December 06, 2009

The Grand Chord Railway

The day is the 6th of December 1906. The place is an unknown town called Gujhandi close to Hazaribagh with a newly laid rail track alongside, winding its way through the hills. The Viceroy, Lord Minto has just finished securing a fishbolt on the track using a silver spanner, and amidst cheers and applause, the company of distinguished guests turn back to the shamiana. The band has struck up a lively tune, and the company seems jubilant and expectant . . . there is a feeling of triumph in the air. Finally the trumpets subside, there is an uneasy calm; Lord Minto rises, while Mr. James Douglas, Agent of the East Indian Railway and Lady Minto and a host of dignitaries look on with pride. The Viceroy clears his throat and begins:
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“Mr. Douglas, Ladies and Gentlemen – In the first place I must thank you Mr. Douglas for the kind words you have addressed to Lady Minto and myself in proposing the toast of our health. It has been a great pleasure to both of us to be here today, and I feel myself particularly fortunate in having had the opportunity of clinching the last bolt in the Grand Chord railway.
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“Mr Douglas has told us this evening, how the line has been contructed in separate sections, each of them calling for the exercise of the highest engineering skill. The Sone Bridge between Moghal Sarai and Gya, built by my friend Mr Palmer, is one of the great bridges of the world, whilst the distinguished abilities of Mr Highet and the careful construction of Mr Cockshott have triumphed over the difficulties of the Vindhya Range, and have completed the beautiful hill section over which we passed this afternoon . . . . ”
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These are the first few words of Lord Minto’s speech made on the occasion of the opening of the Grand Chord line on 6 December 1906, a hundred and three years ago, to be exact. Putting aside tedious details, the Grand Chord is the stretch of track connecting the Dhanbad area with Mughalsarai, and passing through Gomoh, Koderma and Gaya. Dhanbad lies in the coal belt of India, and prior to the construction of the chord, coal from the area had to take a circuitous route before it could make its way to the northern parts of the country. It also meant an additional travel of nearly a hundred kilometers for trains running from Calcutta to Delhi. The setting up of the Grand Chord line was a significant milestone in the growth of East Indian Railway, and the occasion of its inauguration was an event of the first magnitude. A programme leaflet published at the time listed the events planned in the following way:
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GRAND CHORD RAILWAY
--: Programme of Opening :--
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The timings of trains for conveyance of guests leaving Howrah on the night of the 5th December for Gya and arriving at Howrah on the morning of the 7th is given in the Abstract Time Table already issued.
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Early tea will be served on the morning of the 6th at Nawadah on arrival of the trains there, that is, at 6-54 to guests by the first train and at 7-19 to those by the second train.
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Breakfast will be served at Gya in the waiting hall adjoining the station between the hours 8-30 and 9-30.
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After breakfast the guest trains will proceed to Gujhandi, which is situated at the top of the hill section of the New Railway. At this place a camp has been pitched a little distance away from the line. Luncheon will be served at 1 p.m.
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The Band of the East Indian Railway Volunteer Corps will be in attendance.
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His Excellency the Viceroy will reach Gujhandi at 2-40 p.m. and will perform the ceremony of opening the Railway by inserting a fishbolt at one of the rail joints and fastening the same with a silver spanner.
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The ceremony being concluded, His Excellency’s train will proceed direct to Gomoh and the guest trains will follow as quickly as possible afterwards.
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Dinner will be at Gomoh at 7-30 in the hall adjoining the station at which their Excellency’s The Viceroy and the Countess Minto will be present. Guests are invited to assemble in the Shamiana adjoining the dining hall at 7-15. A copy of the plan shewing the arrangement of the numbered seats will be furnished to each guest.
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His Excellency the Viceroy’s special train is timed to leave Gomoh at 9-30 ; the guests’ special trains will run as shewn in the Time Table.
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Guests from Calcutta will kindly note that the times given in this programme refer to standard time which is 24 minutes behind Calcutta time.
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At the opening ceremony in Gujhandi, plain clothes morning dress will be worn ; at dinner at Gomoh gentlemen entitled to wear uniform will be expected to appear in menu dress.