October 23, 2010

A tete-a-tete between two heritage enthusiasts

Hi folks, you may not know it but Shri Rajendra Aklekar has been in correspondence with Dr Ardeshir Damania over the past one week over the subject of Bombay Railway history, providing pictures, notes, and useful bits of information. Raj is a tough guy to crack when it comes to railway matters, and runs an amazing site on Bombay’s Rail History. Railway heritage, like me, is his life. Once I said to him: “Raj, all this correspondence between you and Dr. Damania is getting so very interesting—keep it up, and do send me copies”.
.
Just scroll down to the post below. Here at the bottom you will find a picture sent in by Dr. Damania showing a 1930 shot of the Dharavi Receiving Station of the Tata Power Company Limited.
.
Raj was as excited over this picture as I was. On 23 October he wrote to me with a copy to Dr. Damania: “The siding between Sion and Matunga still exists. Will go there today and take a pic and mail it to you. There's a small substation just below the point where the harbour line crosses the main line on CR. And there is a BG line going in there. The crossovers have now been removed, but the tracks exists, all covered with bushes. The loco used to enter this small garage like substation. Shall get pics. –Rajendra.”
.
Raj is a perfect gentleman and when he promises you a thing, he keeps his word. I am reproducing two of the pictures he’s sent us. The first picture on the left shows the exact gate/iron fence where the siding used to enter the garage-like substation. All these pics were taken from a fast train moving towards Matunga station. The picture below shows the old sidings as they continue towards Matunga station. The small patch of white painted wall seen behind the middle OHE mast stands at the site where the rail link used to enter the Matunga workshop. Many thanks Raj for this bit of quick research.
.
Copies of these pictures were also sent to Dr. Damania and this is what the good doctor said in reply:
.
YES RAJENDRA, THE TATA POWER siding started just after the point where the Harbor line crosses over the GIP (CR) main line. The siding tracks entered the Tata Power Company Receiving station through a metal gate. The gate may not exist today but there may be a wall. The tracks if any would be rusted and covered with bushes. The level crossing on the Matunga side of the GIP/Harbour crossover point does not exist now and has been walled over. My father and I would wait for the level crossing to open for sometimes half an hour if it was a busy time. The level crossing used to be operated manually through a key system. There were two large "keys" as big as the palm of a hand. There was a very small "kholi" or cabin where both keys (one of each level crossing gate) had to be inserted for the signal to change to green on eitheir side of the level crossing. Similarly, the keys would only be released from the "lock" AFTER the signal had changed to red on both sides (up and down lines) for the gateman to pull them out of the lock and with each key in hand run to open the level crossing gates on either sides.
.
For many many years the man who operated the gates had only one leg, having lost the other leg during a shunting accident. Any railway yard employee who would lose a leg was given a level-crossing keeping job. There were many accidents during shunting of goods wagon at the railway yards like Wadala, Kurla, etc. as the shunting engine would push/pull before the man who was detaching or attaching a wagon had time to move out from between the wagons. Victims of such accidents were kept employed by the railways. The man at this Dharavi level crossing ran with one wooden leg from one gate to another across 4 track lines to open the gate, giving a stiff salute to my father as we drove across in our big black car (1930s to 1959). Then a bell would start ringing and the gateman would start to close one gate at a time and lock them. Only AFTER he had removed the keys from the gates and re-inserted them in to the lock in the cabin would signals on both sides turn to green/yellow. This fail safe system designed by the British prevented from any accident happening on the level crossing. Most of the leveling crossings with gates were manned by gatemen with only one good leg, the other would be a wooden one!
.
A. B. Damania
-----------------------------------------------
Pictures Courtesy of Rajendra Aklekar