In a bid to ferry essential goods to nearly 5,000 residents of Matheran, a hill station about 80 km from Mumbai, Central Railway (CR) is all set to restart its parcel service. Trial run for the two-wagon “toy train” with a carrying capacity of 1.5 tonnes in each will begin on Wednesday.
This comes after residents of Matheran, where tourism has been badly hit by Covid-19, had urged the Bombay High Court to allow motorised vehicles to ferry essential goods to the town as handcart pullers had left for their hometowns.
Matheran, an Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ), depends on handcarts and horses for supply of essential goods. However, the cost of ferrying essential items the traditional way increased manifold during the lockdown.
Taking cognizance, the HC had allowed one tempo thrice a week to carry essential items until September while CR was asked to start the parcel service. The parcel service was started from Aman Lodge, a station about 2 km before Matheran, twice a day from May 22 but was suspended on June 6 owing to poor response.
CR’s toy train service from Neral to Matheran covers a distance of about 21 km. Neral station caters to both EMU trains and the toy train that runs on narrow gauge. Running parallel to the tracks is a road that goes up to Aman Lodge, the last station before Matheran. However, to go further to reach Matheran, there is no other connectivity but to take the toy train from Aman Lodge.
Matheran residents said essentials like milk and vegetables are needed in the morning while the parcel trains arrived in the afternoon that led to poor response. Manoj Khedkar, former president of Matheran Municipal Corporation, said the tempos carrying goods had to offload at Dasturi Naka and then the goods carried about 500 metres on handcarts and horses up to Aman Lodge station, then loaded again on trains. This, Khedkar said, pushed up the cost making the parcel trains unviable.
“Loaded vehicles should be allowed up to Aman Lodge station or parcel services should be run from Neral to Matheran that would resolve the whole issue,” said Khedkar.
CR is now looking at starting these services from 9:30 am from Wednesday. “We’ll look at the response to this service and then decide on the further schedule,” said a senior railway officer.
Raigad Collector Nidhi Chaud-hari said, “We have requested Central Railway to start its parcel service with revised timings. We’ll urge people to use parcel service bringing goods to their doorsteps.”
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