The mess at Madras

In the beginning there was Madras Central.

It became Chennai Central in the 1990s.

Someone must have got ideas from this :

NSC Gomoh

and

KR Bengaluru station

And now we have:

MAS new

and

MAS new bldg

To be really accurate, it should replace MGR by Marudur Gopala Ramachandran. Maybe one could add Menon at the end.

However, official railway sites such as NTSE and IRCTC prefer to call it by something shorter, such as MGR Chennai Central. I doubt if boards on trains use the full form.

Continuing in the same vein, we can look forward to

Kalaignar Dr Muthuvel Karunanidhi Egmore* Railway Station

and

Puratchi Thalaivi Dr Jayalalithaa Jayaram Amma Tambaram Railway Station.

*Eshumbur if one uses the original Tamil name, as you can see from the Hindi sign here:

Chennai Egmore

If this picks up in the rest of the country, there would be further new names such as Atal Behari Vajpayee Gwalior and (God forbid) Pratibha Patil Amravati.

 

Odd station signs in Chennai

Note these station signs where the Hindi inscription seems to have been taken from Tamil rather than English:

Now compare the sign of Park Town above (top right) with the nearby Park:

Chennai Park

One wonders about the logic.

Finally, a similar one from Coimbatore:

Coimbatore North

Travels in Chennai-ancient signboards

Our first stop is at Basin Bridge Jn (BBQ), where we have examples of ancient and modern signboards:

The food-minded may wish to hold a BBQ here, though you may have to first find a military hotel nearby.

Nearby there is Washermanpet, though the sign painters have some doubts about the name:

The official name is Washermanpet in the timetables. Also note the mis-spelling of the Hindi name. No picture of any new signboard seems to be available on the net.

Some years ago I have seen signs with Chromepet and Cromepet co-existing. Another well-known case is Hafizpet/Hafizpeta in the Hyderabad area.

An example of a run-down signboard in a totally run-down station:

Royapuram

Again, no picture of a new signboard is seen on the net. Tragic, as this station has the oldest surviving station building in India.  It was the first terminus in Madras where trains started running to Arcot (now Walajah Road) in 1856. The old terminuses in Mumbai and Kolkata had opened before this but the station buildings do not exist now. However, it now boasts a new electric loco shed.

Another station which is particularly obscure, as it does not seem to be mentioned in timetables even though it has a booking office which issues tickets. No picture of any new signboard can be located.

Pattabiram military siding

 

Chrome in Chromepet, Power in Powerpet

While travelling by train in the past, one would have often come across stations with strange-sounding names and wondered about the origin of the names. Now the internet has made it easy to answer these questions. To begin with, there is this suburban station between Chennai Beach and Tambaram:

Chrompet

It was listed in earlier maps and timetables as Chromepet. Now what is its connection with chrome?

The answer lies in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromepet#Etymology

The name came from the Chrome Leather Works which used to have a large factory there.

Note the mismatch between the English and Hindi inscriptions.

Also in Chennai is this station with this antique signboard:

Washermanpet

As you would guess, the place gets its name from the humble dhobi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washermanpet#History

Also note the misspelling of the Hindi inscription.

And this is its counterpart on the Singapore metro:

Dhoby Ghaut

The signboard reflects the run-down condition of Washermanpet and Royapuram, the latter being the oldest functioning station building on IR. It was the main terminus at Madras when trains started running in 1856. This signboard reflects the condition of the station which has somehow escaped demolition till now:

Royapuram

Finally, we visit this station next to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh:

Powerpet

Does it perhaps have something to do with the Marathas such as Sharad Pawar? Some of them spell their name as Powar*

However, Wikipedia has this to say:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powerpet

in which the name is said to be in honour of Sir Power, a railway engineer. I could not find anything else about him. But it is wrong usage, as the correct form is Sir Ravindra Jadeja and not Sir Jadeja.

*The Powar clan, however does seem to be connected to this station near Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh:

Powarkheda

Travels on Chennai’s local trains-1

Today we visit one of the little-known branches, and another which has not had passenger services for several years.

First the line from Pattabiram to Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot:

This map portion shows the line branching north of Pattabiram station.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir///@13.1218124,80.059481,16z?dcr=0

And here are the stations on the branch:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir///@13.137882,80.062249,16z?dcr=0

A typical timetable:

Pattabiram branch from MAS side

Note that the station of Pattabiram Military Siding (PTMS) does not seem to have been shown in the timetables for a long time, although trains stop there and tickets are issued from there.

