In February 2023 we visited Kolkata again. The 2011 trip was really a “once in a lifetime experience” (see this link to read the trip report) and of course it would be impossible to repeat this. Unlike 2011 this tour was operated by a travel agency but the number of participants was very similar (not too many but large enough to make it possible to do various private hires/charters). What has changed in Kolkata since 2011? Only two tram lines were in operation when we arrived (in 2011 it was 26 but some of these were rather infrequent and variations of other routes): 25 from Gariahat depot to Esplanade and 24/29 Tollygunge depot to Ballygunge. All the other depots (except the Nonapukur workshops) are closed but still full of stored trams. Click on the map to open a larger version of it – it shows the lines in operation in February/March 2023.
Why did all the other tram routes close? Various reasons: metro works directly impacting the trackwork (these lines are supposed to re-appear once the metro work is finished), crumbling infrastructure (concrete bridges and “fly overs” – strangely buses and heavy trucks are still allowed on them) and the cyclonic storm “Amphan” in May 2020 (trees fell on the overhead wires and these simply never got re-installed). The main obstacle (for re-opening these lines) seems to be the complete lack of sympathy by the political leaders towards trams in general. They seem to think that buses are the only answer (just as they did in the 1950s and 1960s in Western Europe and other parts of the world). The traffic police by the way has the last say in Kolkata (as they decide where traffic can handle trams and where not) – unlike pretty much anywhere else in this world where the city planners decide the traffic flows (with input by the police of course).
Years and years of underinvestment and lack of training motormen also resulted in a very much run down state of everything (infrastructure and vehicles and capacity to run trams). The large Nonapukur workshops more-or-less lie dead (despite many people still being employed there). The last time this place was rather active was when they built the new fibre class trams (first articulated cars – all of those are already retired – then they switched to “single” cars some with air conditioning) … so approx. 2008-2013.
Is there hope for more lines to re-appear? Well, during our stay line 5 was unexpectedly re-opened (Esplanade to Shyambazar). The operator WBTC does not have enough motormen to operate a full service there yet and we saw maybe 2 cars a day running there (with the other two lines also only seeing 4 trams each in service). The cars stored at Shyambazar (it is officially called a “depot” – as is Esplanade – but it really is just a secure site with a few open storage tracks and no workshop functionality) have not run in over a year so need to be inspected and maybe repaired first. Gariahat depot thus serves lines 5 and 25 now. In March 2023 WBTC started the training of 30 new motormen, this should make things easier in the coming months. Line 36 might come back (it received its own terminal loop south of the large Esplanade terminus when the line was cut because of metro works – only to be shut down the the cyclon).
WBTC is planning a new branch to the Victoria memorial off line 36 and thus the line to Kidderpore depot will probably not be re-opened fully at first (it might at a later stage – to re-connect the Tollygunge to Ballygunge line with the rest of the network this bit of the line is necessary – plus the re-opening of the connecting tracks down Diamond Harbour Road etc. to reach Kalighat depot). Small Kalighat depot is still reachable by track (the sub-station is inside the depot) from Tollygunge/Ballygunge but sees no service – it would make an ideal tram museum in the future! So, we will have to wait and see what happens…
The isolated line from Behala to Joka is of course gone (we were lucky in 2011 to see it still in operation) having been replaced by metro (running on a concrete viaduct: this seems the way forward for all new metro lines including the one being built to the airport – the still under construction section of metro line 2 from Esplanade to Howrah will probably be the last where they use only tunnels – this construction work is the reason for the BBD Bagh terminus still being out of use).
The new metro to Howrah has the potential to relief traffic over the very busy Howrah bridge. Maybe it will allow some of the tram lines to re-open. Terminating the buses on the Howrah side alone would reduce traffic in the central area. The few trams that are still running today need a complete overhaul – only the four axle “single” cars seem to be still in pretty good shape. On most of the closed tram lines the tracks are still all there (minus overhead wires) but those tracks along the pavements are often used for parking and this illegal parking now also results in temporary problems on the active lines.
