Madras finds place on Indian railway map

Published Dec 17, 2013, 4:19 pm IST
Updated Jan 20, 2016, 3:22 pm IST
The history of trains in chennai goes as far back as 1836 when it was madras presidency.

An animated conversation during a lazy Sunday afternoon led to a discovery. The elders in the family were telling youngsters how the train journey had evolved in the country. They recalled the romantic “chug chug” of the steam engine. But, in the thrill of it all, they may have forgotten the fact that you ended up with coal particles all over your hair from the exhaust in the course of long distance travel.

Grandparents remembered carrying coffee decoction and water in the ubiquitous 'gooja' (old-fashioned water container) while parents and aunts and uncles recalled they would rush to the railway station water tap to fill their bottles with water for the rest of the journey.


This was a horrifying experience as the person who had to fetch the water would be furtively looking back to see if the train had started and the person sitting in the train would anxiously peep outside to see if the water carrier had returned in time. Remember, those were the days when there was no vestibule?

The talk led to the question of when trains were introduced in the country, especially Chennai that was then known as Madras. After a lot of pondering and family members giving their varied opinions, we got into some serious research that unfurled some interesting facts.

The first experimental railway line in Madras presidency was laid near - hold your breath - Chintadripet in 1836. The Madras Gazette of May 4, 1836 says: "A small piece of railway has been laid down near the Chintadripet Bridge to show how little labour is required on a road of this description, a cart is placed upon the rails, loaded with stones, which is easily moved up a slightly inclined plane by one hand, from whence it returns by its own weight to the place from which it was first propelled."

This was followed by a 3 mile long rail line southwest of Madras city, connecting Red Hills and the stone quarries near Little Mount at the turn of 1837. Captain A.P. Cotton, civil engineer of Madras, expressed the confidence that by laying rails between Red Hills and Little Mount, savings may be effected in conveyance of materials.

A December 30, 1837 report of Madras Herald, celebrated the travel on the Red Hills railway in a small carriage "fitted up with a rude sail", that travelled at the rate of 6-7 miles an hour.
More digging into yesteryear happenings revealed that the first sod of the Madras Railway Company was turned on June 9, 1853 at Royapuram for an experimental line from Madras to Meril - 50 miles west. The Royapuram station was opened on June 28, 1856 by Governor Lord Harris.

The service was inaugurated with two trains, coaches made by Simpson and Company, the leading coach builders of the day. Countless people, who had never seen a train in their lives in the presidency, thronged the route and there were cases of some people rushing away from the advancing train, fearing it was a new monster.

The great divide between the ruler and ruled was evident in the maiden trip: One train carried the Governor and 300 Europeans to Amboor (Ambur), where a magnificent dinner was arranged for the guests. Another train carried the Indian invitees followed and traversed a shorter distance to Triveloor (Tiruvallur). Though there is no word of a dinner following the train journey.

Location: Tamil Nadu