17 November 2015

Century-old bridge over India's oldest rail lines to live on!

Rajendra B. Aklekar

rajendraa (@) gmail.com

One of the few oldest remaining road bridges over India's first train line in Mumbai will be demolished today as a part of an upgrade process to be replaced with a new one by the next year. However, the bridge will live on as old plaques and artefacts on the bridge would be carefully removed and incorporated in the new design of the bridge to retain its historic and heritage character. The Central Railway in Mumbai has issued a note saying that the bridge will remain closed for traffic on November 18 of vehicles and pedestrians as the dismantling process begins.

The old iron and stone Hancock Bridge between Sandhurst Road and Byculla stations on Mumbai railway was proving to be too low for new technology suburban electric trains, limiting their speed in the section and affecting the punctuality of the city’s lifeline as a whole.

The line from Mumbai CST to Thane was the first train line opened in India in 1853 and then called the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company. It was renamed as Central Railway in 1951.

“The new bridge that is being built will be taller and bigger, allowing even double-deck trains to pass under it,” a railway official said. The work is being done by the Central Railway and the local civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in co-ordination. The BMC had deposited Rs 2.6 crore with the railways for the demolition and shifting of utilities and pipes. Elaborate traffic diversions have been put in place due for the dismantling process. Details here: Traffic

The chief engineer of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation SO Kori said that the old plaque and other artefacts on the bridge will be removed carefully and embedded in the new bridge design. The plaque has dates of its construction and the bridge name carved in stone.

The original Hancock Bridge was built in 1879 and rebuilt in the 1920s. It was named after Colonel HF Hancock, who was a member of the Municipal Corporation and also its president between 1877 and 1878. The bridge has a simple stone carved inscription on stone blocks that says: 1879 - Hancock Bridge Rebuilt 1923.

Once work on this is over, the next on the agenda is to dismantle and replace the 147-year-old Carnac Bridge in January 2016, on the same line, closer to Mumbai CST. While the Carnac Bridge connects Crawford Market with the dockland area, Hancock Bridge connects old Mazgaon and Dongri areas. The Carnac Bridge named after former Bombay Governor James Rivett Carnac and a jetty named after him further east, has multi-lingual stone plaques that too will be saved during the upgrade.

While the three corners of Carnac Bridge, built in 1868, have the name of the bridge inscribed in three languages, English, Devnagari and Gujarati, the fourth side announces the dates of its opening and a symbol of an anchor.

Details and history of more such bridges and lines here: http://goo.gl/NtJhB4

15 August 2015

Old tracks on Central Railway Mumbai

Old track remains were found when a patch of land was dug up to be resurfaced near Vidyavihar station, near the railway car-shed along the Mumbai-Thane stretch earlier this week. The tracks had metal pot-type sleepers placed on 'chairs'. A few pics...

Churchgate head office historic plaque, Mumbai

Stunning interiors and walkway, Churchgate, Mumbai

Churchgate interior side. Rajendra B. Aklekar, 2015

More of glorious Churchgate, Mumbai

Churchgate interior side seen with the BSNL building in the background.

Glorious Churchgate railway head office, Mumbai

Churchgate interior side. Rajendra B. Aklekar, 2015

04 June 2015

Some success! Deccan Queen dining car is back!

The Deccan Queen finally got its dining car back on its 86th birthday. Here are the pics! Thanks everyone for support. Here's how we ran a campaign to get it back:

Article 1- 
Bye, Bye Dining Car & Article 2- Back Soon, Probably

And thankfully today it was back. The dining car offers table service for 32 passengers and has modern pantry facilities such as microwave oven, deep freezer and toaster. 

The dining car is also tastefully furnished with cushioned chairs and carpet.

17 May 2015

History in the making-- DC power -- Last 36 trains on Indian Railways

Mumbai local trains running on direct current (DC) power will become history on Indian Railways main line next week after 90 years.
The dust brown and yellow trains have been a Mumbai trademark all these years. The Bombay Railway History Group has been appealing to the railway authorities to save, if possible, a working model of Direct Current train as the technology will cease to exist on Indian Railways, but authorities do not seem too keen. While there have been promises to save a shell of the motor coach at museums, we thought a working model of the fading technology would have been wonderful.

During the last few decades, there were attempts too with amateur rail fans identifying a place near old Mankhurd railway station in Mumbai where short runs of such DC runs could be done, away from active service line, but nothing ever materialized. Such runs of course would involve cost and manpower to keep them operational.

