Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Rourkela, Apr 15:
Unbelievable yet true! The Indian Railways has been offering a free ride to tribals on a train that runs between Karampada in Jharkhand and Bimlagarh in Odisha for the last 51 years.
This stretch of railroad lies in Naxal-infested Odisha-Jharkhand border. Though Railways have named the train as ‘Staff Shuttle’, locals fondly call it ‘Saranda Express’.
Never have passengers on this train purchased tickets to travel nor have they been asked for tickets by the Train Ticket Examiners (TTE).
Saranda Express chugs daily between Karampada railway station under Chakradharpur Railway Division near Kiriburu on the Odisha border up to Bimalagarh via Topadihi and Roxy.
None of the stations on this route which passes through the hills of Saranda forest sell tickets. Locals who are mostly tribals have been enjoying free rides all these years.
“Work on the Karampada-Bimlagarh rail route on the foot of the inaccessible Saranda hill range was undertaken in the 1960’s. There were no roads…no means to carry men and materials for construction. So after laying out of the railway line up to a certain distance and in the absence of roads, a rail engine with two/three goods carriage used to carry railway employees, workers and materials from Karampada to the construction site. Later in 1965 more carriages were added to transport materials for construction. Wherever the train used to stop en-route people used to board it and this is how the people of inaccessible Saranda forest region began their free train ride. The Railways have extended this free service to the locals of this underdeveloped region as a goodwill gesture,” said a local station master on conditions of anonymity.
“Though the Railways have named the train as ‘Staff Shuttle’, the locals call it ‘Saranda Express’”, the station master added.