A heritage railway is one of the biggest cultural attractions that any country can showcase with pride to the world. It is a railway line which carries passengers in the same way that they were several hundred years ago. They are shorter in length and are frequently showcased in museums. Their main purpose is reliving history and recreating the glories of the past. Heritage railways are not part of mainstream railroad travel as they are old tracks preserved in a state pertaining to a certain period in history. It contains rail infrastructure that is considered antiquated in the 21st century especially when compared to modern-day, high-speed trains. Heritage railways contain characteristic features like the hand operated switches, water cranes, and even rails fastened with hand-hammered rail spikes. They might be operated in the traditional manner with railway tokens for signalling. Some heritage railways even go the whole way and give their station masters and signalmen period-appropriate attire! Heritage railways are very often the last fully-functioning steam locomotives in their respective countries. Railways were built across most continents in the late 19th and early 20th century and were a critical component of the Industrial Revolution. Heritage railways thus form a major part of Industrial Tourism.
Key Heritage Railways Around the World
There are heritage railways in countries as diverse and far apart as Argentina, Finland, France, Germany, India, Canada, Brazil, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. All of them are considered national treasures and are flocked to by tourists from both within the country and around the world. Some of them like the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka-Shimla Railway have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, boosting their visibility and importance on a global level. To uphold the World Heritage Site criteria, these heritage railways must keep some of the traditional infrastructure and culture intact. While a few of them are highly profitable ventures, others are not-for-profit entities, and others still depend on donations from generous benefactors for the maintenance and upkeep. A small portion of heritage railways are actually used as public transport in some parts of the world and they can thrive with the help of regular passenger revenue and government subsidies.
Heritage Railway Trains: Restraints
There are several challenges faced by heritage railways in today’s age. One is simply modern day technology. Trains have come a long way from the steam locomotives of old which took days to travel cross-country to superfast trains which can transverse the entire distance in a matter of hours. People may not have the time to truly appreciate the beauty & historical significance of heritage railways. A second problem is purely financial constraints. While some heritage railways are highly profitable and can sustain themselves, others depend almost exclusively on generous hand-outs from benefactors or government subsidies. It may not be possible for them to thrive in the long-run purely on these sources of income. For e.g. - The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is truly the crown jewel of West Bengal’s heritage. There was a major concern that the line would be closed in the late 1980’s due to massive declines in both freight and passenger traffic. This crisis was only averted in 1994 by the formation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Heritage Foundation (DHRHF). Not all heritage railways might be able to be saved with a stroke of luck like this.
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