Traversing a scenic rail trail

Traversing a scenic rail trail
Recently, the first broad gauge train chugged out of the City Railway Station on its maiden journey to Kolar, reviving an old link with Bangalore’s hinterland. M A Siraj follows the track.
 
“Old order changeth and yielding place to the new.

” Three decades of gauge conversion in the Railways have entirely transformed the scene around Bangalore. 

For many years, Bangalore had the uniqueness of being connected to towns around with a variety of gauges. 

Broad gauge trains linked it to Chennai. Mysore, Hosur and Tumkur lines were metre gauge. 

And there used to be a narrow gauge line that made a huge loop and embraced many small towns and culminated at Kolar. 

The old steam locomotives pulled these trains and would bring all vegetable and flower sellers to the City.

An important link

Those trains would dock at the first platform of the City Railway Station and clocked eight hours of time to reach Kolar. 

Hence it was not ideal for the commuters from Bangalore to Kolar. 

They preferred a 90-minute bus ride. But they served as a useful link between small towns of Yelahanka, Devanahalli, Chikaballapur, Sidlaghatta, Srinivaspur and Chintamani and provided ample space to businessmen ferrying merchandise like silk cocoons, flowers and fruits. 
 
The area was also known for producing potato saplings which would be loaded onto trains bound for up north at the City Station.
 
Recently, when the first broad gauge train chugged out of the City Railway Station for its maiden journey to Kolar (on November 8) on this old charming circuit, that era came to an end finally. 

The locomotives sending puffs of black smoke out of their brass-polished chimneys had taken up this journey almost three decades ago. 

Yet for the old timers,  the nostalgic memories of those quieter days would remain hard to forget. 

The four-carriage trains, described as ‘railbus’ in popular parlance, would trundle on the narrow track (2 feet and 6 inches) that ran amidst silk farms, vineyards, brick kilns and mango orchards. 

Foremen operating the train always had ample time at their disposal. 

But nostalgia apart, the new train seems to be reviving the old rail link with Kolar, a town that has lot to crib about receiving a raw deal from the Indian Railways. 

The trains now take five hours. It is still doubtful if anyone bound for Kolar would board these trains at the City or Cantonment Railway Stations. 

But the fact remains that it has rejuvenated the link with City’s hinterland for some of its vital necessities.

Speedy work

The narrow gauge link has a hoary past. 

It was laid in 1935 and then underwent a conversion in to broad gauge, both in phases. 

The then Mysore Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar had ordered a train connection between Chikkaballapur and Bangalore, when he came to visit a famous jyotishi (soothsayer) at Chikkaballapur in 1935. 

The 62-km link was readied the very next year. Work further proceeded on the loop and stations popped up at the towns on the circuit till the line reached the old Bowringpet, later renamed Bangarapet. 

The small trains which were the lifeline for the people in Bangalore’s backyard for nearly four decades, ran up to 1979 and then began to be phased out. 

Between 1989 and 1996, the line went totally defunct. 

Weeds covered the rails on wide stretches. 

The old station buildings turned into decrepit sheds. 

The one in Chintamani came to be used for sorting out onions. 

Railway staff were reported ‘on inactive duty’. 

Yelahanka-Chikkaballapur section was the first to get the broad gauge link. 

Second phase saw a revival between Bangarapet and Kolar on December 31, 1999. 

Yet it took nearly 14 years for the whole loop to find a reconnection to Bangalore with trains covering the entire length. 

However, there is a difference. 

The trains now approach Yelahanka via Bangalore Cantonment Station rather than Yeshwanthpur.

Fond memories

Sadly, it is difficult to come across anyone among the old-timers who have undertaken the entire eight-hour journey to Kolar on the narrow gauge track. 

Yet the fond memories of the olden days linger on. 

Azam Shahid, a lecturer in the Government First Grade College in Magadi Town, remembers the old station at Kolar as something straight out of the fictional Malgudi town around which R K Narayanan wove his short stories.

Though the stations on the entire 172-km track have come alive again, the users advise that trains be run on the entire circuit i.e., City Station-Kolar-Bangarapet. 

Meanwhile, the entire area has developed into a horticultural basket with sunflower and rose gardens having joined the mango and guava orchards. 

Often awash with colours, the farms are spectacular with Nandi Hills providing a majestic backdrop over a considerable stretch. With bus fares shooting through the roof, Manjunath, a hospital worker finds the new link a boon. 

He now travels to Chikkaballpur by train and takes a bus for his hometown Gauribidanur from there. Chikkanna from Shidlaghatta is back to carrying cocoon bags by trains.

Syed Mahmood, a public rights activist and general secretary of the Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee (DRUCC) from Chikkaballapur, says it took the committee 2,800 letters and several protests to pressure the Ministry into reviving the link.
 
However, the rakes of the two pair of trains running on the Bangalore-Kolar route are without any lavatories, an indication that the Railways still do not conceive the trains to be attracting any end-to-end passenger on the route.

For the people in the small towns forming a garland around the city, the newly revived link has certainly brought cheer.

The area is set to see more dynamism with Railways planning to extend the link to Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh and a new rail line between Chikkaballapur and Puttaparthi, just 38 km apart. 

It will reduce the Bangalore-Puttaparthi distance by 80 km. 
 
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