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Long history of service

NIMI KURIAN

August 22 is Madras Day. What better way to celebrate the city than pay tribute to the historic railway station that is the "gateway to the south"?


Celebrating centuries of service to the traveller, the Central station has indeed a long and colourful history.

PHOTO: S. JAMES

DISTINCTIVE IN ITS RED COAT: The Chennai Central Station.

Every first-time visitor is amazed at the chaos and the commotion. Disembarking in the dim light of dawn, you are immediately confronted with people, luggage, trolleys, vendors carrying trays of seemingly unappetising food, urchins and black-coated railway officials. While music blares from the television set, there are also the never-ending announcements in different languages. But even in the faint light you are aware there is a method in the madness. This is the Chennai Central Station, and the excitement and the anticipation of what the city holds for you is apparent on the platform. Celebrating centuries of service to the traveller, the station has indeed a long and colourful history.

The Central Railway Station with its distinctive red building is a combination of styles — Gothic and Romanesque. With its round arched arcading it is indeed very grand.

Looking back

According to history, the Madras Railway Company began to network South India by railway as early as 1856. At that time the main station was at Royapuram. As with any successful venture, it was soon necessary to expand and a second station came into being. In 1873, the Madras Central Station was opened with just four platforms. George Harding designed the building. It took another five years for the work to be completed. Robert Chisholm suggested some improvements and trimmings, one of which is the Travancore `caps' on the towers. This redesigning effort took till 1900 to complete. The clock tower has four faces and is at a height of 136 feet. It is set to chime every quarter of an hour and every hour. In 1959, it was found necessary to do some more work. Madras being the gateway to the south, in 1998, the main building was duplicated and the station now had 12 platforms.

Today, approximately 200,000 people traverse the platforms embarking on journeys or arriving at Chennai. And another feather in its cap, according to a spokesperson for the Southern Railways, this station has the unique distinction of being the first railway junction in India to be placed on the cyber map.


Party time

Madras Day is a unique festival that commemorates the founding of the city. Though there are different accounts on the exact date when Francis Day, the East India Company factor came looking for cheaper cloth and ended up founding Madras in 1639, the city's historians have agreed upon August 22. Beri Thimanna, a dubash negotiated with the local governor of the Vijayanagar empire to enable Day and Andrew Cogan to purchase a "narrow spit of no-man's land". Madras was Britain's first major settlement in India. That a narrow sand strip has grown to a city of such proportions is indeed reason to celebrate.

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