by Jimmy Jose, 2005-11-28

I have a deep attachment with the town of Quilon. My father worked for a Company called Aluminum Industries Ltd located at Kundara, a suburb of Quilon. We used to go to Quilon very often, alighting at Quilon Junction station to go elsewhere. But it was not until recently that I took notice of the Railway Historical Heritage this station holds. The history of this station and the lines in it's vicinity are really fascinating. And the station still holds on to many reminiscences from the past.

Quilon Town

Quilon is an important and busy town between Cochin and Trivandrum in Kerala. Though the town has lost it's former glory as the commercial capital of the princely state of Travancore, it still retains some of it's old nostalgic atmosphere. Like many old towns, the commercial activity of Quilon is still centered around the clock tower at Chinnakada. The town has not seen any major developments for the past several decades, so one can easily spot many old buildings. If you are lucky enough, you may even spot a Bullock Cart, the only place you can find one in South Kerala.

But the Old Railway station and the Quilon Shencottah Metre Gauge line remain the town's most illustrious reminder from days of the yore.

Quilon Railway Station Today

The railway station at Quilon is very big compared to other buildings in the rest of the town. Baring the adjacent Fatima and SN collages; it is definitely the largest structure of the town.

The old station building, built in 1904 by the Maharajah of Travancore has a typical Kerala palace type architecture. Though many parts have been renovated or remodeled, it still remains an architectural beauty and a feast for lovers of old buildings. The roof of the station has been built in the shape of a Traditional Kerala Hose Boat, called Kettuvallam. The roof tiles too seem to be of some foreign origin. Inside, if you look closely, the old Italian flooring tiles remain at some places. The original window panes, doors, beams and columns still stand today, and in quite good condition too.

The New Railway station building, which is just as plain and boring as any post independence railway building, with a flat concrete facade with Indian Railways neon sign has been built adjacent to the old one. Thankfully, there were lot of vacant area available for construction of a new station and the old one was left almost untouched.

Platforms And Facilities At The Station

The platforms at the station is virtually split into two, one for Trivandrum division and the other for Madurai division, with a fence separating the two. The station complex and the Broad Gauge lines are now in the Trivandrum Division of Southern Railway. The Metre Gauge Terminus, though in the same facility as the Broad Gauge station is with Madurai Division. The station has five platforms, Platform 1 and 2 are for Metre Gauge Terminus and the rest for Broad Gauge.

The station now houses several facilities like Rolling Stock Depot, Loco Pilot Training Centre etc. The station is also depot for Electric Traction equipments and parts used in Electrification of Ernakulam Trivandrum Line. The station homes several accident rakes of both BG and MG. A huge BG Traveling Steam Crane, built in 1965 by Hurst, Nelson and Co., Northwell, numbered TSC 703 and named Vikrant is based here and is worth looking at. With the introduction of modern Maschinen Fabrik Deutschland and Power Arm type accident and general purpose cranes, the old Traveling Steam Cranes have become a rarity. There used to be a smaller MG crane too at the station. But maybe it has been dismantled. The station is home to many MG coaches used in Quilon-Tirunelveli line, with an MG coach care facility

Quilon-Schencottah MG Line

The Quilon-Schenocttah railway MG line, via Punalur, Aryankavu celebrated it's 100th anniversary on 01 June 2004. But, there are no grand gala functions, or decorated trains. This hill line, hailed as Queen of Metre Gauge lines is an engineering marvel competing with the Nilgiri Hill Railway. But, during the recent past, it has received a step motherly attitude since the commencement of Trivandrum-Chennai Broad Gauge line via Ernakulam. Still, this line is a railway tourist's heaven, filled with plantations, mountains, valleys, rivers and the famous Aryankavu Viaduct. Due to it's rugged terrain, it's conversion to BG, though sanctioned is still far away

Inaugrated on 1 June 1904, this is the second railway line to come to the present day state of Kerala, the first in the native kingdom of Travancore. The first line to come to Kerala is the Shoranaur-Ernakulam Terminus (Goods) line in 1 July 1901 (The first line to Kerala was the Madras-Beypore line of Madras Railway Co.,, opened on 12 March 1861. But those parts of Kerala were in Madras Presidency then. Travancore and Cochin were two separate Native States under the British rule.)

