Mathura is renowned as the birthplace of Lord Krishna, and Vrindavan is the forested area near Mathura city, where Lord Krishna spent His early childhood. A number of temples scatter around Mathura and Vrindavan, both of which are renowned Hindu pilgrimage sites. Seeing the cultural and economic importance of the two places, the British had built a meter gauge rail line connecting Vrindavan with Mathura junction, a major railway junction in North India. This Janmashtami, let us look at how the historic railroad, connecting the places associated with Lord Krishna, is faring.
The 11 km branch line to Vrindavan from Mathura junction was opened way back in 1889. The line meandered through forested and scrub areas of northern Indo-Gangetic plains covering two stations – Masani and Vrindavan. The track is one of the last remnants of the vast network of meter gauge lines used in that area. The historic Radharani express used to ply in the metre gauge line even after independence. However, due to the lack of traffic in that route, the mainline express was replaced by a diesel rail car from Mathura junction. Even that proved to be unsuccessful and the line was subsequently closed for the past few years.
Several ancient and sacred temples lie beside the railway, including the birthplace of Lord Krishna. If the line is used as a heritage line, then tourists can hop on and hop off the train to visit nearby temples. In 2016, there were plans to run heritage tourist trains along the Mathura-Vrindavan railroad. There is a plan to restart Radharani express train services with only 3 coaches on a regular basis. However, the plan did not materialize owing to a lack of interest on the part of both the Centre and the State Governments and the line was soon forgotten. Recently in 2020, there has been a renewed interest to convert the slow-paced metre gauge rail line into a mass rapid transit system integrating Vrindavan with Mathura city. The project calls for the up-gradation of stations, rail tracks and trains to meet the modern standard of metros around the country. Considering that the Mathura-Vrindavan line passes through rural forested areas, and hardly attracted passengers, such a project may prove to be unviable. Nevertheless, a little up-gradation of the stations and metre gauge trains are required as both are in a dilapidated condition.
Whatever the plans may be, the railway line lies defunct for some years. The reason stated is that the line is making huge losses due to scarcity of passengers. However, the priests and pilgrims, who rely on cheap local transports are facing increased difficulties due to the closure of this railroad. Mathura and Vrindavan are important tourist destinations, and the railroad could have served both the locals and the tourists. Some other metre and narrow gauge railway lines like Nilgiri railway, Darjeeling railway, and Shimla railway have been converted to heritage railway lines, while some others will also be converted in the near future. While revamping stations, tracks, and trains are necessary, it should be done to preserve the heritage status of this railroad. A modern metro like the Noida metro with elevated tracks and high cost will disappoint both the tourists and the locals. So a heritage line could be a better option to revive the historic railroad connecting two important pilgrimage centres related to Lord Krishna – Mathura and Vrindavan.
Written by – Himadri Paul