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B.P.T. Railway

(The nearly abandoned railway of the Bombay Port Trust.)

by: S.SHANKAR

A brief report as on July 2000

Hello, and welcome to this small page about the Bombay Port Trust Railway.

Largely stemming out of the heavy raw cotton and foodgrain traffic in the 1920s, the Bombay Port Trust set up an extensive railway network along the coast, from the heavily congested Bombay Docks right upto Wadala Road and Raoli Jn., about 11 km away. The railway was complete with its own independent signalling, (semaphore), locomotive and wagon workshops, water cranes, yards and sheds, hump for shunting, administration, the whole works.

Motive power was provided by cute 2-6-0T tanks, built in Britain, with two larger 2-10-2Ts for hump shunting. Although a couple of diesels came in as well, it were the surviving 2-6-0Ts that ruled the roost till the late 1980s.

Alas, with container traffic, and the railways in general discouraging piecemeal wagon traffic, thus moving goods in complete trainloads (rakeloads, in Indian parlance), the BPT railway all but lost its complete utility. As part of a move to decongest the squalid and chaotic South Bombay docks area, a larger and more modern port was established across the bay at Nhava Shava. Named JNPT (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust), its just a few km across the sea, but a whopping 93 km by rail, as trains have to go all round the island, along the coast.  The establishment of JNPT was the last straw, leading to an almost total decline of the BPT railway. The steam engines were shamelessly broken up in the utmost secrecy, quite surprisingly, and the pleas of a British tour operator to let them live at least till his current group of customers visited fell on deaf ears. The local press was very critical of this shameless haste in breaking up of these faithful machines that had served for well over six decades.

It was a heart rending sight indeed in the late 1980s to see vast stretches of BPT track being torn up, and roads being paved in their place. Container laden lorries now run where the cute 2-6-0Ts and open low sided cars ran. The water cranes and steam shed are all gone, and surviving stretches of track seem to disappear pointlessly into dense undergrowth and foliage. One single track, the grooves mostly filled with mud and stone, stretches uselessly on the badly maintained roads. The skeletal remains of a former port railway is  today but a mere shadow of its former glory.

Well, all is not lost, not  yet. With a view to catering to the estimated oil and chemical traffic, parts of the remaining track are being relaid, with concrete sleepers. Two new diesel locomotives have been procured from the public sector giant the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL). You can still spot a stray container train running on BPT tracks, crossing the lines at Raoli Jn. towards Bandra to join the Western Railway network.

Here then is a pictorial representation of what remains of the once grand BPT railway. My special thanks to fellow irfca member I.S.Anand for patiently driving me all around the BPT railway prenincts on his motorbike, though it was admittedly a high risk affair, being a prohibited area in parts. Thanks also to follow irfca member John Lacey, for the map of the BPT railway, along with pics of the steam locomotives.

All photos are taken with my battered but trusty Konica Big Mini point and shoot camera, with Kodacolor Gold 400 ISO film. 

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1. A map showing the route of the once grand Bombay Port Trust railway in Bombay. Only one line survives today. (Picture courtesy: John Lacey).

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2. This picture set in the 1920s shows the extent of raw cotton traffic once handled by the Bombay Port Trust and its railway. (Picture scanned from the book 'Indian Railways 100 Years: 1853-1953).

 

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3 - 4. For those totally caught in the daily rigmarole of hanging on precariously onto to grossly overcrowded and stuffy commuter trains in Bombay, an occasional sighting of an old 2-6-0T steam loco alongside was a welcome change, giving a period atmosphere to the big bad city. (Pictures scanned from the book 'India: no Problem Sahib).

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5 - 6. Close views of the two classes of steam locomotive used on the BPT railway. The one on the left was the standard 2-6-0T, which survived right upto 1988. The picture on the right shows one of the heavy 2-10-2s used for hump shunting. These heavy tanks were put on line in 1922 and withdrawn in the late 1970s. (Pictures courtesy: John Lacey).

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7. A black day for India and for steam traction. This heart rending scene shows the breaking up of the last of the BPT railway's 2-6-0Ts. The local press lambasted the BPT authorities for this shameless haste and total secrecy. But bureaucracy made wild animals out of supposedly sane individuals. The poor quality of this picture is regretted, but a pic of this nature probably deserves no better deal. (Pictures scanned a photocopy of a photo that appeared in the tabloid 'Afternoon Despatch and Courier' in Bombay  in 1988).

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THE FOLLOWING PICTURES SHOW THE DECREIPT STATE OF THE BPT RAILWAY AS IN JULY 2000.