Only 36 pure DC Electric Multiple Unit trains (26 9-car and ten 12-car) remain on harbour and trans harbour, which too will also b slowly converted, retrofitted into AC-DC.

All the locos have already been converted and no single pure DC loco remains today.
Read my report here

The Legend of Indian Rail Lines

Book Review

The Legend of Indian Rail Lines
By Ganpat Teli

‘Halt Station India: The Dramatic Tale of the Nation’s First Rail Lines’ by Rajendra B. Aklekar, Rupa Books, Delhi, 2014.
Sometimes when we travel in the trains, we usually think of how the railway made its ways in India? What was the story of the first rail line of the country? How the project was made and it progressed? What were the challenges before the mission of laying lines? What were the reactions of local people towards this strange happening? How this network of track spread all around the country. The answers of some of these various questions is ‘Halt Station India: The Dramatic Tale of the Nation’s First Rail Lines’ by Rajendra B. Aklekar. As railways enthuse, he narrated the story of advent and development of rail lines particularly in Bombay in this book. Sir Mark Tully rightly appreciated the book in the forewords that “Rajendra B. Aklekar’s meticulous research- and his scholarship which enables him to interpret his finding- throws new light on the way those railways were built- the laying of the lines, why they were laid where they were laid, how the demands on them changed and how they met those demands.” He collected facts from various sources and created this wonderful book by putting them together.
The first Chapter ‘The Story of an Experimental line’ of the book is an account of emergence and materialization of the idea of first rail line (not only) in India (but also in Asia). Though the activities related to the steam engines were taking place in India even before 1850 when architect of the first line of India James John Berkley landed in Bombay but the first formal passenger train service was flagged off on 16th April 1853 from Bori Bandar (known as VT) to Thana hauled by Falkland (the locomotive named after Bombay governor of the time Lucius Bentinck Cary, the tenth Lord Viscount of Falkland). Some other engineers also joined Berkley’s team at the site but couldn’t acclimatize with the weather condition and even succumbed to the death. The construction of the line was really a big challenge in a difficult terrain.
Aklekar noted down all the activities related to the construction of the first line, such as survey of the line, arrangement of construction materials, planning of line, arrival of locomotive and coaches, trial run, enthusiasm of locals and railway workers and finally the description of the first run. Apart from these details, Akelkar also noted socio-economic aspect of this development. There was not a very good relationship between English and local workers. Local workers were also on strikes with their demands. When trains were started running there were many reservations among the people of upper social strata. Rich and people belongs to the upper castes (both Hindus and Muslims) were not happy to share their space with the common people.
Next Three chapters of the book ‘Walking down the first Railway Line’, ‘The Romance of the Harbour line’ and ‘The Wonders of BB&CI Railway line’ are interesting reportage of tracking along the lines. Akelkar described the specifications of the station one by one and also traced the remains of the day. He thoroughly enjoyed the art of narration while telling the stories of the lines and stations. Line and Stations between Victoria Terminus and Thana have been gone through the winds of change but remains of Great Indian Peninsula Railways (now central line) are still there. Similarly he also journeyed the lines of Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway (Now Western Line) and Harbour line.      
Fifth chapter of the book ‘Nostalgia Along the Lines’ is an collection of the memoirs by the people of the early days of railways in Bombay. Next chapter, ‘Forgotten Lines and Lost Journeys’ is focused on the important lines and stations which don’t exist now. Bori Bunder, from where the first train of India originated is more or less existing in the name of UNESCO world heritage site Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and known as Victoria Terminus but Colaba, Bombay Backbay, Ballard Pier Mole, Mazgaon and Bhor Ghat Reversing stations are now became chapters of the History. Similarly Trams Services and some Industrial lines disappeared in the crowd of the cities. Author of the book devoted one separate chapter on the tram services in Mumbai. In the last part of the book he covered all the recent developments related to the railways in Mumbai, introduction of trains with new technology, mono rail and metro.  
Railway is a passion for Rajendra Aklekar and the same is reflected in this book. He narrated the story in a floury language. He is a well informed writer, he has every possible facts related to the particular person, event or item. For example he shows how the root of Musjid Bunder station connected with Tipu Sultan, the ballot boxes of first General Election of the India carried by railway from Mumbai to all over India and how the hall was cooled during annual session of Indian National Congress. Author also uncovered reason behind the naming of station as ‘road’. During the epidemic Britishers didn’t want to come in touch with local people so the rail lines were kept outside of the town and nearby station was named after the same town as road. Aklekar also provided old photographs of the various stations and lines. The book is a combination of a scholarship and fiction. On the one hand, he used various references from books, newspaper archives and journals; on the other side he has mastered the art of storytelling.

