Here is a
report on the history of this station and reasons for its degradation.
Most of the information was shared by the young station master of CHTS,
The birth of Willingdon Island Cochin Harbour Terminus is situated on the
man-made Willingdon Island in Cochin. This 22 km² island was conceived and
built by the brilliant British engineer, Sir Robert Bristow. When Sir
Bristow came to Cochin in 1920, it was a small harbour where ships were
exposed to nature's violent forces. He surveyed the open sea on the boat
called Dorothea (named after his sister) and made the master plan for
the island, which was immediately approved by the British Government.
The herculean task began in 1926, with the dredger Lord Willingdon
leading the way. Thousands of engineers, workers and machines worked
hand-in-hand on the project. Many lost their lives in the process. The sea
was dredged and deepened, sand bars removed and with this sand and mud he
brilliantly designed and built Willingdon Island and the Cochin Port. At
the time, no electricity was available and most of the work was carried
out either with human muscle or steam cranes.
The first ship, MT Padma berthed here on 28 May 1926, under Capt.
Bullen's command. Willingdon Island is named after Viceroy Lord Wellingdon.
The dredger was also named after him. When he left Cochin in 1941, Sir
Robert Bristow had transformed Cochin into one fo the safest harbours in
the peninsula. When asked about the construction work, his reply was If
it's only difficult, it's already done; if it's impossible, it shall be
done. Willingdon Island has an airport, a railway station and a seaport
within a radius of three kilometres, the only one of its kind in the whole
Laying the tracksA port is never complete without a railway line. In those
days, trains came only up till the Old Station, which is non-existent now.
The station had a metre gauge line to Shoranur. This had to be converted
to broad gauge to connect it to rest of India. The new broad gauge line
would pass through Ernakulam into Willingdon Island. Many different routes
were studied. New stations were planned, and built along the way. These
were Ernakulam Town, Ernakulam Jn, Perumanur (non-existent), Mattanchery
Halt and finally, Cochin Harbour Terminus.
More than the passenger traffic, freight traffic was anticipated and it
did come, in lots. The huge Venduruthy Bridge had to be built to connect
Willingdon Island with the mainland. The road bridge across Vembanad Lake
was sanctioned and the engineers submitted their plan for a rail bridge
alongside the road bridge and it was approved in 1936. Construction work
started almost immediately and was completed in 1938.
A golden era beginsThe first train rolled across the huge bridge to Cochin
Harbour Terminus sometime in the 1940s. In fact, this is the first time a
train passed through both Ernakulam Jn. and Ernakulam Town stations.
Records at Cochin Harbour Terminus concerning the early days are sparse.
Most of them were damaged. Some were left neglected in the underground
cellar and were destroyed by termites and insects, so the exact dates are
not available. These dates were obtained from old employees working at the
station. The station was put under the Olavakkode (modern-day Palghat)
Division of SIR and continued under the same till 1978, when it was taken
over by Trivandrum.
From its inception, the station saw a lot of freight traffic. Tea, coffee,
spices, cotton, coir etc. came in wagons to be loaded onto the numerous
ships. A special station was built next to the wharf to cater for incoming
coal and other fuel needs. It had the highest safety features of the time.
No smoking was permitted and fire stations were nearby. This station was
called the Coal Berth. Now the station has been dismantled, but the line
is used by tankers to transport light diesel oil for ships.
Another extension was made to the wharf directly so that cranes could
unload various commodities directly onto the wagons. This line still
exists today and is a revenue earner for IR. With the onset of containers,
several container yards were built in the vicinity of CHTS.
The growth of a nexusThe first passenger train to begin operations from
CHTS was the Cochin<>Shoranur passenger. There were two runs, one leaving
in the morning and the other in the evening. This itinerary has not
changed for 60 years and the train uses the same timings even today. It
also served as a link to the Madras<>Mangalore mail. Passengers used this
train to go to all over British India.