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8 - 9 Condemned rolling stock of the BPT railway lies in dribs and drabs, almost completely buried amongst foliage in remote corners of the BPT railway. My thanks I.S.Anand for his assistance in tracking them down in these obscure places. We could barely make out the freight car amidst the foliage (right), walking a bit into the undergrowth revealed this flat car with grass growing on its insides.

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10 - 11 A disused semaphore signal with a creeper growing on its works (left) and rusty tracks which seem to disappear uselessly into dense foliage (right) (the tracks are in the immediate foreground) speak volumes of the state of the BPT railway today.

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12 - 13 Remains of a foot overbridge (left) and a signalling cabin (right)are poignant reminders as well. There was at least one person sitting in the cabin. You are transported several decades into history when you see the sign on the cabin: COTTON DEPOT JUNCTION CABIN'. See pic # 2 if you haven't been struck already.

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14. A closer look at the foot overbridge referred to in the above panel.

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15. Yet another poignant reminder of things that were: A weather worn and faded board which reads 'BEWARE OF TRAIN, Stop, Look, Listen'. The board will probably be gone by the time I visit next.

 

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16 - 17 Lorries wait in line flanking a disused line which stretches uselessly (left). Tracks buried almost completely in mud (right) make it easier for the lorries to shuttle in and out of the sheds with their loads.

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18. A vertical pipe obscured by trackside furniture and old sleepers is all that is left of a watering crane for the 2-6-0Ts. The construction of a plinth all around this relic is a sure indication of its being pulled up over the next few days.

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19 - 20. Masjid, Sandhurst Road, Reay Road, Dockyard Road, Cotton Green, Sewri, Wadala Road are some of the stations through which the BPT railway ran. Here is a side view of the suburban station at Reay Road (left), with the erstwhile GIPR (Great Indian Peninsula Railway) markings still intact. Picture on the right shows the foot overbridge leading to the main building. Millions of harried commuters use this station each day, unmindful of the history around them.

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21. A jeep and railway tracks almost completely buried in the mud mark the entrance to what was once the Grain Depot of the BPT. My good friend I.S.Anand got into trouble while photographing here, and had a lot of explaining to do, sitting in a very quaintly named 'Station Master's Office: BPT Railway, Grain Depot' on a massive but empty platform.

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22. Lorries run where the trains once used to. Barring the central line, which is embedded into the road, lorries wait for their loads at the platform, standing on a road which is now built in place of tracks which were ripped up.

 

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23 - 24 Apart from the empty platform and the quaint sign mentioned above, all we could find in the Grain Depot were an old caboose with corrugated roof almost completely buried behind a clump of banana trees (left) and a makeshift office car built upon an open low sided goods wagon (right). May they rust in peace.

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25 - 26  Old BPT Stock is found uselessly dumped singly or in pairs at several places along the line. Local hutment dwellers enjoy a card game under two open low sided cars near Wadala which might have lain there for an eternity (left), a comparatively more recent flat car is laid to rest in isolation alongside an empty goods shed near Sewree. (right).

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27. Period atomosphere with a triple combo semaphore signal mast and a signalling cabin. The sign on the cabin says 'Wadala South Cabin'.

 

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28 - 29 Another view of an uselessly lonely flat car from the newer stock (left) and of the old signalling cabin next to the triplex signal mast (right).

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30. A solitary semaphore signal in 'stop' position near Reay Road station bears testimony to the gradual decline of what was once a grand railway. The track in the foreground is the only one left now. Note the BPT goods shed in the background full of sacks. These sacks will be moved by lorries, which line up on the other side of the platform. Note also generous sprinkling of dollops of human poo on the parapet wall in the foreground. ISA and I couldn't escape stepping on a dollop or two despite our best efforts. Cutting cakes, so to speak! One therefore tends to run away from this place rather than admire the history.

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31. A ray of hope: a modern WCAM/2P dual current electric waits to depart with a colorful container train at Wadala. The empty space on extreme left was once the generous sweep of the extensive BPT railway. Only one line survives now.

 

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32 - 33. With a view to catering to estimated oil and chemical traffic, the BPT is going about modernizing the sole surviving line. A major part of it has been relaid with concrete sleeprs. These two pics show the new diesels put on line recently. These machines are built by the public sector BHEL. In addition, the BPT owns one diesel crane and an antique diesel by Henschel of Germany.

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Comments/Questions?    E-mail me at:      frontier_mail@yahoo.com                                                                    

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