Mannargudi, its mafia and its railway connections

Today we hear a lot about this nondescript town in Tamil Nadu:

mannargudi

It is not even in the top 20 cities of Tamil Nadu when ranked by population. However, the term “Mannargudi Mafia” has come to mean a group of people connected with the CM-aspirant Ms VK Sasikala. Google for “Mannargudi Mafia” if you are not familiar with this aspect of TN politics. For instance, see: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/slideshows/nation-world/all-you-wanted-to-know-about-sasikala-and-mannargudi-mafia/what-is-mannargudi-mafia-/slideshow/57021899.cms

Even Wikipedia cannot find anything out of the ordinary here except for the presence of some moderately important temples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannargudi

Ms Sasikala was not born here, but at a more tongue-twisting place called:

ttp-jn

Mercifully we can use the station code for TTP here. It is maybe a little bit larger than Mannargudi. While Mannargudi has enjoyed a railway revival of a sort in the last few years, TTP has not seen trains running for the last few years due to gauge conversion. It also used to have a branch line running to the quaintly named Point Calimere (later Kodikkarai) but that line may or may not be reopened.

Of course, the phrase Mannargudi Mafia sounds catchy, just like the Maharashtra Mafia and Malayali Mafia we may have heard about elsewhere. How about a Mathura Mafia or a Moradabad Mafia? In other countries there may be a Manchester Mafia or a Massachusetts Mafia, but probably not one from Maine as it is not important enough in US politics.

We now move back to the strange history of the railways in and around Mannargudi and its feeder junction Nidamangalam:

nidamangalam

(Note the new trend of mentioning the PIN code on station signboards).

In the early 1860s, the predecessors of the South Indian Railway built a broad gauge line all the way from Erode to Trichnopoly, Tanjore and Negapatnam (those being the spellings used at the time). A wayside station now called Sikkal was then listed as Sickle.

By the mid-1870s, the South Indian Railway Company (with HQ at what is now Tiruchchirapalli) had decided that MG would be used through most of its territory. By the end of the 1870s the above mentioned line from Erode to Negapatnam was converted to MG. An MG extension to Nagore was opened in 1899, and a branch from Nidamangalam to Mannargudi still later in 1915.

Erode to TPJ was converted back to BG in 1929. The rest of the route to Nagore became BG only in around 2000. Extensions were made to Velankanni in the south and to Karaikal in the north.

However, the branch from Nidamangalam to Mannargudi had a few trains running on the 14-km route. There were two intermediate stations -Rajapayyam Chavadi and Haridranadhi (which have now vanished from the railway map, apart from the Great Indian Railway Atlas). I remember seeing this route in timetables of the 1960s and early 1970s. But it is absent from the 1975 timetable. This 1975 timetable does have the Mayuram-Tranquebar and Peralam-Karaikal lines which were closed soon afterwards. The Mannargudi branch was also thought to have gone the way of the dodo until a few years ago.

Though not considered to be from the Mannargudi Mafia, the DMK leader TR Baalu set his sights on improving things in the region around Thanjavur. His somewhat complicated political career can be seen at more length here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._R._Baalu

Essentially he served as a minister in both NDA and UPA governments up to 2009. Although he was not in the railway ministry, he appears to have been instrumental in getting the branch to Mannargudi reopened in BG in the mid-2000s. It now has a variety of express trains to different parts of Tamil Nadu and even to faraway Bhagat-ki-Kothi near Jodhpur, better known for its large diesel shed and for being the terminus of the Thar Link Express to Munabao.

Here you can see the station’s list of trains:

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/mannargudi-mq/9633

The 4 daily trains include a DEMU passenger to Tiruchi, another passenger to Mayiladuturai and expresses to Chennai Egmore and Coimbatore. Then there are a tri-weekly express to Tirupati and a weekly express to Bhagat-ki-Kothi. Not bad for a place which used to have only shuttles to Nidamangalam.

Presumably the local population is happy with its new-found connectivity to different corners of the country.

