basu Road, Judges Court Road, Diamond Harbour Road, Karl Marx Sarani, Kidderpur Road, Dufferin Road, Casuarina Avenue, Elliot Road, Royd Street and Rabindra Sarani. On all other streets, tram runs in the middle of the road.
- The tram runs on overpass only at Sealdah.
- The tram passes under overpass at Barhabazar, Wattganj, Race Course and Garhiahat.
- The tram crosses canals between Shyambazar and Belgachhia near Shyambazar, between Maniktala and Bidhannagar near Maniktala, between Jatin Das Park and Mominpur near Alipur, and between Wattganj and Esplanade near Wattganj.
- There are interchanges with metro at Belgachhia, Shyambazar, Esplanade, Kalighat and Tollygunge. Shobhabazar, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Central, Jatin Das Park and Rabindra Sarobar metro stations also have tram accessibility.
- There are interchanges with train at Bagbazar, Bidhannagar, Park Circus, Ballygunge, Kidderpore, B.B.D Bagh and Tollygunge. Sealdah and Tala rail stations also have tram accessibility.
Advantages and criticism
Electric trams were the sole public transport until 1920, when the public bus was introduced in Kolkata. However, tram service until the 1950s was quite smooth and comfortable (although most new lines and extensions were built in pre-independence India). In 1950 there were around 300 tram cars, which were regularly operated on many routes in Kolkata and Howrah. Single-car trams operated on the Shibpur line until its closure; all other lines had double cars. Due to the large number of tram cars, the trams ran frequently (about a 5- to 7-minute wait between trams on all routes). This was possible due to less motor traffic on the roads than today. Derailments were very rare because of careful maintenance. All checkups were done at night, the water car was used for track smoothing and the tower car for wire-checking. Each tram was washed in the depot daily. Breakdown vans and overhead-wire inspection vans were ready at many junctions for quick repairs. Regular inspection of tracks, wires and so forth was done carefully. Tracks and track-bed gravel were replaced periodically for smoother service.
Anti-tram sentiment began about 1955, and spread around the world. Many countries (both developed and developing) began closing their tram systems, and India was no exception. Tram service closed in Kanpur in 1933, Madras (now Chennai) in 1955, Delhi in 1962 and Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1964. Kolkata's network survived, but in a truncated form. At the same time the automobile boom began, quickly spreading throughout India.
Many streets were narrow (which was acceptable for tram service), but now cars, buses and lorries also used those roads. The government considered closing the trams, as an alternative to controlling motor traffic. Some routes (Bandhaghat, Shibpur and Nimtala) were closed for that reason, although traffic jams have not been alleviated. Many streets in Kolkata which have no tram line experience daily gridlock.
Although most track beds have been converted from stone to concrete, earlier paving of Strand Road closed the High Court route. Construction of the subway line also destroyed an important north-south connection, from Lalbazar to Jatin Das Park via Esplanade and Birla Planetarium. The development of flyovers is another reason for the decline of Kolkata trams. The Sealdah, Gariahat and Taratala overpasses were the main cause for the closing of the Sealdah terminus, Gariahat link and the Joka route (which also made way for a national highway). There were many closures between 1970 and 1980, and many thought that it was the beginning of the end for trams in Kolkata, but the situation changed after 1990. At that time, many cities around the world began reevaluating tram service. Greater numbers of automobiles increased air pollution. High prices of petrol and diesel fuel on the international market also made electric-powered street rail more attractive.
Trams have many advantages:
- Clean and green – enhances the environment; no emissions at street level
- Encourages public transport – rail-borne modes of transport promote people to stop using cars
- Affordable – the cheapest form of comfortable mass transit
- Inspiring – modern trams can be aesthetically pleasing
- Heritage – Tramcars are a part of history.
Some political leaders (and many environmentalists) favoured tram service. As a result, the Kolkata tram survived, but not as robustly as it did before 1970. Tramways in Kolkata are now suffering, due to motor traffic and the outdated business model of its operators (the CTC and the government of West Bengal), although there has been some conversion of trackbed from stone to concrete and renovation of rolling stock.
Trams were the brainchild of the then-Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. His motives were to ensure better public transport for the native people, better passage of goods from ports and dockyards to their respective destinations, and rapid mobilisation of police contingents to sites of anti-British protests. Thus, trams were the first mode of police transportation in Kolkata since police cars, vans, buses, lorries and armoured cars had not been introduced until 1917. The trams of Kolkata had played a major role in stopping Hindu-Muslim riots during the pre-independence era; in contrast, many trams were also burned by local people as an act of protest against colonial rule, since the tram was viewed by many Indians as a "British" import. Even after independence, during the 1960s many trams were burned for raising fares by only one paise (1/100 Rupee).
