Run by the Madras Electricity System (MES), trams on rails dominated Chennai roads back then and remained a convenient mode of transport for office-goers
They moved like giant snails, at their own pace. But when life itself was leisurely paced, trams in Chennai — the service came to a stop in 1953 — did not seem as if they belonged to the Jurassic age.
They travelled at a maximum speed of 7 kmph but have left behind pleasant memories of a time when every inch of city roads was not occupied by vehicles.
“I would not call the journeys thrilling. But travel in a slow-moving tram, seated by the windows, offered me excellent sightseeing opportunities. At one anna (1/16th of a rupee), they were ideal for a pleasant journey,” said writer and Sahitya Akademi winner Ashokamitran.
Run by the Madras Electricity System (MES), trams on rails dominated Chennai roads back then and remained a convenient mode of transport for office-goers.
“People from Mylapore travelled in trams to reach the High Court and other parts of the city. They boarded and detrained as they pleased, as trams moved very slowly,” said Mr. Ashokamitran.
A strike by workers who demanded wage revision led to a lockout. Subsequently, Chief Minister C. Rajagopalachari favoured the idea of ending the service, bringing the curtains down on 67 years of its run. “But the rails embedded on roads continued to remind Chennaiites of the tram days. For many years, they were not removed as they cost a fortune,” said Mr. Ashokamitran, who arrived in Chennai in 1953 to settle down permanently on an invitation from S.S. Vasan, owner of Gemini Studios.
But as the son of a railway employee entitled to a railway pass, Mr. Ashokamitran visited the city as early as in 1938 and enjoyed tram journeys to cinemas.
“I clearly remember travelling by a tram to Odeon theatre. It was here I watched ‘Mangamma Sabatham’ and ‘Nandanar,” he said.
S.A. Govindaraj too vividly recalls the high-pitch noise emanated by the vehicle when the driver changed gears and the ringing of a bell warning careless pedestrians.
“There were two types of trams. The big one was about 50-ft-long and the small, 35 ft. Inside, there were wooden benches on both sides and 60 passengers could sit on them. A total of 200 commuters could conveniently travel in trams,” said the 78-year-old Govindaraj, who once had two tickets in his possession.
One ticket was in English and the other in Tamil. Mr. Govindaraj sold them to a collector three months ago.
The tram ran on electricity and had a rod with a small wheel on it, said Mr. Govindaraj. “The wheel was turned by the overhead electric lines as the tram moved. When the vehicle travelled in the opposite direction, the conductor would pull the line by a rope to place it on the wheel,” he said.
Travelling by trams was very cheap, said Mr. Govindaraj, who travelled from Central to Luz Corner. “Even then, many passengers would not buy tickets and weeklies would carry cartoons lampooning ticketless travellers,” he said
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