Shornur- Ernakulam Terminus Meter Gauge rail route (1931)
The Main line was laid by British’s Madras Railway towards Calicut which was their western terminus while the branch line was developed as Meter Gauge in the early 1900’s and came to be called as Cochin State Railway, terminating at Ernakulam Terminus rly station, located in the Mangalvanam Bird Sanctuary adjacent to Kerala High court near the back waters.
Ernakulam Terminus was the first railway station in the city of Ernakulam, constructed by the Maharaja XV Rama Varma where the great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin Viceroy had visited Cochin through this old majestic railway station. The Ernakulam Terminus rly station was the headquarters of Cochin State Railway company that operated Meter Gauge trains between Ernakulam and Wadakancherry hills for transporting teak and rosewood from the forest into the town.
The Cochin State Forest Tramway line ran from the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary in Palakkad District to the town of Chalakudy in Trichur District. The first route of Cochin State Tramway was started from Chalakudy and ended at Anapantham, covering a length of 21 miles; the second ran from Kavalai to Pothupara, covering six miles; and the third ran from Komalapara to Chinnar, covering 22.5 miles.
The Cochin State Tramway operated from 1907 to 1963, and the goods could then be exported abroad. The rly station is now abandoned and operates as a Goods Terminal of the Southern Railway. The Shornur- Ernakulam Terminus Meter Gauge rail route survived for about 30 years since its inception in the early decade of 1900s’.
The Madras- Calicut line of Madras Railway’s Western Terminus which was later transferred to South Indian Railway Company in the latter development in the mid decade of 1900s was already running 1 or 2 express train services along the route for carrying British officers from Calicut to the Madras Port. The early decade of 1930’s witnessed the emergence of Shornur- Cochin Harbour Terminus line that remained one of the historical most terminal rly stations in the network of Southern Railway since inception.
The Shornur- Ernakulam Terminus Meter Gauge line was converted to Broad Gauge in the early decade of 1930’s with its extension ran towards Ernakulam North and Ernakulam Jn rly stations. The Ernakulam South rly station was constructed in the early decade of 1930s when the new Broad Gauge track from Idapally was extended up to the South station via Ernakulam North station. During the same time, the track from Ernakulam South was extended up to the Cochin Harbour rly station across the Vembanad Lake backwaters in the Willingdon Island of the city with a wharf terminal. The unification of lines into Broad Gauge connected Ernakulam Terminus rly with Mangalore and Madras Main line via Shornur Junction railway station.
A port is never complete without a railway line. Earlier the trains came only up to Ernakulam Terminus rly station which was Meter Gauge. The new Broad Gauge line from Idapally would pass through Ernakulam North, Ernakulam South railway station, Perumanur, Mattancherry Halt and finally, Cochin Harbour Terminus rly station along the way to get into the Willingdon Island by crossing the huge Vendurthy rail bridge over the Vembanad Lake backwaters.
The huge Venduruthy bridge had to be built to connect Willingdon Island with the mainland. The engineers submitted their plan for a rail bridge alongside the road bridge and it was approved in 1936 which the construction work started almost immediately and was completed in a span of two years in 1938. By 1940’s the flow of traffic at Cochin Harbour rly station was almost doubled and a number of important express trains to British India’s Madras State and Bangalore Cantonment had been introduced.
The train to Ottacamund hill station had started running from Cochin Harbour rly station which later came to be known as the legendary Tea Garden express. The Ernakulam Terminus rly station had almost lost its importance with the coming of a Harbour line to Cochin’s wharf terminal in the Willingdon Island and thus the downfall started.
In the year 1956, the Ernakulam- Kottayam newly constructed Meter Gauge line was opened to traffic and further extended up to Quilon Jn rly station in the year 1958, connecting it with Indian Railways Southern Railways’ Madras- Quilon Meter Gauge line up to Trivandrum Central rly station in Thampanoor.
Since the opening of Kottayam Meter Gauge line that made Ernakulam South a junction rly station and hence it was renamed as Ernakulam Junction, and Ernakulam North rly station as Ernakulam Town. This was what that made Ernakulam Jn rise to prominence, which was until then just a small wayside station en route to the much busier Cochin Harbour Terminus rly station.
After the independence from the British rule, many Madras bound trains started passing through Ernakulam South rly station and the Meter Gauge trains operated towards Kottayam- Quilon line alongside backwaters on Kottayam- Quilon- Trivandrum stretch. The Venad Express, introduced in 1972 was the only running express Meter Gauge train on Ernakulam- Trivandrum stretch until the Kottayam- Quilon Meter Gauge track was upgraded to Broad Gauge in the year 1975.
The Gauge conversion in Ernakulam- Trivandrum Meter Gauge rail route made Ernakulam South rly station a very important transit point where trains to different parts of the country east, west, north pass through this rly station. The extension of some legendary express trains to Trivandrum largely benefited to the growth of Ernakulam South rly station. It, however, affected the historic Harbour rly station of Cochin city that has rich history of its existence since British era.
In the 1931 Indian Bradshaw TT, the four pairs of passenger trains can be observed in both opposite directions plying on the Shornur- Ernakulam Terminus Meter Gauge stretch.
Written By – Amar Kalia.