With the second wave of coronavirus infections sweeping across the state, passenger traffic on the Shimla-Kalka heritage rail track has witnessed a 70% drop in the span of a fortnight.
Before the resurgence in cases, trains on the track were running at full capacity, especially the special vista dome coaches, which were launched in 2019 and are a major tourist draw. Shimla railway station superintendent Prince Sethi said, “The trains were almost running to full capacity but now only 30% passengers are boarding the train. There have been no bookings for the vista dome coaches.”
The new rail coaches have a toughened glass roof top, which enables passengers to have a broader view of their surroundings. The new rail car is fitted with night-vision closed-circuit cameras with LED screens, modern toilets, air conditioning and an infotainment system. The Shimla narrow-gauge rail line was constructed by the British in 1903 to connect the subcontinent with its summer capital, Shimla. The track is a UNESCO heritage site and five trains run on the track per day. After the outbreak, rail services had been suspended and had only resumed in December after 10 months.
Tourism industry hit
Amid the spike in cases, a slew of restrictions are being announced one after the other, bringing the tourism industry to a grinding halt in Himachal.
“The financial health of the tourism industry is already in a shambles as all tourism units had remained closed for seven to eight months last year. The industry was slowly reviving when there was a resurgence in cases and restrictions were reimposed,”said MK Seth, president, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Stakeholder Association .
“The stakeholders were at least getting some revenue to meet their expenses but the second wave of infections has broken the backbone of the tourism industry in Himachal,” he said.
Earlier, the government had announced that people coming from seven high caseload states — Punjab, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh need to carry a negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) report not earlier than 72 hours while visiting Himachal Pradesh from April 16.
Hoteliers demand concessions
The state traditionally receives heavy tourist rush from mid-March to mid-July, of which tourists from Gujarat and Maharasthra form the major chunk.
“It has become difficult for stakeholders to keep their units running due to shortage of funds. All advance bookings are being cancelled. The recent advisory issued by the state government, making it mandatory for tourists coming from seven high caseload states to bring a negative Covid report, has completely stopped the influx of tourists,” Seth said.
Hoteliers have demanded that the government subsidise tariff on water, property tax, and garbage fee for two years . It has further sought abolishment of demand charges and other fee charged from the hotel industry and demanded 75% concession on bar fee to save the ailing tourism industry.