07 September 2009

Remains of the first electric railway...

G.I.P.R seals on OHE masts find a home

Bombay’s first railway was not only India’s first, but also the Asia’s first. The first railway electrification scheme in India was inaugurated in February 3, 1925 along the same lines, and consisted of the Harbour Branch of the Bombay suburban lines of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIP Railway).

The first electric railway operated from Victoria Terminus to Kurla (16 km), using 1500V DC overhead traction. EMUs from Cammell Laird and Uerdingenwagonfabrik were used.

The OHE masts that were put up during the period are now being removed (2009) one after the other as the GIP Railway, now called the Central Railway moves ahead to switch over to an advanced AC traction.

The old OHE masts had seals with letters GIPR etched on them. The seals on one such scrapped poles were saved yesterday.

Rajendra B. Aklekar

30 July 2009

Western Railway: Heritage, Traditions and Legend

A. K. Jhingron; Western Railway, Mumbai, 2009; 239 pages, Rs 500
(With a chapter on relics in Mumbai by Rajendra B. Aklekar)
SHRI A. K. JHINGRON who held the office of General Manager of the Western Railway prior to his retirement in 2008 recalls the following incident: “I vividly recollect an incident of early 1980s. While working on Bikaner division on Northern Railway, during the course of an inspection of a station, I discovered in a locked room, amongst other things waiting to be condemned (D S Eighted, as called in railway parlance) a wall clock. On closer examination it was found to be a beautiful four feet tall wall clock, manufactured by M/s John Walker & Co., London and Glasgow in the year 1883. The Station Master, finding it old and unserviceable, was in a hurry to get it condemned so that he may get a new digital clock in replacement. My intervention saved the clock and it still adorns the wall of the office of Senior Divisional Operations Manager at Bikaner.”
Shri Jhingron’s act of rescue of this remarkable piece of antique treasure is no isolated incident based on the impulse of the moment. It reflects a lifelong passion and fascination with archival material and his preoccupation with preserving the heritage of the railways. Western Railway: Heritage, Traditions and Legend is a distillation of his experience both as a professional railwayman and a rail heritage conservationist, bringing to the reader a vast array of vintage items, richly illustrated and supplemented by a commentary that is both insightful and entertaining.
It is said that the student of rail history can approach his subject in one of the following two ways: by a study and perusal of archival material available in railway offices and libraries, or by documenting and seeking out historical details of artifacts that have survived to this day. The first is the approach of the historian, the second that of the archaeologist keen on preserving relics handed down by history. Shri Jhingron has chosen the latter alternative, but appropriately enough, begins his work with a brief exposition of the history of the Western Railway.
A substantial part of the system that came to be known as the Western Railway following India’s independence came from that colossal network of lines known as the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway. The BB&CI had its beginnings in a short stretch of track about 3.6 kilometers long from Surat to Utran, inaugurated on 10 February 1860. Further extension to the south was accomplished in 1864 linking Baroda with the metropolis of Bombay. The Western Railway system was unique inasmuch as it was made up of three networks of different gauges. The main trunk route was a broad gauge line commencing from Bombay and running northward passing through Surat, Baroda, Ratlam and Kota before joining up with the GIP line at Mathura. Running parallel to this was the metre gauge line connecting Ahmedabad with Delhi together with its offshoots, and finally a closely knit 2 feet 6 inch narrow gauge network spread mostly over the Gujarat area and made up of the Gaikwad’s Baroda State Railway and other systems owned by various ruling states.
The BB&CI Railway went from strength to strength with several steam loco sheds and workshops being set up for the maintenance of its ever growing fleet of locomotives and rolling stock. Some of these workshops even took up production work: the broad gauge saloon owned at one time by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaikwad and now on display at the National Rail Museum in Delhi was built as far back as in 1886 by the Parel Workshop of the BB&CI, while the Ajmer Workshop set up in 1877 went on the manufacture saloons, wagons as well as locomotives. Ajmer emerged as a pioneering railway establishment of its time, manufacturing over 460 locomotives before production ceased in 1945.
For the average rail enthusiast, the search for heritage all too often begins and ends with steam engines. The author adds sophistication to his approach, bringing together a heady mixture of engines and rolling stock, vintage station clocks and bells, architectural marvels, bridges and railway colonies. The BB&CI Railway head office building at Churchgate, built at the turn of the nineteenth century receives full attention within the text. From here, like a master story-teller, he weaves his theme around the subject of railway office buildings, workshops and residential bungalows before moving on to explore other untrodden paths.
Amongst the vast populace of Mumbai, few will be aware that Badhwar Park, the railway officers’ colony, is built over an area where once stood a graceful little station. Colaba railway station was built in 1896 and served as the terminus of the BB&CI Railway for nearly forty years before it was demolished and a new terminal, Bombay Central, set up to cope with the vastly increased traffic. The book provides several such fascinating insights and goes on to describe stations at Bandra, Porbandar, Morbi, Veraval and others, where we come across styles ranging from Saurashtra architecture to forms which clearly bear the influence of colonial type bungalows with their sloping tiled roofs. This chapter has some beautifully crafted sketches in colour. The author’s concern for heritage even embraces abandoned and derelict structures facing the possibility of demolition, and in true archaeologist style he explores the ruins of Jamnagar and Lakhajinagar stations, once fine specimens of station architecture but now lying in rubble and ruins after the Viramgam – Okha route was converted to broad gauge along a different track alignment.
Railway heritage preservation has been, until recent years, mostly a grossly neglected concern, but the setting up of the National Rail Museum in New Delhi in 1977, followed in later years by various regional museums across the country appears to be an encouraging sign of progress in this direction. Taking the lead in this field is the Western Railway which has come up with ‘heritage galleries’ at Churchgate, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. Each a miniature museum in itself, these galleries open up a window to the past presenting an astonishing variety of railway bric-a-brac ranging from crockery and cutlery used in refreshment rooms to builders’ plates, vintage signalling apparatus, station clocks and bells, archival photographs, models of locomotives and carriages, period furniture and lamps.
But important as these items of hardware are, they are not to be thought of as being all that rail heritage stands for. Shri Jhingron adds a pleasing touch by taking us on a ramble through the railway colonies on the BB&CI Railway before moving on to the exciting origins of some of the trains on this railway—and this includes the Frontier Mail—that went on to become legends.
Western Railway: Heritage, Traditions and Legend is a pleasure to hold and behold, regal in appearance and classic in style, telling us in quiet words of the timeless treasures of the past. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking material on the railway heritage of India. More than that, it points the way for future rail conservationists to follow.