In contrast, the broad gauge line from Salem to Mettur Dam had no passenger services for several years (although goods services continued). These passenger services were also revived in recent years but still has rather limited services:

http://indiarailinfo.com/departures/mettur-dam-mtdm/6593

Travels in the deep South

Today we have a longish account of a series of train trips (mainly Tamil Nadu and Kerala) in 2006. Includes the now-vanished Sengottai-Punalur MG line, the jinxed bridge at Ariyalur and much more. For instance, why would Harry Potter feel at home at Tirunelveli Jn? Why should a North Indian not take punga at Park station in Chennai? Why do internet users dislike the small station of Senji-Panambakkam near Chennai? And who are Kerala’s notorious Gang of Four? All these important questions are answered below: Trip Report_ Southern Odyss..

The long and short of it

The first of a series of posts devoted to the railway stations of India (mainly) and other countries. Today we look at stations with long names. There are estimated to be over 7000 railway stations in India where passenger trains stop, and a fair number of others which are only for goods trains. There will be some with long names and some with short names. As we see later, there are others with peculiar names. As most people with some acquaintance with the railways know, the longest station name is this one in Andhra Pradesh between Arakkonam and Renigunta. It is adjacent to the border of Tamil Nadu and is on one of the “Golden Quadrilateral” routes linking Mumbai and Chennai. A few slow passenger trains stop there.

Venkat

This is now sufficiently well known to appear on jokes like this:

Venkat-2

Or this one, though you need to be familiar with the film “300” to appreciate it:

This is Venkat

However, it pales into insignificance before this example from Wales in the UK.

Llanfair

This station is on the main line to the port of Holyhead (for Ireland) and several trains stop there. The name originated as a sort of local joke but the people there thought that the place would become a tourist attraction-as it is indeed the longest station name in the world. Many tourists have their picture taken there. The timetables lists it as Llanfair PG. Incidentally it is close to an air force base where Prince William flew helicopters for a while.

There are a few multi-word stations in India which are quite long, such as this one near Hyderabad:

NPA

The timetables usually list it as NPA Shivarampally, which will send bankers into a panic. It is actually the National Police Academy where IPS officers are trained. Another unlikely-looking candidate is in the suburbs of Chennai:

VOC

This started off as “Tondiarpet Marshalling Yard”, itself quite a mouthful. Later it was named after a well-known freedom fighter. His full name was Valliappan Olaganathan Chidambaram Pillai (1872–1936), popularly known by his initials, V.O.C. (spelt Vaa. Oo.Ce in Tamil), also known as Kappalottiya Tamilan “The Tamil Helmsman”. Of course, the local people are quite happy to call it VOC Nagar. Most of the long names are in Southern India, though the North has a few such as Fatehabad Chandrawatiganj Junction near Indore. I could not get a picture of this, so I have to manage with a clip of the timetable. It  would be the longest-named junction in India.

FTD

North India has some multi-word examples such as Giani Zail Singh Sandhwan. Many of the two-word station names seem to have appeared because the station serves two villages of similar importance and both have to be mentioned. The region around Jaisalmer has many of these:

Jaisalmer

One station near Kharagpur goes a step better with Narayan Pakuria Murail (Flag), the flag indicating that the train stops only when flagged down by the station staff or if a passenger tells the train staff. These seem to occur only in timetables of eastern India. In this particular case the station seemed to be equidistant from three equally important places, so all had to be included.

NPM

Some more examples are seen here, on the Khammam-Vijayawada section of the Golden Diagonal from Delhi to Chennai.

Tondala

Here we see Tondala Gopavaram, which may be the longest two-word station name in Telangana while there is another fairly long one Cheruvumadhavaram across the border in Andhra Pradesh. A little to the north on the same line is Gundratimadugu, maybe the longest one-word name in Telangana. In British times it was Gundrati Margoo.

Earlier the longest one-word station name from Tamil Nadu was Tannirpandalpalayam between Salem and Erode, but it was closed some years ago. The longest name of this kind in Tamil Nadu may be Periyanaikanpalaiyam north of Coimbatore.  Another point of interest in the Chennai region is Senji-Panambakkam. This is not that long but would be of interest to internet users as its code is SPAM.

A few other long ones which need to be expanded are BEML Nagar in Karnataka which relates to Bharat Earth Movers Ltd and JK Puram in Andhra Pradesh which is not connected to the JK industrial group but is Jaggambhotla Kamalapuram. Telangana hits back with Sri Bala Brahmareshwara Jogulamba Halt near Kurnool. I had intended to take up the shortest named stations, but this is already too long and so they go into the next post.

(All pictures used here are copyright of the original owners.)