The main reason for returning to Kolkata was “Tramjatra 2023”. Tramjatra is a celebration of the partnership between the tramways of Kolkata and Melbourne and for many years this has been organised (and invented) by now retired Melbourne tram conductor/driver Roberto D’Andrea and the local CTUA association. Tramjatra is something very unique, nowhere else in the world does such a bond between tram enthusiasts, artists and like minded people exist. See this link for details (this is the excellent CTUA website – there is also the archived original Tramjatra website here and it info can also be found on facebook).
Tramjatra 2023 was specially planned to cover the 150th anniversary of the Kolkata trams. WBTC kindly allowed CTUA to decorate trams and run a parade. The re-opening of line 5 also is connected to these events and the parade of course included this very interesting line. Don’t forget to visit your webmaster’s website about Kolkata tramways on facebook – as it is a closed group you need to apply for free membership – we usually don’t turn down anyone. A member of our tour group just released this rather splendid video on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pqfje91GK3E
Enough with the words, here come the photos. These have been put together in certain batches (events, locations etc.). Enjoy. We recommend clicking on the arrows only – larger images are not available!
I – We start with the highlight of the trip – the big tram parade on February 26th
please use the arrows to the left and right of the image to move through the album (or wait 4 seconds for the next image to appear)
II – Nonapukur Works (NP – main workshops of the company) – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
III – Tram World at Gariahat Depot (GH) – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
IV – Esplanade Terminus – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
V- Garihat Depot (GH) – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
VI – Tollygunge Depot (TG) – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
VII – Ballygunge Terminus – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
VIII – Shyambazar Terminus – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
IX – street scenes from Gariahat to Nonapukur – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
X – street scenes from Nonapukur to Wellington crossing – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
XI – street scenes along Lenin Sarani to Wellington crossing – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
XII – street scenes from Wellington crossing to Shyambazar – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
XIII – other images (includes buses at Howrah railway station, some ferries, the horse tram at City Centre Mall, half a tram at Mother’s Wax Museum and two more derelict bodies at Benubana Chhaya, tram 611 running north of Tollygunge depot and more) – photos taken on various visits/days during our tour
What has changed in Kolkata since our last visit in 2011?
- CTC now part of WBTC (the CTC company aparently still exists but the name is no longer in use) – trams repainted into WBTC white & blue
- many lines closed (some maybe only temporarily) and most depots closed (but full of stored trams)
- only a small number of N class trams now in regular service (some older types exhibited at Tram World) – all other classes retired/stored
- all articulated fibre bodied trams stored out of service (even the ones they had not finished during our visit in 2011)
- construction of fibre bodied trams has been stopped (one unfinished articulated car and 7 frames for single cars sitting at Nonapukur) – Nonapukur workshops seem more-or-less out of use despite many workers still present there
- electric (battery) buses have been introduced by WBTC and also some air conditioned buses (higher fare)
- more metro lines running now but still no connection to the airport (under construction) – original metro trains (those without air con) retired
- Tram World Kolkata has opened at Gariahat depot (first as an event space but now just a backdrop to a cafe/restaurant/bar business) – phase 2 never opened to the public (i.e. there are some trams present that are not accessible to the visitors and some trams from phase 1 have been returned to storage at Nonapukur to make more space available for the cafe) – half of the depot is still in regular use
- tram “142” (really this is ex Staff Car 5) installed at Esplanade featuring models and other collectibles inside (acting as a “museum” with refreshments available – an entrance fee is charged)
- abandoned cafe project at Esplanade featuring three body parts of 2 trams (the missing front is outside Mother’s Wax Works as a cafe in the far away new town – and there are 2 more unidentified older tram bodies from an abandoned cafe/restaurant project in a park in Benubana Chhaya)
- line (route) colours have been introduced by painting the roofs of the trams but the paint is rapidly fading already
- all wooden bodied private buses have been taken out of service
- Works Cars: Flat Wagon 3 constructed from tram 583 (F.W.2 retired and on display at Tram World, I.W.2 and T.W.C. stored out of use in closed depots)
- Gitanjali tram 498″ introduced (this is ex S.C.6′ with the original Gitanjali tram 498′ becoming S.C.6″ on paper only but on display at Tram world without any number)