By 1870's the South Indian Railway Company (formed in 1874, after amalgamation of various smaller railway companies) had managed to complete the Madras Beach - Tuticorin line. A rail link from Tirunelveli to Quilon and subsequently to Trivandrum could connect the native state with Madras. The First idea of a rail link from Tirunelveli to Quilon, the trading capital of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom was conceived in 1873.

The line was sanctioned by the Madras Presidency in 1899 South Indian Railway Co., completed the survey for this line by 1900, after considering many routes. Unlike lines to many native states, which were funded by the Maharajah's themselves, this rail line was built jointly by SIR, Trvancore state and Madras Presidency. And unlike the other native states, Travancore state did not have a railway company of their own. South Indian Railways operated trains here.

Various details of this line are given below:

  1. The total length of this line is 108 miles.
  2. The line was completed in 1904 with a total cost of Rs. 1,12,65,637.00
  3. The line from Quilon to Punalur was inaugurated on 1 June,1904. The Quilon-Schencottah line was thrown open on 26 November, 1904. Quilon Trivandrum (Chalai) line was inaugurated on 4 January 1918.

Interesting incident during the inauguration of the Quilon-Schencottah line

The Maharaja of Travancore had published that the first train will start from Quilon and make the trip to Schencottah on 1 June 1904. All related Government notifications were published for this and news flashed across the British Raj. But due to heavy monsoon rains, a portion of the tunnel near Aryankavu cave in and the line was blocked. Frantic and to avoid the Kings wrath, the Chief Engineer finally decided to bring over the two steam locomotives, lying at Schencottah to Quilon so that at least the Quilon-Punlur line can be inaugurated. So, the two locos were brought to Tuticorin dismantled and transported to Quilon on ship. The loco parts were transported from the Kochu Pilamoodu port in Quilon to Ashramam maidan on bullock carts, assembled at the maidan and further sent to the station on the frantically laid line from the maidan to station. People of Quilon greeted these locos with fear. Some even shifted their homes from near the railway tracks. But soon the localites understood the importance of railways. The locos were then lovingly called "Dhuma Shaka Asuran" (Cloud spitting demon) by the localites.

The first station master of Quilon Station was Mr. Ramiah. The first train was flagged of by the Maharaja itself, with the 21 salute gun fire, used only on extremely important occasions, like victory in war.

We should never forget the vital role played by the loyal British railway officers and benevolent Maharajahs in shaping the Indian Railways we see today. They conceived the idea of a railway line through the rugged Western Ghats nearly one hundered and thirty years ago. And not only they conceived the idea, they built them and operated trains successfully. Today, we are struggling to merely to convert this line from Metre Gauge to Broad Gauge. So, the strain they undertook in building the line is much beyond the imagination of modern day railways.

Steam Sheds At Quilon

Quiilon once had a very busy MG steam shed. When the Trivandrum-Ernakulam line was converted to BG, a BG steam shed too was started.

During the good old times, Quilon steam shed was one of the biggest in SR after Madurai. Steam engines from smaller sheds like Tirunelveli used come to Quilon for overhauling. During the late 1960's, the shed had many YP and YG locos and a few small. The YP's and the shunters were withdrawn or transferred elsewhere in the early seventies and after that time the shed had only YG's. The YP's were exclusively used in the Quilon - Schencottah and Quilon-Trivandrum sectors. On the Quilon-Ernakulam sector, YG's were more commonly used. The YG's were also used to work as bankers in the ghat sections. And of course, YG's from Quilon went all over South India with goods trains.

Crowning moment of the Quilon shed was when it was selected as the best maintained MG steam shed in the whole of IR in 1974.