Soon, SIR introduced the Madras<>Cochin express, predecessor of the 41/42
Chennai<>Alleppey express. This train was introduced as a weekly express
in 1944. The train used to leave CHTS mid-afternoon and reach MAS in the
morning. Coming back, it left MAS in the evening and arrived CHTS
mid-morning. This train was a huge money earner for SIR. It transported
people and all sorts of freight. Once, this train had separate coaches for
British-bound cargo and the rest. It is not necessary to mention about the
classes it had during the British Raj.
The 41/42 played an important role during the Second World War
transporting the troops that arrived from various parts of the globe to
parts of British Raj. The train had an A.C. coach from the very early
days. This train had many through coaches which went to Bangalore, Bombay
etc. Strangely, railway records at the archives in Chennai show that it
was introduced only in 1965. The records at CHTS mention the train's
existence in 1944, when it was used to transport personnel and supplies
for the World War. There is ample proof that the train ran before 1965
since my father travelled by it in 1957.
Another important train, the Ooty<>Cochin Tea Garden express was
introduced around this time. Its main purpose, as the name suggests, was
to transport tea and related products from the Nilgiris to Cochin for
export. It was broad gauge from CHTS to Mettupalayam and metre gauge from
Mettupalayam to Ooty. Later, a portion of this train started running to
Tiruchchirappalli. In the early 1990s, the Mettupalayam portion was
discontinued. The train now exists as the 6865/6866 Tiruchchirappalli<>Ernakulam
The station played a vital role during the Second World War, transporting
supplies, ammunition, personnel, vehicles etc. They arrived from the west
and were sent across to the British Raj. The close proximity to the Naval
Base and Air force Base enhanced the importance of the station.
During the 1960s, the through coaches to Bangalore were made into a
separate train, the Island express, named after Willingdon Island. This
train now runs as the 6525/6526 Bangalore<>Kanniyakumari express.
Ushering in the diesel ageThe first diesel loco was flagged off from the
station with the Cochin<>Madras express in 1961, thanks to the
then-Railway Minister from Kerala, Mr. Panampilly Govinda Menon. Most of
the rest of India remained in the Steam Age. A trip shed was also built to
accommodate the WDM-1 locos.
During the same time, a second train was also introduced to Chennai. This
was the forerunner of the present day 2623/2624 Chennai<>Trivandrum mail.
This train was a superfast from its conception. It left late evening from
both ends and reached its destination early morning.
The crowning glory for the station came in 1972 when two new Jayanthi
Janata expresses were introduced from the station. IR had introduced five
of these new class-less trains. Out of the five, two were from Cochin. The
first one, 81/82 CHTS<>BBVT Jayanthi Janata now exists as the CSTM<>CAPE
express. The second one, 131/132 CHTS<>NZM Jayanthi Janata was later
renamed as Mangala Exp. with F.C. and A.C. coaches. This train ceased
operations from the station in 1987. In 2000, it returned to the
neighbouring Ernakulam station as the 2617/2618 Mangala express.
The 49/50 Day express was introduced around the same time between Cochin
and Shoranur. The train was quickly converted to the 6349/6350 Trivandrum<>Mangalore
The cards are drawnIn 1978, railways shortlisted two stations, Cochin
Harbour Terminus and Trivandrum Central to base the new division at.
Ultimately, TVC won the race. Had the new division been set up in CHTS,
the station would not have encountered its present fate. There was a huge
uproar in the newspapers and the parliament due to the selection.
Trivandrum was a much smaller station then.
The 1980s saw a boom in passenger and freight traffic from the station. A
new container yard was built. Ammonia storage, sulphur heaping and coal
storage facilities were started near the station. It is because of these
the station still registers on the IR map.