------------------------------------------------------------Shri A. K. Jhingron joined the Indian Railway Traffic Service in 1971, and has served as Additional Member (Computerisation & Information Systems), Railway Board, New Delhi, before taking over charge as General Manager of Western Railway. Shri Jhingron, a post-graduate in History from Allahabad University is a keen rail heritage enthusiast as well. He has traveled widely recording his findings on heritage railways in Australia and other places in a brilliant series of articles which appeared in Indian Railways magazine. Nearer home, he has pioneered the setting up of the Heritage Gallery at Western Railway Headquarters, Churchgate, Mumbai, and has also authored a book on philately titled “Dak Tikton Ka Safar, Railway Par Vishesh Nazar”.
To order a copy of this book write to:
The Chief Public Relations Officer
Western Railways
MUMBAI - 400 020 (INDIA)

17 July 2009

Mumbai's local trains for museum soon

Rajendra B. Aklekar

THOSE dust-brown and yellow local trains that rattle up and down the city are set to retire. About eighty years after they were first introduced in 1925, the old technology trains will be now slowly phased out and in the next five years you won’t see them at all. But the railways plan to save the old train, one working model of the train will be preserved at the newly-planned 17-acre Lonavala railway museum. The new swank silver-violet trains are replacing the older lot, with rapid pace— a new train comes from the factory every Wednesday.

