Friday, July 1, 2016

Shakuntala Railway - A Railway Ride into History

Picture Courtesy: Rogier Koops

Shakuntala Railway - Century Old Operational Train Line

India seemed to have a century old operational train line, till 2014 that had not been in possession of the Indian Government. Several of the people were of the opinion that the rail assets inclusive of trains and tracks were the possession of the Indian Railways. However there seems to be a railway network known as Shakuntala Railway which was retained by a private British company and till recently- 2014, it was said that each year the British company netted revenue of around 1 crore from this set apart rail network.

The said rail network built during the time of the British rule by a British company in 1903 is known as Killick, Nixon and Company – KNC, for transporting cotton from Vidharba – Maharashtra, to Bombay, to be shipped to Manchester. The British owned company received the royalty from the Indian Railways for running the passenger train – Shakuntala Express on its narrow gauge route which runs in the remote-cotton growing locations of Achalpur earlier known as Ellichpur, under the division of Amravati which is the birthplace of President Pratibha Patil.Set up in 1857, Killick, Nixon and Company had created the Central Provinces Railway Company to act as its agents.

Political Issue to be Kept Alive

Moreover, the company had also built narrow gauge line in 1903 in order to carry cotton from Yavatmal to the main line to Mumbai which was then shipped to Manchester in England. Built in 1921 in Manchester, a ZD-steam engine dragged the train for over 70 long years after it was put in service in 1923.On April 15, 1994, it had been withdrawn to be replaced by a diesel engine which tends to pull carriages presently.

Shakuntala Railway

In 1913, the ancestor of present day Indian Railway, The Great Indian Peninsula Railway had started utilising the tracks and trains of Shakuntala Railway to transport passengers and on using the assets of a private company, paid royalty to KNC. Unlike several of the rail lines which tend to be broad gauge line, Shankuntala railways tend to use a narrow gauge line, still. The main train in this network had been Shakuntala Express transporting passengers to Yavatmal to Murtijapur. It would cover around two dozen villages daily that had no connectivity of roads between them, which made the train life a benefit for hundreds of the villagers as well as a political issue to be kept alive.

Killick-Nixon – Agent for Own Group Company

In 1910, it was a period of private railroad companies when the British company floated the Central Province Railway Company, a joint venture with British Indian government in laying the railways tracks which could be utilised in transporting cotton from Vidarbha and eventually to Manchester in England. The tracks had the trains running by 1916 and shortly was utilised in transporting passengers also. The trains which were operated in Central Indian were run by Great Indian Peninsular Railway. This deal seems to continue even after the GIPR became Central Railway post-independence and in the entire process, Killick Nixon seemed to be the agent for its own group company.

Presently the track tends to fall under the Bhusawal division of Central Railway. But no one in the railways and Killick Nixon has the knowledge of why the track is not nationalized yet. An official has mentioned that ‘All the British companies were taken over like GIPR became Central Railway; East India Railway Company was made Eastern Railway and so on. But the erstwhile companies’ contract with private firms like CPRC seems to continue. We do not know what the decision makers thought at that time. Maybe nobody bothered since the affairs seems to be running smoothly then’.

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