Society

Before and after the Jayanti Janata

For Ernakulam Junction 1956 was a momentous year; a year that triggered off a slew of developments that makes it today the busiest railway station in the State.

The Kottayam-Ernakulam railway line, which now facilitates traffic between Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram via Kollam was formally opened on October 17, 1956. This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of the occasion.

Work on the construction of this metre gauge line was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on December 24, 1952, at Ernakulam. ‘The function was attended by the erstwhile rulers of Cochin and the leading personalities of the day,’ writes N. Samraj in History of Railways in Kerala. The first reach of the project, between Ernakulam and Kottayam was completed and train services commenced on October 17, 1956 and in 1958 the Kollam line also became functional.

“Ernakulam was a wayside station before these developments; a sort of link to the Cochin Harbour Terminus that had great facilities and was a busy station then. The expansion of FACT and with the Cochin Refineries coming up at Ambalamugal facilitated its progress. That’s when the marshalling yard was constructed. Dieselisation, electrification, computerisation, automatic signalling system, all of these during different times helped in changing the face of Ernakulam,” says Rajesh Chandran, Ernakulam Area Manager, Southern Railway.

A.P. Tharakan, Retd. Area Manager remembers the days when management and monitoring was a difficult task at Ernakulam. “When I joined the Railways in 1975 the Ernakulam-Kottayam line was converted to broad gauge. In 1980 when I took charge as Area Manager the office functioned out of a small shed with an asbestos sheet roof. It was a one-room shed located south of the railway station. The most ‘popular’ train was the Jayanti Janata to Bombay. We had two express trains to Madras, two to Mangalore, the Tea Garden Express to Mettupalayam and the Island Express to Bangalore that started from Harbour Terminus. There were only three platforms, the Town Station was not developed and the equipment with which we operated was archaic when compared to what is in use today. For instance, we now have the Route Relay Interlocking system. In this, an entire route through the station can be selected and all the associated points and signals along the route can be set at once by a knob. It operates by electrical circuitry. Those days it had to be done manually.”

This introduction of the RRI was a major landmark in the development of Ernakulam. “Before this there was a constant complaint from passengers as trains used to be retained at the outer signal, most of the trains either arrived or departed late. Two people who did a lot for the development of this station were Pius Joseph (Chief Passenger Traffic Operations Manager) and Thomas Varghese (Chief Operation Manager). Pius Joseph worked to set up the Trivandrum Division, which facilitated the establishment of the Area Manager office in Ernakulam, while it was Thomas Varghese who was instrumental in setting up the RRI and other developments,” remembers K. George John, who was Area Manager here and retired as Deputy Chief Operations Manager (Construction).

The development of Ernakulam sounded the death knell for Harbour Terminus. The station that once catered to passenger and a huge volume of freight traffic gradually began to lose prominence. “The Cochin Port was a beehive of activity those days. Pig Iron to Coimbatore, pulp to Hindustan Newsprint Ltd, Velloor, ammonia to FACT and also to Chennai, coir and copra products came by ship and transported by train from Harbour Terminus. We also handled the military shipments. Once, we loaded Bofors guns that was shipped to Cochin, in special trains, and sent them to specific military camps with heavy security. Rice, steel, fish from Chilka (Orissa) came to Cochin by train. The station had a water tank, pit lane and other facilities. When the number and frequency of trains increased it became difficult for this station to handle the load. That’s how the focus shifted to Ernakulam. The gradual decline of goods traffic at Harbour Terminus was another reason,” says George John.

The opening of the Ernakulam-Kayamkulam line via Alappuzha opened a new chapter in the growth of Ernakulam station. The initial survey for this project started in 1975 and construction of railway line began in April 1979. “Kamalapati Tripathi, the Railway Minister, came to Ernakulam for the inauguration. On the day of the event, at around two in the morning, I got a call telling me to arrange a basket of hibiscus flowers and a ‘security-cleared’ barber. The Minister wanted a shave and the flowers were meant for his morning pooja. I managed to arrange both,” says Tharakan with a chuckle. The Ernakulam-Alappuzha line was open to traffic in 1989 and Alappuzha- Kayamkulam line in 1992.

Despite the development of Ernakulam Town the Ernakulam station has an average daily footfall of 50,000, around 25,000 tickets are sold daily that does not include season tickets and 76 pairs of trains pass through this station every day on six platforms. “The station is equipped with free high-speed Wi-Fi service, launched by Railtel, in collaboration with Google. A trendy, air-conditioned waiting room and twin escalators are also in place. But we need more amenities here. We need shelters for the platforms and at least two trains to the North East considering the demand from the huge migrant population that depend on trains,” says Rajesh Chandran.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 11:02:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Before-and-after-the-Jayanti-Janata/article14479828.ece

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