A strange fact is that though Quilon was awarded the best shed and it's locos revered everywhere, the prestigious 105/106 Trivanrum-Madras Mail and the 137/138 Trivandrum-Madras Super Express used to be hauled by YP's from Madurai shed only, and of course the bankers on these trains were YG's from QLN only.

The BG era is Quilon dawned after the conversion of the Quilon-Ernakulam section in 1975. A BG steam shed was built adjacent to the MG shed to cater to this route. Initially the shed had only a few WP and WG main line locos and some XB and XD class shunters. After conversion of the Quilon-Trivandrum section, a few more WP's and WG'S were added. Almost all the express trains in this route were hauled by WP's from Quilon. During early eighties the WP's were completely withdrawn, and shortly, all the trains were diselised, leading to the complete demise of the BG shed

The allocation of locos at the steam sheds in 1979 were:

  • Quilon BG: 12 WP, 2 WG, 4 XB, 4 XD (Total 22)
  • Quilon MG: 41 YG (Total 41)

Remains Of The Steam Sheds Today

Remains of the old MG loco shed, now converted into a Coach Repair area can be seen today. A pit line still remain. All the MG rolling stock used in Quilon-Tirunelveli sector is based and taken car of here. The Diesel MG locos used in the Quilon - Tirunelveli are given periodic minor overhauls here. For major overhauls, they are sent to Golden Rock Workshops on flatbed railway wagons. There are a total of 18 YDM 4 MG Diesel locos working in this line today. Remains of the BG loco shed has completely vanished. The area is now used up as goods sidings.

Diesel Era In Quilon

The first diesel loco came to Quilon sometimes in 1969 or so with a freight train from Madurai. Many perplexed people came to see the loco which was stabled for viewers in the yard on the side of the MG steam loco shed very close to road.

During early seventies the 105/106 Trivandrum-Madras mail was diselised and a few months later, the 137/138 Trivandum-Madras Express too was dieselised. They used to be hauled by YDM's from Guntakal shed till mid seventies, till the Golden Rock diesel shed was opened. MG version of Trivandrum-Ernakulam Venad Express was introduced during 1972. It ran with diesels right from the beginning.

With the introduction of diesel locos, the YP steam locos were sent elsewhere and only the YG class remained. These YG's were used as bankers for sometime but they became obsolete since diesels did not need one. The YG's were then confined to goods and shuttle services.

On the BG side, all the trains were diselised by 1982. BG Venad Express, introduced in 1975 was diesel hauled right from the beginning. The train may have paired it's loco to the Madras-Cochin Mail (or Express) at Ernakulam. All other trains were steam hauled for many years until dieselisation was completed in 1982

Important Trains That Operated From Quilon

During its hey days, the Quilon-Madras line had considerable traffic. The MG trains that went up to Trivandrum were curtailed at Quilon after the conversion of Quilon-Trivandrum sector to Broad Gauge.

Trivandrum-Madras Egmore Mail and Trivandrum-Madras Egmore Express were the two trains that connected Trivandrum to Madras. Both these took about 21 hours for the journey. The Trivandrum-Madras passenger took 36 hours for the journey. There were some fast passenger as well as passenger trains between Trivandrum/Quilon and Madurai and Tirunelveli.

105/106 Trivandrum-Madras MG Mail: This train was made Quilon-Madras Mail after conversion of Quilon-Trivandrum sector to BG. The Mail left Trivandrum at mid morning to reach Madras early morning the next day. It left Madras late evening to reach Trivandrum by late afternoon next day. The train had an AC coach from very early days, but was withdrawn when the train was truncated at Quilon. The AC coach was made a slip coach till Schencottah. During the final days of the train, it by passed Madurai and ran via Manamadurai since the Madurai-Virudunagar sector was converted to Broad Gauge. The train was discontinued in June 2000. A Trivandrum-Madras Mail (2623/2624) still exists today, but please don't get confused, the present day Mail is the extended version of old 19/20 Cochin-Madras Mail.

