October 19, 2010

Dr Damania on Bombay's Rail History

Dr Damania, a research scientist who was earlier with the UN, has an abiding interest in history which is evident from his posts here on this site (scroll down below to read his writings). Here are a few more nuggets on Bombay’s railway history from the boffin's prized collection. Many many thanks Doctor, and we look forward to having more such exciting pictures and material on the railways from you. Cheers!!
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SOME OF MY FATHER’S RELATIVES and my uncle worked for the railways in the 1930s and 40s. In the 1830s and 40s the railways were well established in England and they tried to do the same for Bombay. Poona being the cultural capital even at that time and a good hill station with a nice climate for the gora sahibs attempts were made to build a railway Bombay-Poona first. But the sheer wall of the western ghats made it a daunting task which the equipment available then could not surmount in the beginning. Steam power (even with 3 engines) was barely able to pull a train in the early days and instances of the train rolling backwards were common. My father (1893-1982) who had actually seen steam engines pulling the train up the ghats told me that the locomotives strained very hard (with very thick black smoke) and their heavy puffing made a sound which he narrated to me in Marathi "Ghata saathi, pota saathi, Khandala cha ghata saathi". He would repeat this 3-5 times in quick succession to make me understand how difficult it was for the steam engines to pull the train up the ghats even though there was reversing which he had also seen being used and would tell me how it all worked when we went each time by car below the viaduct before the last climb to Khandala on the old Bombay-Poona road.
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The Punjab Mail in 1930
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This is a picture of the Punjab Mail (1930) at halt due to some reason at a small station with platform only for stopping at all stations trains. The Punjab Mail is on the fast track going out of Bombay I think. This is definitely GIP railway and the electric masts are of the same type as the railway inspection photo below.
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Dadar Station with Steam Local Trains, 1923
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This is a 1923 photo of the BB&CI railway Dadar Station (the area on the west side of the station is still called "BB Dadar"). Notice that the local trains are being pulled by steam engines. There are no electric traction masts. This was at a time when there were no houses north of Dadar. It was all vacant land with targola and mango trees and infested with monkeys!
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The photo is taken from the South side of the station. The newly constructed "Tilak Bridge" can be seen faintly in the background. Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak Bridge is the oldest railway bridge in Mumbai. The amazing thing about this bridge is that it is made of only hard granite rock and hard English steel. The bridge is very important as it connects the east side to the west side of the city at a critical junction.
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Rail Inspection Pictures
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To the right are a couple of old photos of rail inspection, (1) during 1895, the earliest days, and (2) during the 1930s, between Matunga and Sion stations on GIP railway. About the second picture, we can’t be sure, it could have been taken beyond Bandra on the BB&CI railway, and not on the GIP. The targola trees always grow in the interior and not close to the sea, so I am thinking that the photo is beyond Bandra, perhaps somewhere around Goregaon.
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Arial Picture of the 1930s
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I have a picture of the Receiving Station of the Tata Power Company Ltd, Dharavi, of which my father was the Superintendent (he also held a pilot's license and was simultaneously also the Secretary of the Bombay Flying Club and hence his access to aircrafts). The rail lines just happened to be in the picture because they run very close to the Power Station (there were no slums at that time and Dharavi was just an extension of Matunga). The Power Station had a railway siding too. Whenever a wagon containing machinery or cables for the Power Station was to be delivered, a small shunting engine would bring the wagon and place it on the siding outside the gates. The engine would depart quickly because it would be holding up the up and down lines between Matunga and Sion stations. After that my father would order that the wagon be hand-pushed in to the Power Station. For this about 30-40 labourers would be hired. They would sing in unison so that all of them push the heavy 22 tons railway wagon in to the Power Station. I can still remember their cries and the strain their poor thin bodies had to be put to move the wagon inch by inch. As a young boy I felt very sorry for them as they sweated in the hot sun their bodies glistening. After the wagon was unloaded inside the Power Station, they would have to push it back outside the gates the same or next day (to avoid paying penalties to the railway) and wait for an engine to come and take it away. Sometimes the empty wagon would lie there for days, but outside the gate. The GIP or CR workshop was just next door and so finding an engine was never a problem, but once the wagon had left the Power Station's premises and the gates were shut it was the railways responsibility to take away the wagon. I wonder if the siding still exists? It was just after the level-crossing (which has now been canceled) on Bhaudaji Road. The Harbor line passes across on the top.
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Notice there are no slums on the left or the right except some government barracks. Also note that the GIP railway line had just been electrified. Also notice on the right a railway siding, between the targola trees, where a railway goods wagon would be hand pushed right up to the workshop on the extreme left by 30-40 labourers.
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Dr Ardeshir B Damania
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Photo credits : Mr B M Damania, L.E.E. (engineer, aviator, entrepreneur, adventurer, and businessman - born 1893, died 1982).