The new broad gauge railway line to Kolar has strengthened Bangalore’s link with a district that is known for producing bricks, enough for half of the dwellings in the city
Old-timers would recall that Bangalore used to be served by all the three railway gauges viz, Broad, Metre and Narrow. The lone Broad Gauge line connected it to Chennai, then Madras and was the only line that allowed trains from big Metros to enter the city. Lines to Tumkur, Mysore and Salem were Metre Gauge. And the first platform on the Bangalore City Station was reserved for Narrow Gauge trains. Rakes resembling KSRTC buses were pulled by steam locomotive. The tiny trains would carry passengers between Bangalore and Bangarapet via Chikkaballapur, Sidlaghatta, Chintamani, Kolar and KGF. It was a 172-km long track with toy trains whistling and whizzing past vineyards, Nandi Hills, silk farms and gold mines. The bus like rakes stabled at pit-lines on Bangarapet Junction, were certainly a head-turner for Bangalore-Madras passengers, their toy-like appearance providing the kids some real entertainment stuff.
On November 8, the railway track, albeit in its new broad gauge avatar, was restored after several years, now providing connectivity to the severely rail-starved Chikkaballapur and Kolar districts. A pair of trains pulled (or pushed) by DEMU locomotives have begun running between Bangalore and Kolar restoring connectivity between Bangalore and areas that have transformed into horticultural basket in recent years.
The restored rail link
Railways have been unkind to Kolar, the district that surrounded Bangalore from almost half the metropolitan periphery of the city. Despite several veterans (like T. A. Pai, C. K. Jaffer Sharief, George Fernandes, C. H. Muniyappa from the State) having occupied the Rail Bhavan for considerable periods, the district known for silk, milk and all the bricks for Bangalore’s dwellings, remained deprived of good rail connectivity.
The restored link connects Bangalore City with Kolar via Bangalore Cantt, Baiyappanahalli, Yelahanka, Devanahalli, Nandi Hills, Chikkaballapur, Sidlaghatta, Chintamani and Srinivaspur. There is, however, difference from the past. The trains do not reach Yelahanka via Yeshwanthpur but go via Bangalore Cantonment and Baiyappanahalli. Railway users have pleaded for extending the trains to Bangarapet and also explore prospects to turn it into a Circular Rail Network by running trains clockwise as well as anti-clockwise on the entire circuit.
It was way back in 1935 that Maharajah of Mysore on a visit to a famous Jyotish (fortune-teller) in Chikkaballapur was petitioned by the townsfolk to provide a rail connection with Bangalore. His Excellency Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar sanctioned a light railway and trains began to trundle between Bangalore and Chikkaballapur, a 62-kilometre link the very next year. It was extended to Bangarapet in various phases. It ran up to 1979 and began to be phased out in stages and the entire line lay defunct between 1989 and 1996. Jaffer Sharief’s reign at the Rail Bhavan saw the phased revival with 1995-96 budget allocating funds for laying broad gauge track. The Railways did a marvellous job by restoring the Yelahanka-Chikkaballapur link on February 10, 1996, in a record six months time. The Second phase saw the revival between Bangarapet and Kolar on December 31, 1999. Last month (November 8), Railway Minister Kharge inaugurated the Bangalore-Kolar link fulfilling the dream of the people from the two districts.
According to Syed Mahmood, a public rights activist, General Secretary of the Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee (DRUCC) it took nearly 2,800 letters, petitions and applications to the Railway Minister/Ministry and several agitations and ‘rail rokos’ between 1985 and 2013 to get the link restored. Mahmood, who is commonly known as “Railway Minister” in the town, says the towns on the rail line have become important with Devanahalli acquiring Bangalore International Airport and the entire area developing as a potato growing area. The potato saplings from the town are sent to Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in large quantities by good wagons. The current rakes of trains are sans toilets. The DRUCC has petitioned for coaches with toilets, sinks and vendors’ luggage holds. The rail line has come as a boon for the travellers in the area who have been paying through nose for the KSRTC buses.
The Railways has cleared several more proposals to link the erstwhile forlorn district with neighbouring places. One among them is to take a rail line from Chikkaballapur to Puttaparthi. It will reduce the Bangalore – Puttaprathi distance by 80 kms while the current journey via Hindupur makes a detour over 185 kms. It has been cleared by the Planning commission. Another rail line is proposed between Chikkaballapur and Gauribidanur, just 38 kms apart. A third railway line seeks to connect Srinivasapur with Madanapalle which is just about 45 kms. It will provide an alternative link to pilgrim town of Tirupati. The proposal has been passed and work is scheduled to begin soon.
Curiously, the platform at Chikkaballapur stretches up to 900 metres and has only two small shaded areas. A single booking counter which issues tickets for destinations beyond Bangalore is often crowded. Station Master Athaulla Khan says nearly 1,000 tickets have to be issued within one hour before trains on each side enter the station and the single booking clerk is under severe pressure.
Notwithstanding all this, the very restoration of the link has brought cheer for thousands of commuters who are switching to rail option for their travel for education, work and healthcare in surrounding towns.