OFFICIALLY RELEASED only recently, I've been fortunate enough to get one of the first copies of an information and picture-packed history, "Southern Railway: A Saga of 150 Glorious Years".
I'm delighted by the book and even more so by the fact that there are at least a couple of persons in the Railways who believe in documenting history the author, R.R. Bhandari, who has just moved from Southern Railway, where he was Chief Mechanical Engineer, to Western Railway as General Manager, and V. Anand, General Manager, Southern Railway, who supported the effort wholeheartedly.
The book might be short of the people element, but is an invaluable documentation of how the railways grew in the South, starting with the founding of the Madras Railway Company in 1845, with an early Arbuthnot (J.A.) at the helm, before any other railway company was formed to bring the Iron Horse to India. Government's apathy led to the company's dissolution and revival only in 1852 by which time the Great India Peninsula Railway and East India Railway Companies had been formed, both just edging out the Madras company in laying track and getting a railway going.
From those beginnings of the MRC there grew the `Sambar Idli Railway', the South Indian, and the `Mails in Slow Motion Railway', the Madras and the Mahratta, which merged with the Mysore State Railway and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, to form the Southern Railway in 1951, the first State-owned railway in India.
But Bhandari draws attention in his book to the fact that long before all this "The first proposals for rail lines in India emerged from the Presidency of Madras in 1832, much before similar proposals in the Bengal and Bombay Presidencies. Madras took the lead to build the very first rail lines in the subcontinent. In 1836, an experimental line was laid near Chintadripet.
This was followed in 1837 by a 3 ½-mile long rail line southwest of Madras connecting Red Hills and the stone quarries near Little Mount." I'm delighted that my `Madras First Always' has once again been vindicated.
I'm also happy to note all the efforts listed in the book that the Southern Railway is taking to preserve symbols of its heritage.
The list of architecture "proposed for preservation" includes, in Tamil Nadu, Egmore Station, the Scherzer (Pamban) Bridge, the GM's office at Central Station, the station itself, the Tiruchirappalli station and Division Office Building, Coonoor Station, the Armoury Gate at the Golden Rock workshop, the Royapuram Station (a big hooray, from me!), the old stone masonry water tank at Arakkonam and the old loco round house in Madurai.
A sadder note also recalls the fact that 40 years ago last December, one of the worst tragedies in the Southern Railway history occurred when, during a cyclonic storm, a 20-foot wave washed away the six-coach Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, everyone on board perishing, the number ranging from 115 to 200. Another victim of the storm was the Pamban Bridge, since repaired.
That bridge is a reminder of the route passengers once took to catch the Indo-Ceylon ferries, a service run by SIR's Marine Department, the only such department in the railways in India.
All this and more are part of a well-produced book that makes me glad to know that there is at least one Government organisation interested enough in its heritage to produce such a publication and that a Government press, the Southern Railway's own, has achieved such quality. Congratulations, Messrs. Bhandari and Anand.
Maybe you can get someone now to enlarge the book and bring in the human element.
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