We may replace the old stock with new trains and convert a few of the existing trains to the new technology. The older trains and engines run on direct current (DC) technology, which is now obsolete and will be completely phased out in the next five years to be replaced with alternate current (AC) technology that is more efficient and saves power. The older local trains and DC locomotives will vanish. But we plan to preserve them for posterity at the new museum,” a Central Railway’s spokesperson said.

In fact, about only 50 locomotives of the DC power exist in the country and all of them are doing their duties in the Mumbai-Pune section. They are called the WCG-2 class engines and are a dying breed, but one of it will go to the museum too, promise railway officials.

“The Mumbai-Pune section has lots that one can be proud of like Asia’s first railway tunnel, first viaduct, old electric masts, the Bhor Ghat, that was one the steepest incline carrying trains in world. All of it deserves to be documented and preserved for the future generations. It is a remarkable story of how tunnels were built by blowing up mountains when there was no dynamite and huge stone and masonry bridges built,” Rajesh Agrawal, executive director (heritage) said.

The museum to be set up in 2 years time is a Rs 11.6 crore project and will be a railway theme park, connected to other global railway museums. It will be an old era township recreated, a first such railway project.

To begin with, we are setting up a small exhibition on railway heritage at Lonavala station in early October to welcome the Commonwealth Games players. “A small exhibition will make people aware of the heritage and should prove to be an attraction, LC Trivedi, chief rolling stock engineer said.

25 June 2009

Buried treasure: Row of arches at Bhandup station in Mumbai

A stunning find to announce. The Central Railway is building two new tracks between Kurla and Thane stations to decongest the suburban railway network in Mumbai. They have cleared the space of all weeds and whatever was lying there to flatten it up to lay the new tracks. During the process, it has been found by me that the old Bhandup station's stone platform has a row of arches under it. There are about 20 or more continuous row of arches under the platform.

It could be nothing at all and a simple drain, or some interesting old bridge (remember that Asia's first train pic) or an old cargo shed underneath. It is definitely worth a check.
I check them closely and they have quite old brickwork over the arch. The entire platform above is an old stone structure from the G.I.P Railway era. The platform is now not in active use, but was known to have salt department sidings and a narrower gauge line that originated from here to collect salt and bring it near the main lines. The smaller lines, called trolley lines, are no longer present, but the area nearby is popular as Trolley Lines.

It is more significant because the first passenger train in Asia had run in 1853 along the same route and Bhandup is one of the oldest stations on the line.
--Rajendra B. Aklekar

28 March 2009

Oldest tracks found near Thane

In a rare find, the Central Railway has unearthed some of the oldest rail tracks of “bull head” type that had been buried under debris since more than a century at the country’s oldest station Thane. India’s first train had ran between Mumbai and Thane station on April 16, 1853.

The “bull-head” type of tracks were used by the railways in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century and subsequently discontinued for use of flat-footed rails that are used till today. The tracks were found by a local contractor during work of building a water drain parallel to the Thane yard in the south side of the railway station.

-Rajendra B. Aklekar

07 March 2009

The end of old Bhandup station sidings

Saturday, March 7
The old sidings of Bhandup station behind platform number one, that were located in the Guest, Keen Willaims Company (popularly known as GKW Company) premises were finally demolished and uprooted on Saturday.
The rails comprised old heavy metal, cast iron pot sleepers. The station is on the line of India's first railway line run by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR) and had also played host to the first railway in 1853.
Though the uprooted rails do not belong particularly to the first railway, they were a part of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR). All the uprooted rails have been piled up to sold off or scrapped. Exclusive pictures of the removal in process.
-Rajendra B. Aklekar

08 February 2009

Indian Railways and the local language

A research paper by Rajendra B. Aklekar

Indian Railways. It truly reflects India! It is complex, sometimes unwieldy and unmanageable, and yet full of life. It prospers against all odds! It is not just a transport organization. It is a great social institution. So many things may go wrong in the country, but the Indian Railways somehow manages to keep its head up above the waters, and it always runs the trains, serving millions of people everyday! Indian Railways is patient with and sad about those who try to bring damage to its network of passenger and goods trains, hoping that these people one day will repent for their sins and recognize the merit of the institution that has served the nation with great distinction.

