Tramjatra 2023: Celebrating 150 years of trams in Kolkata

Kolkata is a city of rallies. The political rally, apolitical rally, cultural rally – you name it and the city has it. But, for the first time, the city saw a vibrant rally of Trams. Yes, our very own Tram parade, one of a kind, was organized by Calcutta Tram Users Association. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this historic parade. Thanks to Arghya for the invitation. Kudos & congratulations to all who made this possible! It was a day wrapped in nostalgia and hope.

The Celebration starts

As per history 150 years ago Trams pulled by horses were introduced in the city. The first one in Asia. A decade later, the steam engine came which was replaced by electric trams later. Decades after decades Tram has been ruling the streets of Kolkata.

Yes, we can have our discussions about how these green cars are being forced out of the cityscape through unfair means, a conspiracy around their existence, and the importance of their role in sustainability. We can argue congestion due to Tram is a myth, as it plies through its own track and any vehicle coming on the track is disrupting the tram and it is not the other way round. But, that is for another day. Today I just want to busk in the glory of the 150-year quintessential legacy of our city of joy.

Tramjatra 2023

Upholding the theme of Heritage, Clean air, and Green mobility, the Tramjatra of 2023 was both flamboyant and an important event. On 26th February, not one or two but 8 heritage trams, decorated for the occasion trundled out of the Gariahat tram depot. Amidst cheering crowds, the soulful music of the band, energetic dances, and the eagerness of the tram enthusiasts, one could not help but feel goosebumps.

I am a daughter of the 90s when the tender Trams had started losing their reign over the city roads paving the way to the ferocity of minibusses and autos. Yet, my earliest memory of Rashbehari avenue, my home street, is the rattling trams with their dinging bells going at regular intervals. And I did not want to refuse my son that beautiful memory. So Sunday morning I tucked him along to Gariahat tram depot. And I was elated to see the attendance!

Trams all the way

I will be honest to accept I expected a gathering of the older and mid-age population, who love to reminisce about the good old days and pay a visit owing a debt to their nostalgia. But when I saw the young enthusiasts like Sagnik, several school students, and a complete youth brigade working tirelessly to bring back the glory of the Trams my joy knew no bounds. And I wanted to jump in ecstasy like Feluda, “Achhe, achhe, Tram er jor achhe.” (Yes, Yes, Trams are still reigning)

And how to describe the tram beauties. Thanks to the Nonapukur workers, iconic trams from 1918, 1924, 1948, 1975, 1982, and 1988 – all decked up, were ready to hit the roads of Kolkata, as they used to do for a century & more! Can you believe it? Trams from the era before the First world war rattling towards Park Circus and some fortunate citizens like us are riding on it. It was an unforgettable experience.

Under the able leadership of Mahadeb Shi Sir, when the cavalcade of trams started trudging out of the depot with much pomp and gay, we were as if once again back to the hay days of trams. In the eighties and early 90s seeing one tram after another was a common scene. As our carcade moved steadily amidst flashes of the camera and awe-struck spectators on both sides of the road, I cannot explain the feeling. The biggest takeaways were the twinkling eyes and grinning faces of the pedestrians who stopped and joined the cheers, waving and smiling at the serpentine moving trolleys.

Yes, a history was created as the city celebrated 150 years of the only operating TRAM system in the country. A history that will help us pave a better, greener future.
And how was the ride? Sidhuda from Cactus with his musicians playing one beautiful song after another, ding dong bells of the trams ringing along and the cacophony of the streets joining the chorus. Blissful. Tony Graham and Roberto D’Andrea, former Melbourne tram conductors, came down to promote Tramjatra.

Reality Check

And the best news is we reached Esplanade from Gariahat in just 30 minutes. Yes, it was a Sunday, and buses and cars were hovering over the tracks less. But, that just proves the point, the trams aren’t slow, but the other vehicles are unruly.

Also just calculate the cost-effectiveness. A Uber ride to cover the same distance would cost you around INR 225 and you would spend about the same time on the road. So why not spend 1/10 of that cost on a transport that is gentle on our environment and greener? A cheap transport system which can be further modernized and can move 100 passengers together.

Relevance of Trams

Imagine 100 passengers in individual vehicles or trudging together in a comfortable tram car. Which scenario looks causing less congestion on the road? The government must improve its myopic view about trams. Across the world, when cities are bringing back trams here in Kolkata, the city that has India’s only surviving tram system, instead of upgrading the mass transit system is trying to reduce it only as a heritage service and make way for cars, buses, and the autos.

Just for your information, the current PM2.5 concentration in Kolkata is 4.1 times above the recommended limit given by the WHO 24 hrs air quality guidelines value. So more than the trams need us for their survival, we need trams for better living quality.

I will continue this Tram series because this city will do a sin if it does away with the brilliant opportunity to modernize the tramways and pave way for sustainable mobility and a useful mass transit system.

If you have not read already you can read my other posts on Trams

1. Trams in Kolkata are more than just heritage

2. Sustainable urban mobile plan and Trams in Kolkata

Signing off today with a few snaps of the event.

The Nonapukur Tram Workshops designed Balaka tramcar is a single carriage tram that looks very Italian!…very Milano!…including the orange-colored livery. Balaka was originally RS2, a CTC tramcar built in 1920, and is another example of the Nonapukur Workshops tram design and maintenance expertise. The greatest tram recyclers in the world. Balaka trams would be perfect for narrow streets like Rabindra Sarani. Clean, green pollution-free tramcars. (Gyan from Arghya)
Chaitali earlier Geetanjali build in 1945
The parade

Our little ones need to be more accustomed to the public transport system for the environment, for better mobility, and sustainability.

Save Trams. Save Kolkata.

P.S. This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter

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