PTMS ticket

It appears in the “official” Railways route guide:

Pattabiram branch

although this does not show Pattabiram station (PAB) where trains do stop, though on another platform a little away from the main line. Sometimes it is difficult to assess which official source is correct.

Similarly from the other direction:

Pattabiram5

Pictures of these stations:

Hindu CollegePattabiram E DepotPattabiram military sidingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Note the “antique” sign in the 3rd picture. More recently a new sign has been put up.

Now we come to the forgotten line from Villivakkam to Anna Nagar, which had EMU services for a few years in the early 2000s which stopped some years ago.

The story is told here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Nagar_railway_station

Pictures of these stations:

 

Villivakkam is also a famous railfanning spot as main line expresses get up to a good speed there.

 

From the Indian Railway timetables of 1975

The All-India Railway Timetable was the “Bible” of a section of railfans until 1977 when it was replaced by “Trains at a Glance”. The Indian Bradshaw started sometime in the 19th century and appears to have vanished a few years ago. And then there were the timetables of the individual zones. Unlike the All India RT and Bradshaw, they carried the zonal maps as well. They survive today as a sort of hybrid, an example being the Western Zonal Timetable which includes the Central, Western, West Central and North Western Railways.

Today, however, we look at some extracts from the maps attached to the Southern and South Central Railway timetables issued in November 1975. It is instructive to compare them with the maps of the present railway systems in those areas.

First, the inset showing the Madras area:

madras-area-1975

Notes: Many more stations have come up on these suburban sections since 1975.

See the MG lines extending up to the Tondiarpet yard. It was a bit startling to observe a YG next to the BG tracks while travelling north from MAS in the late 80s. Others have seen YAM1 electric locos there.

Madras has long become Chennai, while Madras Park and Madras Chetpat have since been contracted  to Park and Chetpat. (However they are listed as Chennai Park and Chennai Chetpat in the RBS tables). Not the first time that official names in the Railway’s own databases are not the same as the names on the signboards.

The Villivakkam- Anna Nagar branch came and went in the 2000s.

This map shows Veysarpadi which was and still is a cabin and not a station. Vyasarpadi Jeeva station came later.

And the mapmaker forgot the existence of Madras Beach station, where once MG lines met an outlying BG line.

The Hindi signboards in this area are curious in that they use Hindi transliterations of Tamil words rather than Hindi words. Today we have:

Chennai Beach : Chennai Kodikirai in Hindi

Chennai Fort: Chennai Kotte

Park: Punga

Also, Egmore is revealed to be the Anglicized form of Eshambur.

The Hyderabad area:

hyderabad-area-1975

Notes: Husain Sagar Jn was a functioning station at that time, while James Street station vanished soon afterwards and was revived with the MMTS in the 2000s. Many new stations appeared when the MMTS started. Today Husain Sagar has a large signal cabin while the platforms of the long-vanished station can still be seen.

The short-lived Telapur-Patancheru branch appeared some years later and has now vanished. If you keep your eyes open you may see the abandoned station of Telapur west of Lingampalli, from where the branch departed to the north. There is some talk of reviving this branch as part of the MMTS.

Note the forgotten siding to Trimulgeri, which was more commonly spelt as Trimulgherry.

An intensive suburban system with YDM2 diesels served the MG suburban sections running north and south of Secunderabad. Now, of course, you will not see any MG line within a few hundred km of the Hyderabad area.

 

Update: The line to the mysterious station of Pattabiram Military Siding

Update: In June 2018 the Southern Railway floated the idea of ending the through EMU services between  Chennai Central/Chennai Beach  and the branch to Pattabiram Military Siding E depot. This was a consequence of the accident on May 5, 2016 when the Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram Mail collided with the side of an EMU which was crossing the main line to go to the Pattabiram branch. A contemporary report:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Loco-pilot-to-face-action-for-Pattabiram-accident/articleshow/52159697.cms

A more recent report:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2018/jun/19/ptms-emu-trains-may-terminate-at-pattabiram-1830178.html

Here it is mentions that EMUs will shuttle between Pattabiram on the main line to the terminus at E depot, which means that passengers will have to get off there to change trains.

In situations where crossing on busy multiple lines is involved, overbridges may be used where the line crossing has heavy traffic. An example is the bridge carrying the harbour line over the WR main line north of Bandra. A few more can be seen on main lines. Examples are in the vicinity of Barddhaman and Mughal Sarai. But in this case the traffic on the trains to E depot is not so heavy, so the commuters will have to face the inconvenience of changing trains.

