A historic centenary goes unnoticed

A LANDMARK: A 1911 picture of the train on the Kundaly Valley railway.

A LANDMARK: A 1911 picture of the train on the Kundaly Valley railway.   | Photo Credit: — PHOTO: BY special arrangement

A Correspondent

KATTAPPANA: It is the centenary year of a landmark venture by the British rulers in Munnar where they introduced a railway transportation system in 1908.

The Kundaly Valley Light Railway was a major transportation facility in the area till 1924, when a flood wrought havoc on the system and restoration of the railway was considered impossible.

Finally the British dismantled the entire project.

Even now, one can find portions of the rails used in the gates of some old buildings or for some other purposes in Munnar town.

The railway station in Munnar still remains as a monument to the historic project. It is now being used as the regional office of the Kannan Deven Tea Company.

After 1924, this building was used for various purposes like storing rice, tea and occasionally for church services.

“Facets of A Hundred Years’ Planting,” an in-house publication of Tata-Finlay Ltd, says that it took one-and-a-half years to complete the railway project for which the parts of the train were shipped from Britain and assembled at Munnar by engineers of the British tea company. Four railway stations were built for the project at different places including Munnar.

The train had four compartments named Buchanan, (the general manager of the tea company), the Anaimudi, the Kundaly, and the High Ranger. The High Ranger also had a first class compartment for use by European managers and visiting officials.

The book says that the train movement was slow owing to frequent derailment, the occasional elephant on the track and ‘wilful interference on the rails’. “Initially, it was hoped to run the locomotives on wood fuel alone, but owing to steep gradients and curves, this was impracticable and the use of coal and firewood, which generated sufficient steam, was adopted,” says the 110-page book written by Amita Baig and William Henderson.

The book has a number of black and white photographs. When the railway was dismantled, a network of rope-ways was built in Munnar for speedy transportation of tea leaves and other goods, says the book.

“Though it was decided to open the rope-way connecting Bodinaikanur in Tamil Nadu, the Munnar-Neryiamangalam road was opened followed by a network of roads, paving the way for easy road transportation. The introduction of railway in Munnar is historic as it is a hilly tract and is even now not connected by a railway line,” the book says.

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