A station of yore, its golden links

The recent circulation of a 1904 photograph of the Quilon (now Kollam) railway station on the Internet has triggered nostalgia in a large section of people, many keen to know the history of the station.

The photograph was taken a couple of weeks after the commissioning of the Quilon-Shencottah meter gauge line on June 1 that year.

From a distance, the roof of the station resembles a house boat of today. The station was built by the then ruler of Travancore, Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma (1885 to 1924), and the design was specially sanctioned by him. It was the ruler’s desire to create a rail link between Kollam, the then commercial capital of his State, and Madras (Chennai now).

The station was a major terminal and in 1904, a rail link from there to Thiruvananthauram was not even thought of though the same ruler commissioned it fourteen years later, in 1918.

According to a study by Jimmy Jose, a rail history enthusiast, published on the website of the Indian Railways Fan Club Association, the idea of a rail link between Quilon and Tirunelveli was conceived in 1873.

A rail link from Tirunelveli, then in the Madras Presidency, to Shencottah, then part of Travancore, had already been laid. The Madras presidency sanctioned the Shencottah-Quilon rail route in 1899 and the South India Railway (SIR) Company completed the survey for the line in 1900.

The line which was commissioned in four years was jointly funded by SIR, the Travancore State, and the Madras Presidency, Mr. Jose says in his report.

As work on the line progressed, the Travancore ruler announced in advance that it would be commissioned on June 1, 1904 and the first train to Shencottah will be flagged off by him on the day itself. But as the inaugural day drew close, a portion of a tunnel at Aryankavu caved in and the line got blocked.

Due to this, there was uncertainty over whether the steam locomotive for the inaugural run, stationed at Shencottah, could be taken to Quilon through the newly laid line. To avoid the ruler’s displeasure, the chief engineer of the project decided that the locomotive be dismantled, taken to the Tuticorin port and shipped to the Quilon port. From there it was transported in bullock carts to the Asramam Maidan to be assembled.

Special line

A special line was also laid in haste from the Quilon railway station to Asramam to take the assembled locomotive to the station. This line was later used to transport petroleum products to the storage yard of an oil company. Later, the Kunjammapalam was constructed at Chinnakada in Kollam city over this line. Even though the oil company abandoned its storage unit, the rail line at Chinnakada was in tact till a few years ago.

The Kunjammapalam was later demolished to make way for the Chinnakada round. According to Mr. Jose’s study, on June 1, 1904, the train flagged off by the ruler, with a 21 gun salute, ran only till Punalur. After repairs to the tunnel, the line from there to Shencottah was thrown open on November 26, 1904.

The entire Quilon-Shencottah line and its stations were constructed at a cost of Rs.1.12 crore. The first station master of Quilon was one Ramiah, says the report. The Quilon station got linked to Ernakulam via Kottayam by a meter gauge line on January 6, 1958 thereby opening a rail link from Ernakulam to Thruvananthapuram.

While in 1904 the Quilon station had only one platform and four tracks on its yard, today’s Kollam station has eight platforms and more than 20 tracks on its yard. But the beautiful 1904 station is now in a shambles and can be hardly recognised. After the construction of a new building for the railway station the old one was ignored. It now houses the offices of Railways’ medical and electrical units.

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