A tete-a-tete (Contd)

IT APPEARS DR. DAMANIA LOVES TRAINS as much as any rail enthusiast, and in Rajendra Aklekar he has found a friend with whom he can share his views and receive good natured feedback, comments, hints and tips. Some days back Raj sent him a picture of the Bhor Ghat Reversing Station hoping to receive a comment, and here is what the doctor said in his reply dated 25 October 2010:

Hello Rajendra,
The reversing photo is great. Thanks. Here is what I know from my dad who had actually seen the "reversing" being operated during the days of steam traction from 1860s up to 1928. I have myself never seen it being operated as it was discontinued around 1928-29 when electric traction was introduced and a new tunnel (the last one in the ghats before Khandala Station) was constructed by the Tatas.

When the construction of the Bhor Ghat was undertaken under the supervision of James Berkley with over 40,000 labourers all went well until they came to the last section where they encountered a sheer block of granite mountain just under Khandala west of the Duke's Nose. The normal practice, as was the case with the Matheran narrow gauge railway, was to go around the mountain in increasing gradient in circles till the height is reached. But in this case the GIP engineers discovered that there was no place to lay the tracks in circles around the mountain (there was a sheer drop below the Duke's Nose). Since they did not have the equipment or the time to blast a long tunnel through solid granite rock, they came up with a ingenious "reversing" method that would enable a train to ascend the gradient to reach Khandala.

The trick was, that instead of going around the mountain, the reversing tracks were laid out in a Z-manner so that the train gained height by going to and fro in a Z-pattern gaining height with each arm of the Z. That is what you see in the photograph that you sent me.

The train would be pulled by two steam engines in the front and a bunker at the rear. Then the train would be pushed up in the "reverse" direction until the tracks ran out, and then finally once again in the forward mode till they had reached the height just below Khandala. There two short tunnels were constructed and the train arrived at Khandala at the point where was the main bazaar. All that changed when the Tata Construction Co. (a plaque is embedded in the rock at the start of the tunnel No. 25/ 26) managed to bore a tunnel with gradual gradient that resulted in bringing the tracks just outside the Khandala station. The two short tunnels that had been used with the "reversing" procedure were abandoned and the last time I went down (around late 50s) from Khandala bazaar and walked on what were the previous rail tracks (there were no tracks only flat piece of 'road') towards the two tunnels there were trees and bushed growing all around but the two tunnels were still very much there and it was rather eerie walking through them. Later, when the traffic increased, the Bombay-Pune highway passed through the same tunnels in the upwards direction (one way) and the old Bombay-Pune road up to the reversing was used for the descend only (one way). Recently with the completion of the Bombay-Pune highway the old Bombay-Pune road from the reversing up to Khandala may have fallen in to disuse. May be the two short tunnels below Khandala are still there?

The photograph above shows a steam engine pulling a goods train up the ghats at Khandala Station of the GIP Railway. The photo was taken by my father Mr B. M. Damania in 1915.


And here is Shri Aklekar's reply to the doctor’s question:
Yes. the tunnels are still there. The reversing station was pulled down to build the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. I had complained and expressed anguish with the railway ministry, but nothing came out of it and the reversing station was demolished.
I may have some pics of the place taken by my friends. Shall try and find them for you.

For rail heritage enthusiasts, here is yet another surprise from the collection of Dr. Damania , a grand sweeping view of the Bombay Poona Bhore Ghat under construction during 1863-64. This picture is like a window to the past ; I can almost imagine myself standing on the nearby hillock watching the workmen busy all through the day digging and shifting loads of earth from one place to the other, and engineers busy supervising the work with their theodolites and other instruments. When you pass this way again by train, it is good to have this picture in mind... just imagine the sheer manpower needed and the time spent in building a rail link over the Bhore Ghat ... all thanks to the good doctor for sending along this priceless jewel !!

Another interesting bit sent in by Dr. Damania telling us how the railway first came to Bangalore :  We are told that a dedicated Magneto phone was in use on stations in those days without a number dialling facility on it. It would be great if any such phone could be found lurking around in some museum or railway heritage gallery ; if anyone comes upon such a thing, do tell us about it. And now over to Dr Damania . . .

Bangalore’s first train had a steam engine for its loco, and ran between Cantonment station and Jolarpettai in what is now Vellore district of Tamil Nadu, beginning 1864. The first train was called Bangalore Mail and was run by Madras Railway, one of the dozen or so companies incorporated to develop a railway network in British India.

The city’s first railway link to the outside world was a meter gauge line and 149 kms long. Cantonment station, where one end of the link lay, had two platforms on either side.

The backbone of the service was not only the narrow gauge line but also the non-dialling Magneto phone for communication between stations. A dedicated line of sorts, the phone was widely used by the railways in those days and had neither a dial nor a number pad. If a user at one end rotated the handle, it would ring at the other end.

The Cantonment—Jolarpettai railway line was extended to Bangalore City station 18 years later. The earliest route catered to by the City station was Bangalore Mysore. While the Cantonment—City link was serviced by Madras Railway, the other services from the City station were operated by the Mysore State Railway. Two years later, in 1884, Bangalore City—Tumkur—Gubbi services began operating and in 1889, the line was extended upto Harihar.

Dr. A. B. Damania