Vintage Kolkata trams glam up to make a comeback

Mon Jan 5, 2009 11:42pm EST
 
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By Sujoy Dhar

KOLKATA, India (Reuters Life!) - They've been rumbling down Kolkata's roads for more than a 130 years, and now vintage trams are undergoing a makeover in their only home in India to entice commuters and reduce choking pollution.

For decades, the trams have fought a bitter turf war with cars and buses in Kolkata, a former British colonial capital and a city of over 15 million people considered an urban nightmare due to its belching public transport and congested roads.

The slow-paced but environment-friendly trams, which often fill the air with electric sparks as they trundle down their tracks, have been plying Kolkata since 1873, but over the years they have been abandoned in favor of faster transport, and their tracks have been pulled out to make way for more vehicles.

But now, the vintage contraptions are back in after a multi-million, government-funded makeover which began a few years ago. So far, 12 trams have been renovated at a total cost of over 14 million rupees ($290,000), with 12 more slated for renewal.

"After fears that trams might be phased out there is hope," says Zainuddin Khan, a tram driver for the past 30 years.

"The remodeled cars with the large airy windows are comfortable and they contribute nothing to the pollution levels," he added, steering a freshly painted white-yellow-green car out of a sprawling downtown depot into a narrow city road.

RENEW AND REVIVE

The Calcutta Tramway Company (CTC) has a fleet of 272 but only 100 trams trundle out of the depots, criss-crossing the city, often with a few tourists on board. Kolkata is the only city in India to have an electric tram network.   Continued...