Heritage of Royapuram Railway Station

by Vikas Singh, 2007

On June 28, 1856, Royapuram station was inaugurated by the then Governor of Madras, Lord Harris. The first Madras Railway Company was formed in London on 8th July, 1845, with the aim of constructing rail lines in Madras Presidency. The company approached the East India Company for support for construction of a railway between Madras, Walajahnagar, and Arcot. Despite Mr. F. W. Simms, Director of the Railway Department recommending the project, the Court of Directors of the East India Company (E.I.C.) declined to support the project. With the East India Company showing an indifferent attitude the company became defunct.

However the mercantile community of Madras Presidency did not lose patience and continued lobbying. Finally on 7th June, 1852, the Board of Control of the E.I.C. agreed to a guarantee of 4-1/2% on the capital for the proposal. A new company also called the Madras Railway Company was registered on 26th July, 1852. Construction began and the Company opened its first section, 101.74km long, from Royapuram to Arcot (now called Wallajah Road), the titular capital of the Nawab of the Carnatic on 1st July, 1856.

On the occasion of the opening, the company issued invitations to about 300 of the leading members of the European society to witness the function, and to take a trip by train to Amboor, have dinner and to return in the evening by another train that was to leave after the departure of the first one, to a nearer station up the line - Triveloor. This was the second train for the leading members of the native community of Madras who had also been invited to take the train trip. The coaches had been made by Simpson & Co., the leading coach-builders of the day.

The Illustrated London News dated the 6th of September, 1856, described the function as follows: "Arrived at Amoor, the crowds were greater than ever, the hills were covered with varied-colored masses; the artillery guns roared their welcome to Lord Harris, who on alighting, was received by a guard of honour of the 19th Regiment and officials of the Private Railway Company, headed by Major Jenkins, their manager. The guests alighting under a shamianah, or covered entrance-way to the reception stand, the bands playing, the multitude cheering, and the bright sun shining on the brilliantly-colored groups, formed a striking picture. Tents were pitched for the guests, who shortly assembling were led to the pavilion which had been temporarily erected for their entertainment at an elegant repast. Lord Harris proposed a toast to the success of the railway and the health of the agent and manager, Major Jenkins. His Lordship's speech was very commendatory upon the economy and expedition with which the line has been thus far completed, a distance of 65 miles in three years at a cost which he stated was estimated at about 5,500 pounds sterling per mile. It was stated by Major Jenkins in replying to his Lordship's toast, that the whole line extending to the western coast, a distance of about 450 miles was in course of construction, and that considerable progress had been made upon it. Its course, he stated, lies through Vellore, Salem, Coimbatore, around of the foot of the Nilgiri Hills, terminating at Naypoor, a small port on the Western Coast, a little to the south of Calicut."

The Madras Railway Company opened the rail link till Beypoor (near Calicut) in 1861. In the north-west, Renigunta was reached in 1862 and the line was further extended till Raichur in 1871.The Jalarpet-Mangalore section was opened in 1864.

The Madras Railway Company's contract expired on the 31st of December, 1907. The Secretary of State for India purchased the lines owned by the Company. Rail lines of the Company, excluding the Jalarpet-Mangalore section, were from now on to be managed by the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway Company.

Captain Barnett Fort, whose drawing appeared in The Illustrated London News, described the rooms in the Royapuram station as being "very elegant and most superbly furnished with handsome punkahs". With the construction of a magnificent terminus at Madras (now called Chennai Central) in 1868, Royapuram started losing its significance. Royapuram was to remain Madras's main station till 1907, when further route extensions made Madras Central the city's premier terminus.

For a long tine, in its derelict state, little of this station was recognizable. One end of the railway station, formerly used as a military platform, became a playground and most of the area got covered with overgrown scrub vegetation. Tiles got worn out, the plaster started peeling off from the walls exposing the bricks, and door frames wore out. Weeds started growing out of the cracks in the walls. On the occasion of the 150-year celebrations of IR, heritage committees were formed to preserve IR's rich heritage. Thankfully, Royapuram too received attention and renovation work started in full earnest. The renovated railway building was declared open by the Union Minister of State for Railways Mr Velu on the 2nd of October, 2005.