Friday, 8 May 2015

Chug we Go! - Halt Station India

Chug we Go! - Halt Station India

‘Halt Station India’, is a fascinating story of how the Indian Railways evolved and how it impelled the growth of India’s business capital. Rajendra B. Aklekar the author and also a veteran journalist has been following the Indian Railways very closely for over two decades. He narrates this story in his crisp 205 page book.  The book chugs into the past glory of Indian Railways, its humble beginnings and then trails into the current day comprehensive railway network which has mushroomed to accommodate the burgeoning population and many more railway heads. Rajendra borrows interesting anecdotes from letters, notes from past railway journals, personal diaries, newspaper reports and other sources along with extensive research across the length and breadth of the country. 

Overloaded and soaked with his love and passion for railways, Rajendra shares his experiences and trivia as he tramples upon the entire stretch of the railway track to uncover artifacts and hidden secrets. Halt Station India details the beginning of the railway revolution in India and how the city, Bombay was gradually knitted together, it actually shaped Bombay and drastically made the commute time shorter and safer too.


The railway network primarily helped the British fortify their position in India. It was believed that organizing and dispersing the growing native population and the quick deployment of troops could be best handled by trains, this stance was confirmed by Lord Wharncliffe in May 1846.  The railways were essentially a boon for both the British Empire and the local folk as it cut short the travel time, facilitated the swift movement of cotton and other essential commodities, supported job opportunities, helped in the influx of local artisans and all in all defined a new landmark for the city. With the newly laid railway line, cotton and other raw materials could also be traded with remarkable speed to the sea ports and this was a great achievement as it could be speedily sent by ship to the hungry textile mills in Britain. The demand for cotton actually spurred the growth of railways across India and because of which there was a progressive chart outlined as well.

Several English companies like Glenrock Iron and Steel, Dorman Long & Co, Frodingham Iron and Steel were contracted to supply and design necessary equipment. Girders, turntables, locomotives, stationery machinery for wagons and even assembled structures for bridges, booking offices and station building frames made their way to India. In just the first few years around 18568 tonnes of iron were imported, all in all more than 6000 ships were being dispatched every year from England with about 5,00,000 tonnes for various lines across the subcontinent. 

Back then the appointment of a firm and engineers to carry on the mammoth task of construction, laying of the first rails, the acquiring of land and working with the local labor force were just the initial teething snags that the lay before the British Empire. However, these were tactfully dealt with and swiftly fixed. Train coaches were designed just like to those running in England and imported to India. Despite superstations and locals believing that an evil force was powering the engine or how it could move so fast without medication the first train chugged off not only in India bit also in Asia. It sprinted from Bombay to Thana on 16th April, 1853 at 3:55pm, supplemented by a 21 gun military salute. Back then the path was deserted and ran through swamps which today is a dense urban landscape.

Halt Station further add that the railways were meant to symbolize the power and achievement of the British regime in India and the extravagant and decorative Victoria Terminus mirrored just this. 

Today few commuters stop and notice the intricate carvings of various flora and fauna that complement the majestic terminus building. Students from the adjacent J.J. School of Arts contributed to the architectural wonder, adding Indian decorative elements to the building namely the peacocks and tigers, tropical plants and reptiles. The building welcomes you with two stone sculptures of a lion and a tiger at the main entrance, representing England and India respectively. These were sculpted in Britain and were designed by Messrs Earp, Son & Hobbs and then shipped to Bombay.  It also important to note here that the architect Frederick William Stevens paid meticulous attention to detail and designed not only this gothic building but also accessories and furniture that accompanied it. While Stevens supervised the project, Indian officials from the PWD Assistant Engineer Raosaheb Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and supervisor M. Mahaderao Janardan did the ground work. With all this grandeur, Victoria Terminus, now rechristened CST is actually one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

Today the Indian railways feature as the largest rail network in Asia, covering 65,000 kilometers and 7500 stations, the fourth largest in the world after the United states of America, Russia and china. In keeping with the legendary date and time since the first train chugged away, a train runs today as well at the same time.

In addition to the above, the book shares many more secrets, surprises and tidbits of history that Rajendra discovered over the years, for e.g. hidden secrets beneath bridges, the journey of the tamarind tree in India, how Hancock and Carnac bridges got their names along with their history, Kurla station’s position within the country’s water transport network then, the world's first ladies train that began from church gate,  an ancient abandoned British cabin with letters carved in wood at Dadar Junction North Cabin and even Ville parle station that carries an old signboard of third class booking window, almost forty years after the third class was abolished. These are just some of the many revelations that Halt Station India unfolds. 

It is available here on Amazon and is priced at INR 296/- within just few weeks of its launch it has been ranked first in the bestsellers in the transportation series.

Rajendra. B. Aklekar at the book launch

                                             Rajendra. B. Aklekar at the book launch

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