For R. Parthasarathy, an employee at Brahmatheertam in Royapuram, where he cooks 13 different dishes for families of the dead every day, the return journey after work has been the same for nearly 40 years.
“The Royapuram station is the one place in the city that has not changed at all. Sometimes, I fall asleep there, lulled by the breeze, and miss the train,” he says.
With its high ceiling, Corinthian pillars and a new coat of crimson paint, the 157-year-old railway station is an integral part of Parthasarathy’s life.
“People have an inherent dislike for anything that is old. Instead of demolishing the station, they should look into the drinking water taps that have been dry since the past 20 years,” he says.
Every day, nearly 12 trains halt at the station, the oldest in south India. But except the morning peak-hour ones, most of the trains are usually late, say passengers. Most of them travel to Tiruvallur, Tiruvottiyur, Vyasarpadi and Thirunindravur, among other places.
On one side of the unused tracks is a huge track-laying engine. “It came here five months ago. Whenever tracks need to be repaired or cleaned, the engine is sent from here. Earlier, the work was done manually, and people would come to watch how over 30 men lifted the heavy tracks and replaced the fittings,” says A. Rajagopalan (73), who frequently travels to Walltax road from Perambur.
“The premises are still unsafe for women, which is probably why many prefer to go to Central station in the late hours. But it takes just five minutes to get to Parry’s in a train from here,” he says.
Officials here recall, how, not more than 30 years ago, there were at least 100 RPF officials employed at the station which had more than 20 departments.
“Now there are just two rooms — one for the station master and the other for the commercial department. There are barely 10 policemen here,” says an official.
Ball-bearings, batteries, broken racks and valves are stocked in spaces between pillars, and everything is covered with bird droppings. The walls and floors of the platforms are a colourful mix of union election posters, party symbols and slogans. Dogs roam about freely on the platforms.
At another end, garbage accumulated in the area is set on fire, and some passengers walk to the opposite side to avoid the smoke. There are no announcements made, and passengers keep waiting for hours for a train. “The last train arrives at midnight and the first, at 1.40 a.m., going to Arakkonam. With a break of just one-and-a-half hours, this should be a rather busy station. It can be made much more commuter-friendly with more lights, security, announcements, foot overbridges and regular maintenance,” says J. Yusuf, another passenger.
Opposite the station are red buildings which residents fondly remember as Anglo-Indian structures. “One of them was the ‘forms’ department that stocked all kinds of stationery and typewriters. It used to be very noisy with the constant tap of keys on typewriters. That was the time when this was the ‘central station,’ but over time, most departments were shifted to either Chennai Central or Locoworks,” says an old-time worker.
More than passengers, the station officials, who did not wish to be identified, are passionate about restoring the building. “There are hardly 20 of us here and most of us will retire in the next two years. We have spent almost a lifetime under this roof, and it has been sturdy enough. There is no reason it should go now,” says an official.
The station may not be neglected altogether, for it seems officials have realised the value of the extensive space it provides.
According to sources, there is a survey on to lay a new track, and there are also proposals to open a maintenance shed for engines.