10 May 2015

Ticket coupon machines on Mumbai railway become history

The Coupon Validating Machines (CVMs) installed and developed 21 years ago by the Railways, as an alternate to the then ticketing system, will be going down the memory lane from 1stof May 2015. The Coupon Validating Machines (CVMs) also synonymous as the"Red Boxes" will be a matter of reminiscence, as the Railways has bid farewell to it once and forever.
          The Coupon Validating Machines (CVMs) and its Coupons were introduced in the Mumbai suburban section of W. Rlys on 15/08/1994. The basic idea behind the introduction of Coupon Validating Machines was to bring down the length of queues at the booking counters and to reduce the time taken for purchasing tickets. The commuter was required to purchase the coupon booklet available from the booking counters and punch the coupons of the appropriate ticket value at the machines installed at the stations, which print the station code of validation, date and time of validation, to undertake the journey on the Western as well as the Central Railway suburban trains. The coupon booklets were initially available with the denominations of Rs. 40 /- & Rs. 60/-, which was later increased to Rs. 50/- and Rs. 100/-. There were a total of 306 nos. of Coupon Validating Machines (CVMs) on the Western line for the convenience of the commuters.
It is worth mentioning that true to its concept, the Coupon Validating Machines was an instant hit among the general commuters, especially, for the occasional travelling masses, thus gaining momentum to its popularity. The average sale of coupon booklets was approx. 20,000 per day and used by approximately 1.70 lakh passengers daily, which amounted to 15% share of the total daily travelling traffic.
          The Ministry of Railways has discontinued the Coupon Validating Machine (CVM) Coupons with effect from 1st April 2015 and accordingly, the sale of CVM coupons had been discontinued w.e.f. 01/04/2015. However, the CVM coupons available with the commuters were permitted to be continued upto 30.04.2015 by stamping on the coupons.

Now, these Coupon Validating Machines (CVMs) and the coupon booklets are set to enter into the annals of Railway history as the same has been discontinued to make way for the more technologically advanced ticketing system of Automated Ticket Vending Machines (ATVM) and Mobile Ticketing. They are retired from Railway service and will find its place in the archives after the completion of its final innings on 30th April, 2015.

Story of the railway turntable


10 April 2015

Yes! Dining car of iconic train will be back

Two weeks after highlighting the fact that the dining car of the iconic Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen had been discontinued leading to strong reactions from regular commuters and rail fans, the Central Railway said they will get it back. Officers said they were working on building a new dining car for the Queen at its Parel workshop, trying to be readied by the train's 86th anniversary.

Moreover, they have now invited also suggestions from commuters with ideas on how the interiors of the train should look like.

"There is good news. The Deccan Queen will get a new dining car," tweeted Narendra Patil, chief spokesperson of Central Railway, breaking the news, leading an overwhelming reaction.
Patil said that we want the regular commuters and railfans to decide how should the interiors of the trains be designed. "All suggestions are welcome and they can be sent to us on our official email or tweeted onto the @Central_Railway twitter ID which we monitor every single day," he said.

Another top official said that the car is going to be manufactured at the Parel workshop. "Basically, a pantry car is being redesigned as a dining car and it will take two to three months to complete the entire process. The 86th anniversary of the Deccan Queen falls in June as it was on 1 June, 1930 that the rain had first run. We are trying to complete the process by that date but it looks difficult," the official added. 

He said the Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) is open to suggestions from railfans and users on the colour scheme, furnishing and decor of the interiors.

The iconic dining car had been discontinued after its codal life was over and it has been replaced with normal pantry car. The dining car offered a table service for 32 passengers and had modern pantry facilities such as microwave oven, deep freezer and toaster. The dining car had also been tastefully furnished with cushioned chairs and carpet.

22 March 2015

Bye, bye Deccan Queen dining car!

