Heritage railway stations, prime land remain underutilised
‘Vested interests hampering efforts to renovate facilities’
Just as the city observed the 118th anniversary of the first passenger train chugging into Kochi on July 17, the Old Railway Station, where the train arrived and later saw the arrival of other historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, remains in ruins.
Concerted attempts by vested interests to divest the 40-acre prime property located behind the High Court of Kerala for alternative use, were foiled by NGOs and heritage enthusiasts. “It is shocking that attempts to renovate the station building and lay fresh tracks and other infrastructure did not yield much results, despite visits by Union Railway Ministers and dozens of senior officials,” said K.P. Harihara Kumar, general convenor of Old Railway Station Vikasana Samiti.
The station was realised during the tenure of Rama Varma XV, then Maharaja of Kochi. It fell into disuse in the 1960s when the Ernakulam Junction and Town railway stations were commissioned. Attempts to revive the station by restoring rails and signals two years ago slowed down following the demand for an overbridge at Pachalam before restoring rail services. “A National Green Tribunal [NGT] order on the need to conserve the evergreen space having huge trees as it is, considering its proximity to Mangalavanam, further stymied efforts to revive the heritage station into a hub of suburban trains,” said a senior Railway official.
Similar plight awaits Cochin Harbour Terminus, another heritage station, located in Wellington Island. The proposal to extend a few passenger trains to the station to decongest the Ernakulam Junction station remains on paper.
Low patronage for trains like DEMU that began service from the station and lack of electric line owing to concern over the safety of aircraft taking off from the nearby naval airport were other hurdles.
The station, although renovated, will most likely remain unused until an overbridge is built at Vathuruthy, replacing the level-crossing, railway sources said.
The proposal to convert 100 acres of railway land in the Ponnurunni-Kathrikadavu area to build an integrated railway station-cum-coaching terminal, too remains on paper. Meanwhile, tracts of land in the periphery have been encroached upon.
Realising the project will go a long way in augmenting reception capacity for trains in the city. This will in turn speed up train movement in the central Kerala region, officials said.