The Kolkata tramway has many vintage features. It still uses a trolley pole and foot gong (after a failed experiment with electric horn during the late 1980s), which is rare among international tram systems (except heritage tramways and standard networks like Hong Kong and Toronto). It has tram cars with no front glass or destination board – instead, iron route-boards hang from the front iron net. The last new rolling stock was manufactured in 1987 by Jessop India Ltd, and many trams from 1939 are still running. The recent de-reservation of tram tracks flies in the face of international trends. Although trams are faster, and derailments rare, it is often impossible to get up or down from a moving tram on wide roads such as Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Road, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Basu Road, Acharya Satyendra Nath Basu Sarani, Satin Sen Sarani, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Lila Roy Sarani, Rash Behari Avenue, Deshapran Birendra Shasmal Road or Shyama Prasad Mukhopadhyay Road. Only one new branch (Bidhannagar) and one extension (the short-lived Joka) were built after independence, and no extension of the network had been planned until 2002. With a mix of good and bad, however, the Kolkata tram is still running as Asia's oldest operating electric tram and the only tram in India.
During 3 December 2012, a seven-year-old boy got run over and killed by a tram entering Ultadanga depot; the boy had reportedly been playing near the tram tracks when the tram approached and struck him before the brakes could be fully applied. On 31 January 2013, a bus driver attempted to overtake a tram with the bus rear grazing the tram. Due to the bus scraping against the tram, a bus passengers arm was ripped off and the man was rushed to hospital for his arm to be reattached. On 19 June 2014 a freak accident was reported in which a ghost tram rammed into 10 cars. No fatalities or injuries were reported.
Plans have been proposed to refurbish stock and wires, extend the system to more areas or tunnel under the Hooghly River, but (apart from paving the trackbed and repairing wires and masts), little real improvement has been done; for unmaterialized future plans, see the "latest Kolkata tram map" above. However, there have been some proposals to replace the current double-coach SLC type trams with the new single-coach trams and extend the tram system to places like Rajarhat and Bantala and reopening some closed routes. There are also plans for a tram route across the riverfront of the Hooghly River while plans are continuing for a tram route to Salt Lake and Rajarhat. However, due to the state government's recent plans to phase out the tram system, it is unknown whether these extensions will come to fruition.
- Trams in India
- Kolkata Metro
- Kolkata Suburban Railway
- Kolkata Circular Railway
- List of tram and light rail transit systems
-  CTC website. Accessed 14 September 2013.
-  CTC website. Accessed 16 August 2013.
- "Bankrupt CTC to introduce two more AC trams". The Times of India. 14 August 2013.
- "Reaching India". New Delhi: Times Internet Limited. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- "Kolkata trams to get a GenX makeover". 13 July 2012.
- "TRAMWAYS – AN ECO – FRIENDLY MODE OF MASS TRANSPORTATION: A CASE OF KOLKATA" (PDF). July 2012.
- "Joka-Behala tram is now history". 2 June 2011.
- "Tram route gets new life on Panchami". 10 October 2013.
- "Tram route back on track after 7 years". 18 October 2013.
- "Calcutta Tramways Company inaugurates museum on wheels". 30 Sep 2014.
- "State govt mulls phasing out trams from Kolkata streets". 27 Sep 2016.
- "City's new public ride arrives on Christmas Eve". hindustan times. 23 December 2012.
- "More single-coach trams to run on various streets in Kolkata soon". RailNews. 2013-03-26.
- "Kolkata to get banquet and cafeteria trams". Daily News. 12 February 2013.
- "Enjoy Kolkata's heritage with an AC tram ride". The Economic Times. 18 April 2013.
- "Kolkata's modernised heritage trams fail to woo passengers". India Today. 24 June 2013.
-  IRFCA website. Accessed 31 January 2011.
-  CTC website. Accessed 31 January 2011.
- "Subhas dreams of tram below Hooghly". The Times of India. 21 May 2002.
- "Tram runs over 7-year-old". The Times of India. 3 December 2012.
- "'Passenger's arm ripped off as bus races tram in Kolkata". The Times of India. 31 January 2013.
- "'Ghost tram' rams into 10 cars in Kolkata". The Times of India. 20 June 2014.
- "New tram route on anvil to soak in riverfront views". The Times of India. 8 July 2013.
- "City tram network set for expansion". The Statesman. 12 September 2013.
- Niyogi, S. Shake, rattle & roll. The Sunday Story, Sunday Times of India, Kolkata, 25 June 2006. Available on Times of India e-paper (paid subscription required as of 2010).
- Pathak Pratap Shankar, The Sunday Story, Sunday Times of India, Kolkata
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Trams in Kolkata.|
- Official website of Calcutta Tramways Company
- Urbanrail.net page with schematic map of Kolkata tram
- Geographical map of Kolkata tram, both past and latest updates
- Some great photos of Kolkata tram
- Department of Transport from the Government of West Bengal website
- A little more Information about Kolkata tram