Language communication on Indian Railways

This institution of merit has evolved very interesting language policies since its inception. Since the railways are a public transport, serving people from different regional, ethnic, and linguistic groups, the policy of the organization has been geared towards communicating with its passengers using their language and script. Advertisements, announcements, information signs, cautioning remarks within the compartments, and helpful suggestions about the use of the toilet facilities, and so many other areas of contact within and outside the train and in the railway station have been presented in the dominant language and script of the region. The ultimate goal is to help its passengers to have a pleasant journey! In a country where literacy has been low for generations, the Indian Railways chose to give the essential information using visuals as well.
Indian script in Indian RailwaysThe answer to the question "When was Indian script used first on the Indian Railways?" is difficult but not impossible to find. A quick study done on the subject by me has revealed some interesting facts. This study is a part of the comprehensive research I have undertaken on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. The facts mentioned here are some quick references on the use of India script in the Indian Railways, researched from various academicians and official sources.

The first Indian train

The first passenger train ran on Indian soil on 16 April, 1853. It had 14 carriages and three engines reportedly lcoally called - Sindh, Sahib, and Sultan. The opening of the railway in the East was a major occasion and the day was declared as a public holiday in the city of Bombay. 1853, just four years ahead of the First War of Independence, otherwise called the Sepoy Mutiny!
Preparations for this great event might have been done on a grand scale, and special attention might have been devoted to the decoration and embellishment of the locomotives and its carriages. And if we go by the conventions and the traditional practices of the day, I have no doubt that some pujas to the engines, to the railroad, and other equipment might have been performed by the Indian people associated with the project for divine intervention.

The people’s language

It can be safely stated that the public notices and general instructions put up in the carriages had to be in the language the people understood. Hence, the strongest possibility is that the carriages of the first train in India must have had the scripts of Marathi and Urdu, besides English, for the signboards. There is a reason for that.
Marathi, being the local language of Bombay, was given preference. Since Hindi, as it is today, was not yet evolved then (1853), the spoken language used then was Hindoostani. The scripts of Persian and Urdu had had been widely written in upper India. But the British government in India had already laid down a policy to give preference to the local vernacular language.
"Yes," says M. S. Thirumalai, the editor of the online monthly journal Language in India, http://www.languageinindia.com//. "I can only guess that the system of writing in the Indian vernacular must have been introduced right from the beginning when the first train started moving from Bombay to Thane."
Thirumalai says, in his personal communication, that the then British India language policy was to use the Indian vernacular, (they used Persian only for a brief period). The replacement of the Perso-Arabic script for writing Hindi was done even before the first Indian War of Independence in 1857. Since Marathi was being written in the local script, the first train in India, I assume, must have had the Indian vernacular script.”
“Marathi was written in Modi script at that time. Devnagari script for Marathi was adopted after several decades of that date. This means that even assuming that the first train's coaches had words or sentences written in Marathi, the script was not Devnagari as we call it today,” adds another expert Ravindra Rao.
With the introduction of the competitive examinations for the civil services in 1853, and even earlier, the British Raj had introduced an incentive scheme for the officers of the civil services to learn and use Indian languages in the British Raj administration. The use of the Indian vernaculars in government documents and properties had been encouraged by the British rulers.

Proof in government records
What Mr. Thirumalai says seems correct. Further research on the subject by me has more or less proven the fact that the local language was, indeed, used in one of the references to the earliest inscriptions found in the railway infrastructure in Bombay.
According to the Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island, published in 1909 by the executive editor and secretary of the gazetteer department of the state government of Maharashtra, the Frere bridge - named after the Governor of Bombay, Sir Bartle Frere, and built by the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CI) in 1866 at Grant Road, has an inscription on the bridge in English, Marathi, and Gujarati.
Similar is the case with the Kennedy Bridge (English, Marathi, and Gujarati), the Wodehouse bridge (English and Marathi), and the French bridge (English, Marathi, and Gujarati). Gujarati was prominently used on the BB&CI Railway as the third language because the line had come down from Surat to Bombay. The common sense approach of the Indian Railways to the linguistic complexity of the country is evidenced in this early record.
The Great Indian Peninsula (GIP) Railway, however, used Urdu as the third language on its system as its script was readily available.