Rajendra B. Aklekar
Baked beans with buttered bread, cheese toast sandwich, omelette bread, pomfret bread with potato chips and chicken cutlet--people will no longer be able to sit and enjoy the popular items on the menu of 85-year-old restaurant-cum-dining car of the Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen.

The iconic dining car is no longer in service and has been replaced with a normal pantry car. Food items, however, will still be delivered on order. The dining car used to offer table service for 32 passengers and had facilities such as microwave, deep freezer and toaster. It was tastefully furnished with cushioned chairs and carpets, and food was served in customised crockery, and regular commuters are ruing the change.

Badlapur resident Amol P Nikam, who works for Infosys, queried the Central Railway (CR) about the dining car and was told that the car's codal life was over and it has been replaced with another one. "But sadly, the new one is a normal pantry car," he lamented.

"It is the end of an era. The railways should continue the legacy of the dining car, as it has history and was quite popular among generations of commuters," said Pune resident Apurva Bahadur, who has been documenting railways for more than 20 years now.

Borivali resident Akshay Marathe said, "The dining car was an integral part of the Deccan Queen experience. Its ambience complemented the delicious food. Sitting by a window of the car and sipping coffee while the train slowly wound its way up the Bhor ghats was heavenly. Without the dining car, Deccan Queen is incomplete."

Frequent Mumbai-Pune traveller Abhishek Risbud has fond memories of the Deccan Queen dining car. "Possibly the only train where you could get a fresh pizza. Baked beans with toast was my wife's favourite dish, while I liked chicken cutlet. It had fabulous seating. Food and beverages were served in nice crockery," he said.

CR officials said they will have to examine the feasibility of introducing a new dining car again. "As of now, the train has been given a pantry car, which stocks all the required food and beverages. It has been painted in the Deccan Queen paint scheme so that the coach does not look odd," said a senior official.

The Deccan Queen, initially, had only first class and second class accommodation.  First class was abolished on 1st January 1949 and second class was redesigned as first class, which continued up to June 1955 when third class was introduced on this train for the first time.  This was later re-designated as second class from April 1974 onwards.   The coaches of the original rakes were replaced in 1966 by anti-telescopic steel bodied integral coaches built by Integral Coach Factory, Perambur. 

These coaches incorporated improved design of bogies for better riding comfort and also improvements in the interior furnishings and fittings.  The number of coaches in the rake was also increased to 12 from the original 7 coaches providing additional accommodation.  Over the year the number of coaches in the train has been increased to the present level of 17 coaches.

From its inception, apart from providing high standards of comfort to the passengers, the train has witnessed various improvement such as introduction, for the first time in India, of coaches with roller bearings, replacement of end on generation coaches with self generating coaches with 110 volts system and introduction of first and second class chair cars providing increased accommodation to passengers.  The distinctive colour scheme of cream and oxford blue with red band above the window level has been recently adopted as the colour scheme for this train.

With the ever-growing aspirations of the travelling public for better amenities, improved standards of comfort and better quality of service, it was considered necessary to give a complete facelift to the Deccan Queen.

The rake was changed in 1995 with the following special features:

* All newly manufactured or about a year old, air brake coaches.

*The 5 first class chair car in the old rake have been replaced by 5 AC chair cars providing an additional seating capacity of 65 in a dust-free environment.  Also the 9-second class chair cars provide additional seating capacity of 120 seats compared to the old coaches.  Thus, new rake provides a total seating capacity of 1417 as against 1232 seats in the old rake i.e. an increase of 15%.

* The dining car offers table service for 32 passengers and has modern pantry facilities such as microwave oven, deep freezer and toaster. The dining car is also tastefully furnished with cushioned chairs and carpet.

*The history of Deccan Queen (Dakkhan ki Rani) is literally a tale of two cities.  The public of both the cities are happy with the impeccable record of “right time start” and “arrival” of Deccan Queen. Over the last 80 years of its colourful history, the train has grown from a mere medium of transportation between two cities into an institution binding generation of intensely loyal passengers.

*The management systems of Deccan Queen (2123 Dn / 2124 Up) have been assessed by International Services Ltd. and found to comply with the requirements of ISO 9001-2000 under the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand in November 2003.

*At Present Deccan Queen (12123/12124) runs with 17 coaches including 4 AC chair car, one Dining Car, 10 second class chair car and two second class cum brake vans.

rajendraa @ gmail.com
(Thanking Akshay Marathe, Aditya Kambli for pics and Amol Nikam for the query)

11 March 2015

Mumbai CST -- Stunning images of life in stone

Stunning images of life in stone. Playful bird carvings on Mumbai CST railway station building, world heritage site.

