83 years of electric suburban rail

Electrical trains between Beach and Tambaram began in 1931

April 18, 2014 01:32 am | Updated May 21, 2016 11:56 am IST - CHENNAI

The newly-inaugurated rail road happened to be the earliest metre gauge to be electrified in the country.

The newly-inaugurated rail road happened to be the earliest metre gauge to be electrified in the country.

This April, the city’s suburban railways, as we know it, turns 83.

On April 2, 1931, the first electrically-operated railway service between Madras Beach and Tambaram was launched by Sir George Fredrick Stanley, the then governor of Madras.

The newly-inaugurated rail road happened to be the earliest metre gauge to be electrified in the country. It was only a month after the official inauguration that the service was opened to the public on May 11, 1931.

The plan to electrify railway lines in Madras however was not new. Sir Percy Rothera, an agent of the South Indian Railways, had foreseen the need for such a service way back in 1923.

With the city expanding, largely agricultural areas such as Saidapet, St. Thomas Mount and Tambaram were fast developing into residential quarters. It was only by 1931 that Rothera’s proposal saw the light of day.

As part of the suburban remodelling initiative of South Indian Railways, an ambitious plan was announced.

A new line between Beach and Egmore, and two between Egmore and Tambaram, were proposed to be built.

The Madras Electricity Supply Corporation which powered the railway lines was aided by sub-stations in Egmore and Meenambakkam.

The city which, until then, had the single steam rail line between Harbour and Tambaram, used by both passenger and goods trains, was soon to have more options.

The number of trains shuttling passengers was increased to 45 a day, running every 10 minutes at peak hours, and every 30 minutes, otherwise.

The running time between Madras Beach and Tambaram, which previously took 2 hours, was now covered in merely 49 minutes.

Moreover, commuters could avail of the train service from 4 in the morning right up to 12 at night.

On December 27, 1930, the authorities received their first consignment of 25 electric carriages from England. Painted a dull green with a black wheel base, the new carriages were parked in Tambaram station.

Boasting of wide sliding doors, a well-designed seating arrangement, and thick glass fronts, the new trains promised comfortable travel.

The governor, at the opening ceremony, is reported to have said that the new service would transform ‘desolate south Madras into burgeoning garden cities’.

Partially prophetic that: Chennai is certainly burgeoning now, garden or not.

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