The Patiala State Monorail Tramway - A Reappraisal
by Simon Darvill, 2012
The Patiala State Monorail Tramway (PSMT) has held a fascination for railway enthusiasts since it was "rediscovered" and described in the February 1962 edition of the magazine Railway World. This was furthered by the restoration to working order of one of its locomotives at the National Railway Museum (NMR) in Delhi in the mid 1970s. However, despite two articles being published in the railway press (the article already mentioned and an article written by H R Ambler in the Railway Magazine in February 1969) confusion and misinformation surrounds the system and its history. Using these two articles and records preserved in the Asian, Pacific & African Collection of the British Library (notably Mike Satow's records), the following is an attempt to compile an accurate history of the system, both during their life time and its subsequent history after their demise. The article in the Railway World is important as its author, J R Day, had previously made a brief mention of the line in his 1957 book Unusual Railways. After its publication, Colonel C W Bowles, the engineer responsible for the construction of the PMST contacted Day providing him with much detail concerning the PSMT. This means the Day article is the nearest thing to a first hand history in existence.
Bowles had first encountered the Ewing monorail system when he was the engineer in charge of building the Bengal Nagpur Railway's new workshops at Kharagpur, which started in 1900. The building was of concrete construction. A central depot for concrete production was established and a normal (i.e., 2-rail) narrow gauge line was laid from the central depot to the construction site for the transportation of wet mixed concrete. Bowles stated to Day that the constant lifting and relaying of lines in order to keep up with the progress of the works was laborious. In addition to this, the rough ground caused many derailments. He stated that he tried the Ewing monorail and found it worked well so used it for the lifetime of the project.
At some point during this contract, he met Sir Bhupinder Singh, the Maharajah of Patiala. This meeting eventually led to Bowles being appointed the State Engineer for Patiala. It appears from the evidence that a major reason behind the building of a monorail system in the state was as something useful for the mules maintained by the state on behalf of the Imperial Service Regiment. The animals (300 according to Day and 560 according to Ambler) and their drivers were kept on standby in case the British needed them. The Maharajah obviously thought that it was better to keep them employed rather than idle. The PSMT actually consisted of two systems; each will be examined separately.
Sirhind to Morinda Line
This was the first of the two lines to open. Its construction began in 1907 and was built by the Bombay company of Marsland, Price & Co under Bowles's direction. It also seems that Marsland, Price operated the line as contractors on behalf of the state. It ran from the North Western Railway station at Sirhind, northwest towards Morinda with stations at Bassi and Alampur. A pre-opening report of the line published in December 1908 (but based on an earlier visit) described the line between Sirhind and Bassi, which was the only section of the line completed at the time. It stated that Sirhind station had a small platform and 200ft long goods shed. The line was said to be 6 miles long. Each mile had two 100ft long sidings so trains could pass each other, access to the sidings were controlled by a switch rail worked by a lever. At Bassi the line terminated at a mandir where there were tracks for arrival and departure and a goods shed with storage lines. Telephones were laid through the entire length of the line. The line had four passenger vehicles that could carry 18 to 20 people each and 30 goods wagons that could carry 82 maunds each. The average speed on the line was 8 mph. During trials on the line before opening it had been found that this could be raised to 11½ mph and one test using four artillery horses found that train ran smoothly at nearly 20 mph.
The line was laid using 18lb per yard rail clipped to iron sleepers that measured 10" x 8" x ½". The whole line cost Rs70,000. The line was shown on a 1913 map running on the west side of the road. Ambler states that papers supplied by Bowles's widow said that in one month (September 1908) that 20,000 passengers had been carried, each paying 1½ annas and that goods were carried at one anna per maund. It seems that the carrying of goods on the line caused hostilities with the NWR station staff at Sirhind as they previously had been getting baksheesh from the owners of the bullock carts who had previously carried it. Despite this, there seem to have been talks with the NWR to take over the operation of the line, this however came to nothing as Marsland, Price operated the line until its demise.
It was originally intended to extend the line from Morinda to Rupar. However the NWR built its own BG line between Sirhind and Rupar, which not only put pay to this but the whole of the monorail line and it closed on 1st October 1927, although the Bassi to Morinda section may have been abandoned earlier.
Patiala to Sunam Line
Both Day and Ambler describe this line as the main line. It ran from Patiala southwest to Bhawarigarh and then on to Sunam, although it is doubtful as to whether Sunam was actually reached. Ambler describes the line as follows:
According to Bowles it started in a goods yard of the NWR by Patiala station, which is on a short terminal spur to the south of the through line from Rajpura Junction to Bhatinda. The goods yard was then on the north side of the line, which the monorails crossed at a road level crossing, the NWR rails being notched to allow the grooved monorail wheels to cross. It went through the walled city southwards to City Mandi, turned northwards to the Cantonment Lines, along the side of the main road to Bhawarigarh and thence Sunam.
