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Explained: Why Gujarat is seeing protests to save a 107-year-old railway line

The narrow gauge train connecting Billimora in Navsari district with Waghai in Dang district was started by rulers of the Gaekwad dynasty of the princely state of Baroda in 1913.

The train was mostly used by tribal vegetable sellers. (File)

The Western Railways has decided to scrap 11 narrow gauge routes and branch lines in Gujarat, calling them unviable. One of these is the 107-year-old Billimora-Waghai line, once run by the Gaekwad Baroda State Railway (GBSR), against the closure of which political leaders have started a campaign pitching.

History of the Billimora-Waghai train

The narrow gauge train connecting Billimora in Navsari district with Waghai in Dang district was started by rulers of the Gaekwad dynasty of the princely state of Baroda in 1913. This was much before the Western Railway came into existence in 1951 with the merger of the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway, the Saurashtra, Rajputana and Jaipur state Railways. At the instance of Gaekwad rulers, the British laid railway tracks and it was operated by Gaekwad Baroda State Railway (GBSR) owned by Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The Gaekwad jurisdiction was spread across parts of Saurashtra, Mehsana in north Gujarat, and Billimora in South Gujarat.

The 63-km Billimora-Waghai and the 19-km Choranda-Moti Karal routes are among those five routes the Indian Railways had proposed to be preserved as “industrial heritage” in 2018. Sources said the Billimora-Waghai train that runs among Gujarat’s most forested routes, was used for the purpose of transportation of sag timber from deep forest areas. For about 24 years the train was run by a steam engine, which was replaced by diesel engine in 1937. After Independence the Western Railway took charge of the train from GBSR. In 1994, the original steam engine was put on the display at Churchgate Heritage Gallery in Mumbai.

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Before the pandemic lockdown, the five-coach train made two trips from Billimora to Waghai, covering nine railway stations — Gandevi, Chikhli, Rankuwa, Dholikuwa, Anaval, Unai, Kevdi road, Kala Amba, and Dungarda. The railway tickets were available at Unai, Billimora and Waghai Railway stations and the entire journey costs Rs 15 one way. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What was the railway order

On December 10, Mudit Chandra, executive director (Freight marketing) of the Ministry of Railways issued a letter to the General Manager of Western Railways, ordering permanent closure of 11 “uneconomic branch lines and narrow gauge sections” of the Western Railways which had given the proposal of its closure. The lines to be closed are Nadiad-Bhadran, Ankleshwar-Rajpipla, Boriyavi-Vadtal-Swaminarayan, Kosamba-Umarpada, Samlaya Junction-Timba road, Jhagadiya Junction-Netrang, Chhuchhapura-Tankhala, Chhota Udepur-Jambusar, Billimora-Waghai, Choranda-Moti Karal and Chandod-Malsar.

How does it affect the tribals

The train was majorly used by the tribals staying in the interior villages in Dangs district in South Gujarat, which has no road connectivity to reach towns like Gandevi and Billimora for work to sell their agriculture produce. The craftsmen of Dangs district also used this train to sell their products to the shop keepers in these town. So do the students from interior villages to go to colleges in the towns.

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Who want to save the train and why

Soon after the announcement to scrap the services, newly BJP elected MLA from Dangs, Vijay Patel, Congress MLA of Vansda in Navsari district Anant Patel and Bipin Rawat, a social worker of Waghai, started a movement to restart the services for tribals. Patel made a written representation to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal where he has said that it was the lifeline for the tribals and should ideally be upgraded and used for tourism. MLA Anant Patel started a relay of protest at each of the railway stations on the route.

Rawat claims there is no health services in the interior villages in Dangs and during medical emergency the patients use this train to reach the towns for medical treatment in government and private hospitals. Even the tribal people, who wanted to go to Surat and Mumbai, use this train to reach Billimora station for further rail connectivity via broad gauge.

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