Kochi: If everything goes well, the tourists would be able to soak up the beauty of Kochi backwaters while chugging through the longest railway bridge in the country. The Indian Railways is mulling to run a tourist train across the 4.62 km Vembanad Bridge, which connects Edapally with the Vallarpadam International Container Transshipment Terminal near here.
The proposal is under the active consideration of the railways, and a preliminary meeting had been held among the officials of the railways, Cochin Port Trust, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), and tour operators to discuss the viability of the project. The officials said that the response to the proposal from the tour operators was very encouraging.
Steam heritage trains would be carrying tourists on the circuit from Edapally to Vallarpadam terminal. If the tourist train hits the rails, it would be a new tourist hotspot for the travellers coming here. The rail journey can offer tourists something refreshing compared to the rather wonted views at the Marine Drive, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Tripunithura Hill Palace and Folklore Museum. The only addition to the tourism map of the city was the laser show - a Greater Cochin Development Authority initiative.
Though the city authorities had many plans, including an aquarium, on the anvil, nothing took off for one reason or another. Experts in the tourism field has opined that Kerala would be left behind if the state doesn't come up with novel tourism avenues.
The railways has taken the initiative to start the tourism circuit as movement of rakes through the bridge, which was built at a cost of Rs 450 crore seven years ago, is minimal. A special tourist train would also be operated for passengers of cruise ships by joining hands with the Cochin Port Trust and IRCTC. As per the proposal, the fare for foreign tourists would be Rs 600 per head. The special train service will be open for domestic tourists when there is no inflow of foreign travellers to the city. The tour operators will include the Vallarpadam rail journey in the current Kochi tour package.
Toy train services are available, which were started during the erstwhile British era, in many hill stations across the country. One of the railway marvels after independence is the Vembanad Bridge, but its tourism potentials were never tapped. Sadly, the structure now is a haven for anti-social elements.
Age-old steam engine
The 163-year-old EIR 21 steam engine was given a fresh lease of life by Perambur Loco Works in Chennai in 2010. The loco was built in the UK in 1855, and is the oldest steam engine in operation in India. After serving the Indian Railways for 55 long years, the steam engine was preserved in various rail museums across the country. After a long while, the age-old loco was put into service from Chennai to Avadi in 2010 after Perambur Loco Works took possession of the steam engine, which was kept in Kolkata. Now, this heritage loco is with Madurai Division, and will be handed over to the Thiruvananthapuram Division and brought to Kochi. The special heritage loco will be lugging only a single coach.
Eyeing Vistadome coaches
The authorities are gunning for the state-of-the-art swanky Vistadome coaches, which are used on Konkan stretch and in Arakku Valley hill station in Andhra Pradesh, for the proposed train service. The AC coach, with a seating capacity for 40 passengers, offers panoramic view of the surroundings with glass roof and 360 degree rotatable seats. These coaches would be a great attraction as they would provide an aesthetic experience to the tourists travelling on the heritage train through Vembanad Bridge.
Meanwhile, Kerala has given a request to the railway authorities to provide Vistadome coaches to trains running on the Kollam-Sengottai, Shornur-Nilambur and Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram (via Alappuzha) routes.
Mesmerizing charm of Kochi backwaters
The irresistible pulchritude of the backwaters flecked with mangroves, and dotted with the traditional Chinese fishing nets will be in full display during the rail journey. While travelling through the bridge, one could see the imposing Goshree bridges, the glitter and shimmer of city life on one side and the calmness and tranquility of life on small islands on the other side. The tower of the famous Vallarpadam church presents a breathtaking view from the bridge. The proposed tourist train, which starts from Edappaly, runs parallel to Thrissur- Ernakulam railway line for a while and then deviates from Vaduthala to pass through Idayakkara and Mulavukadu islands before entering the bridge across the Vembanad Lake to reach its destination Vallarpadam. More than 80 percent of the 4.62 km bridge is above water.
Longest rail bridges in India
1. Vembanad Bridge, Kerala – 4.62 km.
2. Nehru Setu, Bihar – 3.05 km.
3. Godavari Arch Bridge, AP – 2.7 km.
4. Mahanadhi Rail Bridge – 2.1 km.
5. Pamban Bridge, TN – 2.065 km.
6. Shatavari Bridge, Karnataka – 2.06 km.
7. Zuari Bridge, Goa – 1.3 km.
Fact file on Vembanad Bridge
Longest rail bridge and fourth longest bridge in the country.
Rail Vikas Nigam Limited completed the 4.62 km bridge in 27 months.
Afcons Infrastructure Limited was the construction contractor.
Construction was started in June, 2007.
Bridge was completed in March, 2010, and inaugurated in February, 2011.
The structure has 134 spans and 133 pile foundations.
Recognition for the bridge
Indian Concrete Institute’s the Best Pre-structuring Structure of the Year Award, 2010.
D&B Axis Bank Infra Best Railway Project Award, 2011.
CNBC TV18 Essar Steel Infrastructure Excellence Award, 2011.