More proof

The practice of using English, Marathi, and Urdu did continue for some period. About seventy years later, the official picture released by the Central Railway's Chief Public Relations Department showing the crowd awaiting at Kurla station dated 1925 (nearly 70 years later) for the country's first electric train has the name of the station painted in three languages - English, Marathi, and Urdu.
So, we can safely conclude that the GIP Railway used English, Marathi, and Urdu as its first, second, and third language respectively. After the Constitution of India was formed in 1950, the railways decided to use English, Hindi, and the local language. Since the same train may pass through several states, the carriages always had more than the minimum two languages. The notices always carried the main languages of the states through which the trains ran.
Since Marathi, the local langauge in Maharashtra, and Hindi, the national language, share the same Devnagari script, a local resident not understanding English can still read and comprehend the Hindi version of the message, unlike the local resident of southern India, whose lcoal language has a distinctly different script than that of Devanagri.

Prominent Hindi terms used on Indian Railways

I give below a list of some Hindi terms that are commonly used on the Indian Railways. Satish Pai, the moderator of the Indian Railways Fans Club Association mailing list has taken some effort to gather this list. Although these are classified here as Hindi terms, some (not all) of these are widely used or understood in many areas of India.

· 'Dibba,' a passenger car (coach).
· 'Maal Gaadi,' a freight (goods) train
· 'Patri,' the tracks
· 'Karshan,' electric traction
· 'Kaka,' (Bombay division) a driver
· 'Aagwalah,' (also anglicized as "Augwala"), literally fireman, but generally used for the assistant driver even today.
· 'Chhavni,' Cantonment
· 'Chhoti rel,' (colloquial) MG or NG (literally, "small rail")
· 'Baramasi,' permanent-way worker or gangman. (Literally this means '12-month-er', referring to the nature of gangman's job, which requires going out at all times, and in all kinds of conditions.)
· 'Bada-fast,' is a mixed-language term; 'bada, 'big in Hindi.

The following are some of the "official terms" used in Hindi translations by the Indian Railways.

· 'Shayan yaan,' sleeper coach
· 'Paryatan yaan,' tourist coach
· 'Vatanukool,' air-conditioned
· 'Vatanukool kursi yaan,' AC Chair Car
· 'Vatanukool shayan yaan,' AC Sleeper Car
· 'Rasoi yaan,' pantry car
· 'Upari upaskar,' pantograph
· 'Chalak,' driver
· 'Sahachalak,' assistant driver
· 'Parichalak,' guard (?)
· 'Aaybhaar,' tare weight
· 'Mandal,' division
· 'Samay saarani' timetable
· 'Khekda' = crab, affectionate name for the WCG-1 locos; see the entry above on 'crocodiles'.

There are quite a few terms from other Indian languages also used in the terminology used by the Indian Railways.

To conclude

Since 16 April, 1853, the Indian Railways have come a long way. The Indian Railways today rank as the largest rail network in Asia and the world's second largest under one management. Indian scripts have now firmly established itself on the railways front --- so firm that there's also a Rajbhasa department in the Indian Railways.
Unfortunately, the Indian linguists have not done any serious research on the use of Indian languages in the Indian Railways. More than any other wing of the government, the Indian Railways have been receptive to the communication needs of its patrons. It is important to study the language policies adopted by the Indian Railways because these policies could provide some useful models for language use in India. The syntax used in the linguistic styles used by the Indian Railways needs to be studied in depth. Likewise the study of the technical terms used in the loco sheds would throw light on the dynamic nature of the coinage of technical terms by the railway personnel.

(Rajendra B. Aklekar is a Mumbai-based journalist, an amateur railway historian and founder of the Bombay Railway History Group http://www.brhg.4t.com/ )