We look into the geography of this peculiar branch which is among the more obscure corners of the Chennai suburban system.

First, a map of the region surrounding Pattabiram on the Chennai-Arakkonam section:

Pattabiram1

From Chennai to Arakkonam (right to left) you will pass Hindu College, Pattabiram and Nemilichery in succession. Note the turnoffs towards the north from Pattabiram. There are several EMU locals a day from Chennai Central and Chennai Beach to Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot, where the E supposedly stands for Engineering. There are turnoffs from both sides of Pattabiram station, although no scheduled passenger service uses the the one on the east.

As you would have read, one of these locals was moving from one track to another when the Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram Mail collided with its side, probably after over-running signals. Or there may have been malfunctioning signals. Fortunately there were no fatalities although eight were injured.

Those familiar with this route would know the separate platforms for the branch which are to the north of the main line. After turning north and crossing the West cabin, the line passes the station called PTMS and then continues to another station called Pattabiram Military Siding E Depot (PRES) where the EMUs terminate. That would be clear from this map, which shows the area slightly north of the first map.

Pattabiram2

You can check the timings of these trains and find no reference to PTMS.

Of course, in this era of Google Maps blanketing the country it is impossible for any station to hide its existence unless it is in a restricted area. But 2005 was a long time ago. In March of that year I spent a few days exploring the unknown corners of Chennai including almost all of the suburban rail network existing at that time. I visited the now-vanished branch to Anna Nagar, and later took one of the locals bound for PRES.

After crossing Pattabiram West cabin the local came to a halt. The station sign said Pattabiram Military Siding, which I took to be the terminus. I found it odd that some passengers continued to sit in the coach. The train then zipped off towards the north to its ultimate destination.

It was then that I realized that this was a “ghost” station with no mention in timetables.

Fortunately a picture of the sign could be found on the net:

Pattabiram military siding

Not sure when this picture was taken, but clearly this was painted a long time ago compared to other signs in the Chennai area.

Here is a newer sign at the same station:

PTMS new sign

And here is a recent picture of the station at E Depot. Note the full name on the signboard:

Pattabiram E Depot

 

Some years later, when the RBS charts became available on the net, I found the Railways finally acknowledging the existence of the “orphan” station:

Pattabiram4

and if you approach from the west:

Pattabiram5

It is strange that this table does not acknowledge that the trains from the east do stop at Pattabiram station (though at a platform slightly away from the main station).

If you still doubt the existence of this station, it does have a ticket counter which issues tickets to all stations in the Chennai region, as you can see from this ticket I purchased on 24 March 2005:

PTMS ticket

It’s a long, long way to Gummidipundi (76 km at Rs 16 at that time), but only a railfan interested in studying the Chennai network in detail would make this journey.

 

DC traction on India’s railways-sidelights

Much has been written about the final days of DC traction in Mumbai, more specifically on the Harbour line from CSTM to Vashi which was the last holdout of this form of electrification on the Indian railways. This is not exactly true – the Kolkata metro will continue to be on 750 V DC indefinitely, and it is officially a part of the Indian Railways (unlike the metro systems in Delhi and elsewhere).

At its peak, the 1500 V DC system in Mumbai covered these sections:

WR: Colaba to Churchgate to Virar

CR: CST Mumbai to Pune and Igatpuri via Kalyan

CST Mumbai to Mahim and then in parallel to WR up to Andheri

CST Mumbai to Kurla via Harbour branch and then to Mankhurd,Vashi and Panvel.

(Mankhurd was the terminus until the 1990s).

Diva-Vasai Road

(Apart from CR and WR, some lines of the Bombay Port Trust were electrified with DC as well).

A typical news item about the conversion of the last route:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Harbour-line-trains-run-on-new-25KV-AC-traction-from-today/articleshow/51762468.cms

What most railfans may forget is that 3000 V DC existed on some routes out of Howrah for about a decade and 1500 V DC on one metre gauge route out of Chennai for several decades.

From an official IR publication of 1964, we can get the early history. It makes things simpler if we use the names of places which were prevalent at that time

The years of completion were:

Bombay VT to Poona and Igatpuri: 1930 (299 route km) on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, predecessor of the CR

Churchgate to Virar: 1936 (60 route km) on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, predecessor of the WR.

Madras Beach to Tambaram: 1931 (29 route km, metre gauge) on the South Indian Railway, predecessor of the SR.