Many new trains were introduced during this time. They included:
935/936 CHTS<>BBVT Netravati express (now 6345/6346 TVC<>LTT Netravati
957/958 CHTS<>Dadar express (later 6657/6658 exp., now discontinued)
929/930 Hyderabad<>Cochin express (now 7029/7030 TVC<>HYB Sabari
903/904 Cochin<>Rajkot express (now 6337/6338 ERS<>HAPA exp)
909/910 CHTS<>Patna express (Now ERS<>Patna 6309/6310 exp)
937/938 CHTS<>ADLS express (now 6337/6338 ERS<>HAPA exp)
911/912 CHTS<>GKP Raptisagar express (now 5011/5012 TVC<>GKP Raptisagar
CHTS<>Indore, CHTS<>Bilaspur (now TVC<>Indore, TVC<>Bilaspur)
923/924 CHTS<>HWH (now 6323/6324 TVC<>HWH)
Cochin<>Varanasi (now 6359/6360 ERS<>Rajendra Nagar exp)
The end beginsIn 1991, CHTS lost its most precious treasure, the
Cochin<>Madras Exp. This train was extended to Alleppey.
The station served as a base for the push-pull services of Kerala.
Push-pull trains operated from Cochin to Guruvayur, Kottayam, Alleppey and
Shoranur. These trains have been replaced by ordinary passengers and now
terminate at Ernakulam.
In 1996, Railways drew the electrification map for Kerala. Cochin was set
to be a focal point for the electric locos. Even a loco shed was planned
in the vast empty spaces adjoining the station. Alas, the Navy objected to
the plan. Hence, the 6-kilometre line from Ernakulam to Cochin was not to
be electrified. This meant that the electric trains would terminate at ERS
rather than CHTS. A new coach maintenance facility was built at Ernakulam
Marshalling Yard for this purpose. New sidings were also built.
The first train to be relocated from CHTS to ERS was the LTT<>CHTS
Netravati express. Raptisagar, Sabari, CHTS<>HWH and all the other trains
followed suit. The Tea Garden express clung on till 2001, when it was
finally moved to ERS. Many of these trains have been extended from ERS to
TVC. So they have altogether stopped operating from CHTS. Many freight
trains too stopped coming to CHTS. Still, container, coal and ammonia
traffic continue, giving some revenue to the line, not the station. These
are now controlled separately and not under CHTS.
The Navy's permission finally was granted in 2002. By then most of the
trains had ditched the station. The only trains operating were the SRR<>CHTS
pass and Tea Garden express. This time, surveys showed that the Venduruthy
Bridge was not strong enough to support electrification. It was just too
old. There was no point in building a new bridge just for the smattering
Fall from graceThe station is a shadow of its glorious past. The day I
visited the station, the collection was just INR 8.00. The station master
told me that even if the collection is nil, the collection box has to be
sent to ERS. Nobody calls up the station to enquire about the collection.
Many days, it is less than the phone charge of the call.
All the sidings, trip shed and coach repair shed have been engulfed by
weeds. Poisonous snakes, rabbits, scorpions and even porcupines are the
main inhabitants. It will take crores of rupees to clean up. The station
building has not received a coat of paint for years. The clock is dead.
None of the announcement systems function.
Yet the station is very clean, thanks to the station master, who simply
thrashes out the urchins that come here. Beggars know better than to haunt
the place. The station is cleaned every morning by the sweepers. Even
perfumed lemon grass oil is used. This expense is met by the staff. A
wheel chair is available for disabled persons travelling on the SRR
A ray of hope The future is bright according to the station master.
Container terminals have been coming up, earning revenue for the station.
If the container traffic continues to rise, a stronger Venduruthy Bridge
will be built. If that happens, passenger trains may also make a comeback.
All this depends on the state of Cochin Port. He said that Cochin Port is
plagued by surprise trade union strikes. So many entrepreneurs prefer
Tuticorin and Mangalore. But the situation is changing and maybe just
maybe we may see grand trains at CHTS once again.
Let us hope so.
Acknowledgements : Jimmy Jose wishes to thank the following for their
K. Jose Thomas, my father
Mr. Prakash, Station Master, CHTS
Mr. Francis Joseph, Cochin Port
Mr. Narayanan, Cochin Port