The tide turned for Tambaram in 1931 when it got a railway station. Ever since, it has sped down the tracks of development on its way to becoming a bustling mini metropolis, writes K. Manikandan

The Tambaram railway station occupies a pre-eminent place on the suburban electric train map of Chennai. Considering the physical size of the city’s suburban train services and its passenger volumes, this is no mean thing. The railway station was born in 1931, when the operation of electric train services from Chennai Beach got underway. With the advent of the station, Tambaram began to shed its rural character. It became the commercial nerve centre for several dozen villages, near and far. It was chosen as the new place for the Madras Christian College, which was being shifted out of George Town. And yes, the addition of Indian Air Force Station further enhanced Tambaram’s growing significance.

Soon, the five villages of Tambaram, Selaiyur, Irumbuliyur, Kadaperi and Pulikuradu were merged to create Tambaram Municipality. It was under these circumstances Tambaram became the transport hub: probably the biggest outside Chennai’s city limits.

The steadily rising importance of the station seemed to reflect the growth of Tambaram.

For generations, the metre gauge trains connected people to different parts of the city until they were replaced by broad gauge trains in 1998-99. The metre gauge trains were initially operated on a rake of 6 coaches before Southern Railway added 3 coaches to cater to the increasing number of passengers.

Prior to gauge conversion, there were only four platforms, against the present 9. Long time residents of Tambaram will still recall the days when steam engines were in operation, even until the late 1980’s, to shunt goods wagons and even the rakes of passenger trains. A huge turn table, which has now vanished, would be the centre of attraction for all the waiting passengers, those travelling on the narrow foot over bridge and wonder struck school children. Hauling of coal on the steam engines and their subsequent cooling by a massive shower were a delight for children.

 Nearly 250 suburban services and about 40 long distance trains operate through Tambaram everyday, transporting several lakh people making it the busiest as well as the highest revenue-earning station in the suburban sector, next only to Moore Market Complex (suburban).

 The turn tables have gone along with the steam engines, the manual changing of lines through the railroad switch lever have been replaced by sophisticated signalling systems, the elegant metre gauge rakes have given way to 12-coach broad gauge rakes, yet Tambaram has managed to retain the elegance and charm of its past.

There are still plenty of problems relating to hygiene and sanitation, disposal of waste generated in the platforms, issues related to neatness in the concourse and waiting areas. But greater and brighter days lie ahead, as Tambaram is all set to become a coaching hub for new long distance trains for southern districts of Tamil Nadu.

More In: Downtown | Chennai