12 April 2013

Mumbai terror train on tracks

Mumbai's terror train on tracks

Mumbai's fitting reply to terrorism

Travelled in 864-A, back home from office late night… For starters, 864-A is the only surviving, restored and refurbished train coach of 11/7 Mumbai serial bomb blasts. It still runs smooth, ferries as many people as any other coach and no one is knows about or wants to know about its legacy. A silent and fitting reply to terrorism!

864-A was badly hit at Matunga. It was a part of the 5.57pm Churchgate-Virar train that day. The blast happened as the train on the fast corridor passing Matunga station. The first class coach had been originally manufactured in Kolkatta.

I remember first seeing the coach, ripped open and mangled standing still at the site under the Matunga bridge. The area had been cordoned off and politicians and VIPS, including Sonia Gandhi, had visited the station at Matunga to be with Mumbaikars. The coach reflected the horror that had unfolded on the city’s lifeline, leaving 186 dead.

The next time I saw the coach, it was at the railway workshop. Investigations were over and the coach had been handed over to the railways by the cops. A peep inside and it still smelt of blood, burnt flesh and scorched metal  and I vividly remember slippers and shoes were strewn and some bits of LIC insurance policy documents of some passenger who hoped to live.

The third time I saw the coach it was being refurbished. Of the seven blast-affected coaches, five were restored in one year at a total cost of Rs 1 to 1.2 crore but were slowly phased out in all these years. Two coaches had been immediately “condemned” as they were beyond repair. 864-A was the first to get back in tracks. It then smelt of fresh-cut metal and welding arcs, unlike the stench of blood and flesh of a year ago.

I remember faces of Chandrakant Mhatre, the technician team leader at the Western Railway’s railway workshop and Abdul Hamid, the welder who put back life into this coach. They were excited and explained how the entire roof had been severely damaged, besides widespread internal damage. The main frame of the coach, which is the skeleton of the structure, had sagged and needed replacement. Frames of the outer shell and the supporting rods were procured from original manufacturers in Kolkata. The coach ran exactly a year after the blast with painting of two doves on it signifying peace, flagged off by a railway babu from Churchgate station. The coach had been filled with more media men than commuters. This was in 2007.

A few years later the coach was forgotten, the doves vanished and so did its legacy from public memory. A few years ago, the coach was transferred to Central Railway and runs without any doves or markings. I have travelled in this coach several times now. Every time, I get into, I get memories of that stench, but am put off by the lively crowd and the dense rush crowd that gets into this coach, unaware of what it had been through. And such restoration is a rare thing…not done even to the coaches of the London subway trains that were hit by similar blasts. 864-A runs as national pride, I should say.

03 July 2012

Port trust yard may have city’s oldest rail wagons

Rajendra Aklekar
Mumbai: A rare set of century-old wagons, which were a part of cargo exchange with old British steamships, have been lying abandoned at the Mumbai Port Trust rail yard and could be one of the oldest ones in the city.
Railway officials said the four-wheeled old wagons belong to an era before the port trust lines were commissioned, and could be a part of the old British railway companies that operated in Mumbai then.
According to the book, The Port of Bombay — A Brief History, issued by the trustees of the Port of Bombay to mark the first centenary of Bombay, the port railway was commissioned from January 1, 1915. The port trust lines were not just used for conveying cargo, but also carry passengers and troops during wartime.
“1912 was the time when the docks were not yet completely developed. It was a time when cargo was ferried from and to British steamships and the port rail lines were its sole linkages,” said city historian Deepak Rao.
A scheme for construction of a port railway was first mooted in 1894. However, the project was later referred to a commission of inquiry headed by Sir Arthur Trevor in 1900, who recommended a line from Kurla to a goods depot at Mazgaon, with a connection to Mahim and linkages to the Prince’s and Victoria Docks, with a yard at Wadala. These wagons too were lying at the same yard.
“I think they can be preserved as national heritage. These wagons have been a part of history and witnessed the changeover of the city. I shall try to get the attention of the Mumbai Port Trust chairman and see what can be done,” said Prakash Binsale, former trustee, Mumbai Port Trust.

11 June 2012

British Bombay

A rare photograph of Bombay Municipal Corp headquarters taken from Victoria Terminus station, Bombay

19 May 2012

Oldest-ever relics of Indian Rlys found in Mumbai?

By Rajendra Aklekar, Mumbai: Officials of the Central Railway, the country's oldest railway line, have found treasure in their junkyard. 
A team of Matunga workshop officials, while going through the junk at Currey Road yard, stumbled upon old Manglorean tiles which date back to 1853, making them the oldest rail relic ever of Indian Railways. The first train in India had run in 1853.
"We have also found a 1930s diesel-fired Morris fire engine and rail bogies of the old era. We have set up a small heritage gallery of all these items inside the Matunga workshop," Jogendra Yadvendu, deputy chief materials manager, carriage and repair workshop at Matunga, told DNA.
Manu Goel, executive director (heritage) railway board, in New Delhi said, "This is an interesting piece of news. We will surely check them out."
The oldest surviving relics on Indian Railways as of today include a steam locomotive called Fairy Queen dated 1855.
These tiles have inscriptions of Alvares and Company, Mangalore. The company was named after Simon Alvares who had bought it in 1878. The Manglorean tile industry dates back to that era and was first set up at Jeppo, Mangalore, in mid 1850. The raw material for the tiles, namely clay or feldspar, was abundantly available on the banks of Netravati river.
Companies back then were known to manufacture tiles with special features, during their preparation in gas-fired kilns and with salt glazes, that would make them last longer. Tiles were transported throughout India, British East Africa, Aden, Basra, Sumatra, Borneo and Australia.
The earliest buildings of the railways had tiled roofs, and Manglorean tiles were a common part of rail infrastructure back then. Recently, during the restoration of Mumbai CST, officials had found similar Manglorean clay tiles, dated as early as 1865 and manufactured by Basel Mission Tile Works with its stamp on them.
"The fire engine was to be scrapped, as were the other bogies, but we took them over and restored them. Another interesting feature on display is the signal lamps that were used in the olden times," Yadvendu said.