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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A sad end to century old passenger train route - Punalur to Sengottai

A travel by train is always worth of savouring. A journey was worth its length. The yester generations cherished travel by talking a lot about the journey and the experiences during the travel.    The most popular advice perhaps those days was not to sit near the window and look out when the train chugged out of station – for those days, engines were powered by coal and fine coal dust would be in the air and could fall in eyes.

As you traverse along, you look outside to see a bowler starting his run up; your neck would turn and remain glued till the small ground goes out of sight – you might never know what happened to that ball – the sight of trees running past in the opposite direction as the train moves is indeed a great sight. In those days, whenever the train stopped at any station, people would hurriedly get down to fill up their containers with water from taps on the platform.   The state owned Indian Railways has more than 64015 km of tracks and 6909 stations, traversing the length and breadth of the country. Millions use this facility every day. From 1853, the Railways have come a long way. Going by the measure of distance between the tracks, there are gauges known as Broad gauge 1676mm; meter gauge 1000 mm as also on few hilly routes narrow gauge. To a regular traveller, whether it was a travel from Chennai Central or Chennai Egmore mattered. From Egmore it was to southern destinations of Tamilnadu and by MG trains – which would not have sidebirths ; the BG ones would have 8 (3 + 3 + 2 aisle)

On April 2, 1931 – the meter gauge suburban service of Electrical Motor Units popularly known as EMU on which great majority of chennaites depend was inaugurated. 30th June 2004 was a sad day as the EMU units entered their sheds, not to come out again – replaced by Broad gauge train units. Chennai area was unique to have electrified MG lines. Understand that the early EMU ran on 1.5KV DC and were built by Metreo Camell and were wooden bodied. Then came the gauge conversion project by 1999 there were two MG and one BG line.

Now comes an end to a 108 year old scenic passenger route – a 51 km track from Shengottai to Punalur. There was emotional farewell along the route. This route had started way back in 1873 and took 27 years to complete. The first goods train ran in 1902 and passengers were on in 1904. It is one of the last gauge conversion works to be taken up in Tamilnadu. This was a tiny five compartment train taking over 100 minutes to reach Sengottai near Courtallam in Tamilnadu from Punalur in Kerala. The passengers would have a breath taking view of Western Ghats as the train passes through tunnels, the longest one being the one between Bhagawathipuram and Aryankavu. The journey provided pristine view of wild life sanctuary, captivating waterfalls, teak plantations, sandalwood plantations and freshwater mangroves.

The Railway stations from Sengottai were Bhagavathipuram, Aryankavu, Edapalayam, Kathurthy, Tenmalai, Ottakkal, Edaman and Punalur. Remember that there was a movie in 1983 by name ‘Bhagavathipuram Railway gate’ starring Thiagarajan (father of Prashanth) with stirring music by Illayaraja

The gauge conversion is part of the bigger and longer Virudhunagar – Tenkasi – Tirunelveli – Tiruchendur project; upon completion it would serve as a shorter route from Trivandrum to Chennai. This could also open more avenues for commodity movement through rail to kollam (quilon)

The suspension bridge at Punalur is one of its kind in South India – built in 1877 by Albert Henry across kallada river. There is some history (source : IFRCA) that the Maharaja of Travancore had published of the first train trip on 1st June 1904; but there were heavy monsoon rains and a portion of the tunnel near Aryankavu had caved in. Still two steam locomotives were brought to Quilon to run the Punalur Quilon leg. It is written that these locos were brought from Shengottai to Tuticorin and transported to Quilon by ship. The first train was flagged by the Maharaja himself and had 21 salute gun fire. The Quilon Shengottai line was thrown open on 26/11/1904.

When it was perceived, it was comparatively easy to construct the rail line from Kollam to Punalur but five tunnels of different length had to be constructed between Punlaur and Aryankavu – the kazhuthurutti bridge being the most noteworthy one.

Already many meter gauge railway lines have become protected monuments and thing of the past. The Shengottai Punalur passenger train joined this sad list on 19th Sept. 2010.

Regards - S.  Sampathkumar 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great post - nostalgic memories rushed back at the mind upon reading this - Arunachalam

  3. excellent. Nice to recall the train, the journey, the eatables that came along, the people who travelled together - all things of past - Kumarakurubarar

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  5. may be it would run once more....... look forward to a ride on this route - Meeran Sahib

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  8. super place. waiting for train on this route
    and another super place is there that is aryankavu cave

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