Fiona Fernandez Column: Give our rail history its due

Several years ago, while on a personal visit to the United Kingdom, one couldn’t help but feel overawed by the massive scale on which the British respected their heritage — local, rail, road, and everything in between.

The St Pancras building is one example of their tribute to rail history. The striking resemblance to our CST terminus surfaced in a flash. The similarity began and ended with the façade and the grandeur of its Gothic architecture. The rest of our thoughts, about the could-haves and should-haves, will have to be reserved for another column. During that visit, one also had the opportunity to visit the picturesque Isle of Wight. Slightly larger the suburb of Andheri, this island was self sufficient, and a tourist’s delight, complete with its very own steam engine train ride. We couldn’t help, once again, but to draw references with the Matheran Toy Train experience (which is a way, way greater engineering marvel). With a vintage engine to showcase their railway history, we were off on our journey, soaking in the sights and sounds of the picture-postcard-like landscape. Along the way, there were two halts — at Smallbrook and Havenstock — and the latter, even had a museum. Tourists were encouraged to step off the train and visit this little treasure house. Filled with memorabilia of all kinds — from calendars celebrating British rail history to postcards and toy models to engage five-year-olds — we were impressed. Trust the Brits to not only be aware of their history but to also showcase it to the world.

This brings us back to Mumbai. We call this railway network our lifeline. It’s used by millions and yet, when it comes to respecting its rich legacy, there’s little or none of it on display. Last Saturday (November 28) was when, back in 1864, that the first Bombay Baroda and Central India (BB&CI) train on the western coastal lines of Bombay (Mumbai) chugged into Grant Road station from Ahmedabad (Gujarat). In those days, the first terminus on the western line was Grant Road station. It’s a huge milestone, one of the numerous that tend to get lost in a city that seems to have forgotten this arm of its historic growth. While both the Central and Western Railway terminuses house heritage galleries, what the city needs is a massive showcase of its rich railway heritage.

We’re sure that curious visitors are keen to see how the first steam engine that chugged out of long-gone Boribunder station looked like. Imagine being transported in a virtual time machine to relive that first train ride?
The possibilities of it becoming a huge tourist attraction are huge. We are sitting on these salute-worthy dates and milestones that have defined the way India travels. If we don’t protect these chronicles of our past, Mumbai and India are bound to lose out on another missed opportunity, once again.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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