Indian Railways scrapping Gujarat’s Billimora-Waghai service: Protests to save 107-year-old NG line

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December 17, 2020 12:26 PM

The Billimora-Waghai train that runs among the most forested routes in Gujarat was utilized for the transportation purpose of sag timber from deep forest areas.

Leaders from political parties have started a campaign pitching against the closure of this line. (IE)

Indian Railways Billimora-Waghai line: As many as 11 narrow-gauge routes and branch lines in the state of Gujarat are likely to be scrapped by the Western Railway. One of these narrow-gauge routes is the 107-year-old Billimora-Waghai line, which was started by Gaekwad dynasty rulers of the princely state of Baroda in the year 1913. According to an IE report, leaders from political parties have started a campaign pitching against the closure of this line. The 63 km long Billimora-Waghai narrow-gauge route and the 19 km long Choranda-Moti Karal route are among those five railway routes the national transporter had proposed to be preserved as industrial heritage in the year 2018.

According to sources quoted in the report, the Billimora-Waghai train that runs among the most forested routes in Gujarat was utilized for the transportation purpose of sag timber from deep forest areas. For about 24 years the Billimora-Waghai train was run by a steam engine. However, the steam engine was replaced by a diesel engine in the year 1937. The Western Railway zone, after Independence, took charge of the train. Before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the train which comprised of five coaches, made two trips from Billimora to Waghai, covering nine stations- Gandevi, Rankuwa, Chikhli, Dholikuwa, Unai, Anaval, Kala Amba, Kevdi road, and Dungarda. The tickets for this train service were available at Billimora, Unai and Waghai stations and the entire one-way journey costs Rs 15.

On December 10, a letter was issued by Mudit Chandra, executive director (Freight Marketing) of the Railway Ministry to the Western Railway GM, ordering permanent closure of 11 uneconomic narrow gauge sections and branch lines of the zone. The railway lines to be closed are Nadiad-Bhadran, Kosamba-Umarpada, Boriyavi-Vadtal-Swaminarayan, Ankleshwar-Rajpipla, Jhagadiya Junction-Netrang, Samlaya Junction-Timba road, Chhuchhapura-Tankhala, Billimora-Waghai, Chhota Udepur-Jambusar, Choranda-Moti Karal and Chandod-Malsar.

The train service was primarily used by the tribals staying in the interior villages in the district of Dangs. This South Gujarat region has no road connectivity to reach towns like Billimora and Gandevi for work to sell their agricultural produce. The Dangs district’s craftsmen also used this train service to sell their products to the shop keepers in these towns. Besides, the train service is also used by the students from interior villages to go to colleges in the towns.

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

According to Rawat, in the interior villages in Dangs, there are no health services and this train service is used by patients during a medical emergency to reach the towns for medical treatment in government and private hospitals. This service is also used by tribal people, who wanted to go to Surat and Mumbai, to reach Billimora railway station for further rail connectivity via broad gauge network, the report added.

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