Ambler states that a 1908 memo written by Bowles stated that the line was completed as far as Bhawarigarh and that the extension to Sunam had been approved by the state. Ambler further adds that the Bowles papers were not clar to whether the line was built. He says that he was informed in Paitala that the line was not completed but that earth mounds at one time existed along the planned route.
Ambler quotes Bowles as saying of the line "later the traffic changed to motors and I removed the line" and "alas, perhaps about 1912 the motor road tongas and wagonettes took the passengers". The line is not mentioned in the 1908 Imperial Gazetteer of India and did not appear on the 1914 map of the area leading Ambler to conclude that the line must have existed between these dates. The line appears to have been problematic from its outset. The line was laid on wooden sleepers rather than iron and termites attacked them. On one section of the road the line ran through the neighbouring state of Nabha. Relations between the two states were not good and this would have made operations difficult. Ambler also suggests that the good condition of the road lead to competition from road traffic.
Civil Engineering of the Lines
Day describes the civil engineering of the Patiala to Sunam line as follows:
The road itself, like many Indian roads in the flat country, was for the most part on a raised embankment to keep it clear of the water when the surrounding land is flooded. According to a sketch provided by Mr Bowles, the embankment was 20ft wide at road level and the centre strip, about 8ft wide, was metalled. This left soft 6ft shoulders at each side of the metalled strip. The monorail was laid on one of these shoulders so that the balancing wheels ran along the edge of the metalled surface, leaving all but six inches or so of it clear for other traffic.
During his visited to the area Ambler stated that he travelled the whole length of both the Sirhind to Morinda and Patiala to Sunam roads with the hope of finding some trace of the civil engineering but found none at all.
Closure & Rediscovery
Before looking at the locomotives and rolling stock used on the line, attention should be first given to the two lines closure and their eventually rediscovery. As has been seen the Sirhind line closed by 1927 and the Patiala line closed probably as early as 1914. In an advert in the 2nd July 1921 edition of the trade journal Indian Engineering the Punjab PWD were offering monorail trucks, passenger cars, locomotives, spare wheels and spare parts for sale from the system. A second advert appeared in the 25th July 1925 edition of the same journal offering the whole tramway for sale, pointing out that although the line and its equipment was monorail, the wagons and the coaches were suitable for conversion to narrow gauge at little cost.
From 1927, the line was mentioned in passing in a few publications, notably the aforementioned book Unusual Railways. This lead to the Day article in 1962, an article that in due course leads to the rediscovery of the line. The rediscovery is perhaps the part of the systems history about which there is the most misinformation. At the time of writing this article, the Wikipedia page for the system (and dozens of others pages that reference it) states that Mike Satow rediscovered the line and its stock in 1962. This seems to ultimately lead back to a statement on the pages written by the late Don Dickens about the PSMT where he makes this assertion.
Satow empathically did not rediscover the system and its equipment. The sequence of events seems to have been the following. Day published his article in the Railway World in February 1962; Ambler read this whilst he was in India and during this stay in India he visited Patiala and rediscovered the workshops and equipment. Ambler returned to England in 1966 and tried to contact Bowles who unfortunately died before Ambler could meet him. Ambler then wrote the article that was published in the February 1969 edition of the Railway Magazine.
It is following all of this that Satow enters the picture. Satow was working in India for ICI as the Managing Director of their Indian operations. If this is to be believed, Satow became involved in the PSMT story after reading the Ambler article. The papers in the British Library tell a slightly different story. There is correspondence between Satow and his boss, the Chairman of the company in the UK. From this it appears it was his Chairman who had read the Ambler article and pointed Satow towards Patiala. In a letter to him after his first visit to the line in October 1969, Satow tells him that he found the equipment was still there and that he would visit it again in 1970. Satow did not rediscover the PSMT; he was just following the leads of others. However he still important in the story as it was his effort that led to the preservation of the remaining equipment. But before that let us examine the locomotives and rolling stock used on the lines.
As is well known, the PSMT had four locomotives delivered by Orenstein & Koppel of Germany (O&K). These are described at great length elsewhere so in summary they were 0-3-0T locomotives based on a standard O&K 0-6-0T locomotive design, works numbers 3356-59, delivered from Germany in March 1909. Ambler suggests that these locos were used on the Patiala to Suman line as this was laid between Patiala and City Mandi with 60lb rail, suggesting that locomotives worked it. Day references a photograph of a petrol driven locomotive adapted from a flat wagon, which would bring the total number of engines to five. Evidence found in the British Library would appear to suggest that the number of locos and where they were used is much more complicated than this.