Howrah-Bandel-Burdwan

and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar: 1958 (142 route km) on ER.

Coming back to Bombay, the VT-Reay Road section was opened in 1925 with electrification, as the 1 in 34 gradient at Sandhurst Road was felt to be an insurmountable obstacle to any other means of traction. Diesel traction existed but was not considered a serious option at that time.

Reay Road to Kurla had been running on steam since it was opened in 1910.The extension from Kurla to Mankhurd was completed by 1927 and was electrified in 1936.

The Karjat-Khopoli branch was one of the first lines opened in India (in 1856, when it became the railhead for Poona for some years). It seems to have been electrified only in the mid-90s and timetables of 1994 show diesel-hauled passenger trains on the CR main timetable (not the suburban timetable).

The Diva-Vasai Road line was built in the 1980s and was electrified with DC soon after it was opened.

On what is now the WR, electrification was completed to Borivli in 1928 and to Virar in 1936. Colaba was the terminus for long distance and local trains until Bombay Central was opened in 1930, and the lines between Colaba and Churchgate were electrified but this line itself was closed at the end of 1930. Churchgate has been the terminus for local trains since then.

The short stretch from Madras Beach to Tambaram was electrified at 1500 V DC in 1931. Apart from the EMUs on this route, long distance trains continued to run on steam from Madras Egmore. By 1967 the Tambaram-Villupuram section was electrified at the then standard voltage of 25 KV AC and the Beach-Tambaram section was converted to AC to enable through running up to Villupuram.

After independence, the first steps towards electrification of ER lines out of Howrah were taken with Howrah-Bandel-Burdwan and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar being completed by 1958. These too were converted to AC in the mid-60s, and virtually all subsequent electrification in India was at 25 KV AC. The only exceptions were the extensions from Mankhurd to Vashi and then Panvel, Thane to Vashi and extensions,  and electrification of Karjat-Khopoli in the 90s which had to match the existing DC system in Mumbai.

Some of the DC locos from ER were converted to 1500 V DC and sent to CR, where they continued to serve for many years on the slopes of Bhor Ghat and Thull Ghat. Some EMUs were also converted and sent to WR and CR with mixed results.

More about DC locos, AC/DC locos and operational aspects to follow.

Spotlight on the Arakkonam airfield

Arakkonam (formerly Arkonam) is well known to railway followers because it is an important junction as well as electric loco shed, but has recently come into prominence because the inundation of Chennai airport caused some commercial flights to be operated from there. To be precise, this is the NAS (Naval Air Station) at Arakkonam which the Navy calls INS Rajali.

Most basic information can be seen here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Rajali

Although it started off as an IAF base in the 1940s, it was abandoned soon after WW2 and was reactivated for the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy during the late 1980s. The TU-142s and now the Poseidon P-8s have made good use of the 4.1 km runway which has been claimed to be the longest military runway in Asia.

Here you can see the locations of Chennai international airport (MAA), IAF Tambaram and INS Rajali marked with the small gold stars.

Chennai area

One can see that INS Rajali is about 50 km west of MAA, while IAF Tambaram is only 10 km away. At least there is no chance of a confused airline pilot landing his 747 at INS Rajali by mistake, though this has happened once at Tambaram in recent years.

Here is a closer view of INS Rajali:

INS Rajali

Though it is not very clearly shown, the railway line from Chengalpattu runs along the highway right by the boundary wall of the base. The Railways have been planning to electrify this section for a long time but the Navy have objected to the presence of the traction equipment being an obstacle to the flight path. Thus an alternative line is being built further from the airfield, but this seems to have dragged on for several years.

The diverted rail line was completed in mid-2019. EMU trains could now run all the way from Chengalpattu to Arakkonam. It was proposed to run circular EMU services on the Chennai-Chengalpattu-Arakkonam-Chennail in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

This new line is not shown in this map.

This is not the first time that military airfields have been used a a backup. Sulur for Coimbatore and Avantipur for Srinagar are other examples. The inaugural flight of Jet Airways to Coimbatore did land at Sulur by mistake. Apart from the Saudia 747 which wrongly landed at Tambaram, there have been several incidents including a mid-air collision and another which totalled a DC-8 which were caused by the proximity of BOM to Juhu. More about these later.

With all these movements of heavy aircraft, it is fortunate that this airfield has not seen a major aviation accident yet. However, India’s experimental AWACS on an Avro frame did crash a few km away in 1999, apparently putting an end to DRDO’s efforts in that direction.