Sustaining an annual loss of around Rs 70 crore on the Kalka-Shimla route, the Indian Railways is gearing up to cash in on its heritage tag to pump up revenue.
First on the list is identifying and preserving the heritage on the route be it a set of vestibules from 1903 at Barogh station or a 100-year-old banyan tree at Gumman station.
“We are preserving everything that has heritage value. This route has the potential to generate Rs 500 crore annually and we are running at losses, this is a national loss,” said DC Sharma, Divisional Railway Manager, Ambala.
The route was given the tag of UNESCO heritage route.
Sources said the railways is spending Rs 80 crore on the route but it is only generating it a revenue of Rs seven crore.
Sharma said the railways was doing everything it could to promote its heritage. On December 5, he will hold a meeting with members of Indian tour operators association to find ways to convince them to include the heritage line in its packages, specially for foreigners.
“We want to give our coaches for charter, even provide catering if needed. We have plans to may be talk to hotels, banks, corporates to use these coaches for their retreats. We are also beautifying the route and have planted over 40,000 trees to ensure that as the train leaves Kalka, tourists can see greenery all around,” said Sharma.
Charters cost around Rs 20,000-40,000 per trip depending on the coach availed, officials said, but have found few takers. Railways, however, wants to promote the route for groups families or professionals.
The new transparent vistadome coaches which will run commercially in the next 10 days, could also be priced around Rs 700, say officials. Its transparent glass roof, allowing tourists to experience the snow and rain unhindered, could be the trump card the route needed to attract more tourists.
To attract more tourists, it is also set to bump the speed of trains running on the section, from the present 25kmph to 35kmph, to reduce the journey between Kalka-Shimla to less than five hours. A trial will be conducted this week.
Also, for the first time in the railways, the section will see a hop-on hop-off service, which will allow tourists to travel without booking tickets months in advance.
“We introduced this a month ago, but it will actually kick off in the coming tourist season between December 15 and February 15 when the tickets will be bought in large numbers. This is the first time that the railways has introduced the ‘hoho’ concept,” said Sharma.