03 March 2015

Halt Station India -- Bestseller on Amazon.in

Yes.Yes.Yes. My book Halt Station India is now ranks first and is the bestseller in transportation series on Amazon.in. Thanks to all of you...

09 February 2015

Re-Discovered!!! An old turntable on Mumbai railway. Bandra yard

Complete set of pics of Bandra yard turntable on Mumbai railway.
-- Rajendra B. Aklekar, Mumbai (Bombay, India)

Sigh! Last set of diesel-hydraulic locos lined up for scrap!

Sigh! The last set of WDS-4 class diesel-hydraulic locomotives with vintage side-rods are lined up for scrap at Bandra in Mumbai last week. Only a few remain now. The first of the WDS-4 class engines was built in 1968 (numbered 19057 was named Indraprastha and had been homed at Shakurbasti shed, Delhi, for a long time. At Mumbai, they were lovingly called Pappu by the railway staff.

03 February 2015

Historic day! 90 years of electric Mumbai local

Historic day for railways today. A collage of images of the India's first electric train that ran on February 3, 1925 and an image taken in February 2015 at the same location. Sandhurst Road station. Harbour Line Mumbai Division, Central Railway.

31 January 2015

Romancing Indian Railways -- Halt Station India

Romancing Indian Railways: Top 4 memoirs of travellers of earliest trains in India

Nostalgic accounts of travellers who rode the earliest trains in India, personal journeys of men who who have written memoirs of their life and struggle in the US and East Africa and former Union minister Salman Khurshid’s account of Muslims in India. IANS bookshelf this weekend offers these delights. Take a look:
1.  Halt Station India
Author: Rajendra B. Aklekar; Publisher: Rupa, Pages: 205; Price: Rs.395
From the arrival of the first train and the subsequent emergence of a pioneering electric line – all in Mumbai, this book rekindles the romance with Indian Railways by highlighting the the rise of India’s original rail network. Written by journalist Rajendra B. Aklekar, the book draws from journals, newspapers and archives, along with “nostalgic accounts” of those who have traveled by the country’s earliest trains. It also captures the “economic and social revolutions spurred by the country’s first train line”. With a foreword by journalist and author Mark Tully, the book is peppered with images, maps and sketches.
2. Building Bridges: The Role of Indian Americans in Indo-US Relations
Author: Swadesh Chatterjee; Publisher: Rupa; Pages: 224; Price: Rs. 500
Not satisfied with simply being an immigrant success story, the author decided it was time to give back – both to his adopted land and his motherland. He took on a leading role in the burgeoning movement of Indian Americans seeking rapprochement between the United States and India after decades of Cold War misunderstandings and resentment. The author helped shape this movement and its strategy – and in the
process developed a new play book for the political empowerment of immigrants. This memoir is a chronicle of the ups and downs of that movement, a blueprint for younger Indian Americans and other immigrant groups raising their voices in the United States – and a deeply personal family story.
3. And Home Was Kariakoo
Author: M.G. Vassanji; Publisher: Penguin; Pages: 384; Price: Rs. 599
The author was born in East Africa, and like many Indian East Africans of his generation, he migrated to the West and made a life for himself there. But Africa remained his primal home – the land whose colours and smells most beckoned to him, the land in which his family roots went deepest. In this book, he travels to his homeland to draw a vivid portrait of East Africa today – always the melting pot of Asia, Africa and Arabia – and tells the story of the Gujarati Indians of that region for whom Africa is both home and not home.
4. At Home in India: The Muslim Saga
Author: Salman Khurshid; Publisher: Hay House; Pages: 392; Price: Rs. 699
As a former union minister who has held several crucial portfolios, the author, on the basis of his vast and varied experience, recounts how Muslims in India accept this country as their own despite many provocations and allegations doubting their patriotism.  In the process, he reinforces his contentions by providing numerous real-life examples of how the community has proved its commitment and capability by making immense contributions in almost all fields. This timely volume, which covers a wide span from the late 19th century to the present, succinctly brings out the pivotal roles played by a galaxy of distinguished Indian Muslims. The author describes how the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh and the Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi, came into being and how many of their alumni became part of the freedom movement and maintained communal harmony.