137/138 Trivandrum-Madras Super Express: The Express left Trivandrum late night to reach Madras late evening next day. It left Madras late morning and reached Trivandrum early morning the next day. This train was a day train between Madurai and Madras. After the introduction of Vaigai Express in 1977, it's patronage became very poor in this sector and was subsequently cancelled between Madras and Trichy to run as Quilon-Trichy Express for many years. During early 1990's, it was combined with Trichy-Nagore Fast Passenger and made Quilon-Nagore Express. Finally, during 1998, the route of this train was changed again and made Quilon-Coimbatore Express via Palani, Trichy, Manamadurai. This train was very well patronaged, but was cancelled after the Gauge Conversion of Madurai-Rajapalayam sector. The train was discontinued in 2002. Till date there is no train in the madras-Trivandrum sector that has helpful timings to travelers from Chennai to reach Trivandrum early morning, like the discontinued Super Express

191/192 Trivandrum-Ernakulam Venad Express: Introduced in 1972, it was the first express connection between Trivandrum and Ernakulam. It left Trivandrum early morning to reach Ernakulam in the afternoon. In the return, it left Ernakulam in the mid afternoon to reach Trivandrum late night.

In addition to Venad Express, there was an overnight passenger from Trivandrum to Ernakulam, which enjoyed considerable patronage.

Timings of some important trains during early 1970s are given below:

Trivandrum-Madras MG Mail:

  • Trivandrum Dep: 10.00, Madras Egmore Arr 07.05
  • Madras Egmore Dep 19.05, Trivandrum Arr 16.20

Trivandrum-Madras Super Express:

  • Trivandrum Dep 21.10, Madras Egmore Arr 18.00
  • Madras Egmore Dep 08.30, Trivandrum Arr 05.50

Trivandrum-Ernakulam Venad Exp:

  • Trivandrum Dep 04.15, Ernakulam Arr 12.45
  • Ernakulam Dep 14.20, Trivandrum Arr 22.25

Quilon - Trivandrum Central Metre Gauge Line

The Madras-Quilon line was extended to the capital of the Princeley State of Travancore, Trivandrum and was opened on 4 January 1918. The line then terminated at a place called Chalai, which is a market now and was the trading centre of Trivandrum then. The terminus was shifted to Trivandrum Central (Thampanoor) was inaugurated in 1931. The Trivandrum Central station we see today was built by the Maharajah of Travancore and inaugurated on 4 November 1931. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful station buildings in South India. The station is built completely with rock masonry and no brick has been used. Though the traffic here has multiplied exponentially after conversion of Ernakulam-Quilon MG line to BG and inauguration of Tirunelveli-Trivandrum BG line, the station, even 75 years after it was built, handles it with ease, much better than many important stations built later. Another farsightedness of the Maharajah.

The Ernakulam-Quilon MG line, via Kottayam was opened on 6 January 1958 thus connecting Ernakulam to Trivandrum, the commercial hub to capital of the new born state of Kerala. During 1970's the only traffic in the Ernakulam-Trivandrum line were two expresses and a couple of passengers. This line was converted to Broad Gauge and inaugurated by Smt. Indira Gandhi on 13 September 1976. Traffic has increased by leaps and bounds on this route after the Gauge Conversion.

Quilon Jn - Ashramam Maidan Line

This small one and half mile metre gauge line ran from Quilon Jn to Ashramam Maidan. It was dismantled in 2000 to give way for town expansion As mentioned earlier, parts of locomotives used for the inauguration of the Quilon-Schencottah line were shipped to Quilon from Tuticorin. They were assembled at this open ground. The line was laid to carry these locomotives to the main station. The line went around the huge ground. There still exist a government Guest House here.

The line continued to be used for many more years. The guest house was used by kings and high ranking officials alike when they visited the commercial hub of Travancore. Soon after the conversion of Quilon - Trivandrum line to BG, this line was forsaken and railways handed over the property to the Municipality who made good use of the land.

I would like to thank the following persons for helping me prepare thus report:

  • Mr. Mathew Georg Alummoottil, son of an ex railwayman at the shed
  • Mr. Ajai Banarjee
  • Mr. R. Aravind