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Friday, June 20, 2014

accident averted in Kolkatta; Trams of Madras ~ and the Tram Road ?

The roads in Triplicane are narrow and traffic often get struck … Big Street at places is in fact a small lane…  the road that runs from D1 Police Station in Wallajah road to D3 Police station in Ice House is – Triplicane High Road (renamed as Quaide Milleth Road) …. Old timers would refer this to as ‘Tram road’ ….yes, a unique form of transport that existed more than 6 decades ago.


A tram (tramcar) is a rail vehicle which runs on tracks along public roads.  Tram transport in India was established by the British in the 19th century ~  the first electric tram service was started in Madras in 1895 and went out of reckoning in 1953 in Chennai – it however, still continues to run in Kolkatta even now. The earlier trams were reportedly horse-drawn. The one that were running in Madras (as also the ones seen in Kolkatta run on electric and have overhead traction lines.  

The description as given by those who occasioned to travel by tram – was that they moved very slowly – sort of people can enter and get down whilst it was moving ….those perhaps were days when the life itself was leisurely paced – not the ones that you see in OMR or mad drive to Pondy in ECR – and those were the days, when you had little traffic on roads – not much of two wheelers and auto-rickshaws … more used public transport and most of them waited patiently – in fact thinking of people going by Pallavan Transport – people used to wait for a single bus on that route and would not even explore much of possibilities of going to a place with better connectivity – Beach, HighCourt, Parrys, Sowcarpet –  Central, Egmroe - Triplicane, Mylapore, T Nagar, Guindy …. Some prominent places which were well connected …..


Run by the Madras Electricity System (MES), trams on rails dominated Chennai roads back then and remained a convenient mode of transport for office-goers. A strike by workers who demanded wage revision led to a lockout. Subsequently, Chief Minister C. Rajagopalachari favoured the idea of ending the service, bringing the curtains down on 67 years of its run.  Those rails on which the trams ran remained for many more years – and subsequently Govt. found a contractor for the removal too.  The Madras(sapattnam) of 1950s was certainly far different from what we could visualize.  In April 1953, it was full stop to Madras trams - the tram service of the Madras Electric Tramway in Madras City ceased to operate. Over a lakh tram passengers were forced to take buses or other conveyance. The 60-year-old utility was closed with the Madras Electric Tramway Company Limited — the oldest tramway company in the East — placed in the hands of a receiver appointed by the Court. The service reportedly operated over 16 miles and had more than 100 tram cars.  The closure of the service was to throw  more than thousands of workers out of employment. Government perhaps never bailed out and took the burden on themselves.  


All these thoughts on reading a report in TOI – titled `Ghost tram' rams into 10 cars at Kolkata crossing.  The report reproduced :  A scene from the Hollywood thriller “Unstoppable“ played out in micro format at South Kolkata's Ballygunge Phari on Thursday morning, when a driverless tram barreled on and rammed 10 cars at the crossing. In the movie, two men make a desperate attempt to stop a runaway train. On Thursday, two local youths sprinted to the rescue -while one of them jumped into the driver's cabin and stopped the tram, the other shoved people out of harm's way . A car driver suffered a minor injury but scores of lives were saved, thanks to the youths. The police said a power failure brought the tram to a halt and the driver, for some “unknown reasons“ walked off. However, after sometime, as the power came on, the tram bagan to move, gained speed and rammed into cars. An FIR has been lodged against the driver. Dinesh, one of the youths who jumped into the tram to stop it, said: “I had no idea how to stop the tram or even where the brake was. There was a long handle. It was the biggest thing around. I closed my eyes and pulled it. Thankfully , the tram stopped.“ he said.

In a not similar but comparable incident to that of Kolkatta, in April 2009, 4 passengers were killed and 11 others injured when an “unidentified” person hijacked a suburban train and drove it at high speed, resulting in a head-on collision with a goods train hauling empty oil wagons at Vyasarpadi Jiva railway station. According to railway sources, the collision took place minutes after the suburban train rolled out of the Moore Market Complex (near Central Railway Station) at around 4.50 a.m. The Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) jumped the red signal and took the wrong line. The train sped past the Basin Bridge Junction, the next scheduled stop, and rammed the goods train. A huge ball of fire engulfed two coaches immediately after the collision. The other coaches were thrown off the track.

Thankfully, the 2 youths averted any loss of life in Kolkatta.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
20th June 2014.

Photos of trams taken by me during a visit to Kolkatta in 2012.

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