The first evidence comes from the 1908 pre-opening report. This states that the line is to be worked by mule power but "two steam monorail engines and one Thornycroft petrol monorail engine have been ordered by Marsland, Price". This raises a number of questions. It has always been stated that the Patiala to Suman line was the only one which used locos and that the Sirhind to Morinda line was always worked by mules — this statement would seem to disagree with this idea. It was certainly the intention to work the Sirhind to Morinda line with locos. Two important questions this raises are were the locos ever delivered and what were their identities?
Dealing with the first of these questions, the answer seems to be yes. There are two relevant papers in the Satow collection that prove that the system had more than the just the O&K locomotives. The first are his record of his visits to the PWD yard in Patiala. These were made on 23rd October 1969 and 3rd October 1970. He gives the address as Serapunjab Market, Goshale Road, Patiala and describes the yard as
The PWD yard shows every sign of having been part of the original railway installation and the shed in which the relics stood looks as though it was the running shed of the railway since the locos were standing over what looked like inspection pits with longitudinal walls to carry the rail and road wheel.
He lists four steam locomotives being present — three of them he describes as being O&K locomotives and the fourth as "a steam railcar, its engineering having the O&K stamp about it". However in a letter he sent in the late 1980s to someone enquiring about details of the equipment he found, he states the fourth loco had steel frames which bore British rolling marks. This means it is unlikely for the fourth loco to have been built in Germany, as they would have not used British produced steel.
The second set of Satow's papers that give more detail are a detailed list he made when he was establishing the Rail Transport Museum in Delhi. They show all the locos around India that were being considered for preservation and the reasons why. He shows the three O&K locos, numbered 4, 5 and 6 (I'll come back to these shortly) and what he describes as the PSMT 1908 built locomotive. He then gives a technical description of the latter loco as follows
Two wheeled, slide valve, Stephenson gear, two cylinders. A unique locomotive with high speed totally enclosed geared chain drive. Compound under floor engine boiler with vertical cylindrical firebox, 8ft horizontal fire tubes.
So what was the locomotive and who built it? It would be a safe assertion to say it was one of the two steam locomotives mentioned in the 1908 report. Another piece of supporting evidence as to the existence of steam locomotives other than the O&K locos is the running numbers that Satow shows for the O&K locos in his locos for preservation list. He shows them as carrying running numbers 4, 5 and 6. All previous accounts of the line state that these locos were numbered 1 to 4. The fact that the Satow records the three surviving O&K locos carrying running numbers 4 to 6 (suggesting the missing one was number 3) indicates that a) they were carrying these numbers when he found them at Patiala and b) there were two locos in existence (Nos 1 & 2) on the system before the arrival of the O&K locos.
The fact that he shows the locos as only having two wheels and not three also discounts his initial assertion of it being an O&K product — other than the known O&K 0-3-0T locos, they did not deliver any other locos to the line and certainly no two wheeled locos. Its mechanical description as a vertical cylindered under floor (or well) tank is also completely different to the O&K locos, which were essentially standard O&K locos with monorail wheels and an outrigger. So who built them?
At the present time, the actual builder is unknown. The mentioned in the 1908 report of the three locos only mentions Thornycroft as the builder of the petrol powered loco. However it would not have been impossible for the builder of all three locos to be Thornycroft. Thornycroft were a marine engineering and shipbuilding company based initially in Chiswick in London and then Southampton. In addition to their marine business, they had a successful line of steam and petrol powered commercial road vehicles and cars. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could have ventured into building two steam powered and one petrol powered monorail locomotives in 1908.
The petrol-powered locomotive also raises its own questions. A well know photograph of what is described as a home built petrol powered locomotive on the PSMT exists. However it is suggested that the loco in this photo and the 1908 Thornycroft loco are two different locos. The loco in the photo looks as it described, home built — it does not look to have been built by a professional engineering company.
In summary, it would appear from the surviving records that the system rather than five locomotives there were actually eight — two Thornycroft? built steam locos, four O&K built steam locos, one Thornycroft built petrol loco and one home built petrol loco — and that both lines of the system used locomotive haulage rather than just one.
There is no definitive list of the rolling stock used on the two lines. The following is taken from the sources used for this article. Day states that the normal wagons on the Sirhind to Morinda line were 8' x 6' x 1'6" with two double flanged rail wheels. The wheels were offset from the centre line so that the wagons lent one way. On that side an outrigger arm, a square bar, which carried a broad treaded road wheel that ran along the ground to balance the load. 95% of the load was carried on the rail wheels and the other 5% on the outriggers. There were also 30ft bogie wagons, each two-wheeled bogie had its own road balancing wheel. Day describes the rolling stock on the Patiala to Suman line as being short rigid wagons and bogie vehicles.
The passenger cars were described as freight bogie wagons with uncovered wooden bench seats although there were some covered passenger vehicles with 20 seats arranged back to back along the centre line of the car. Ambler states that there were 75 short wagons and 15 open coaches; given that the 1908 report states that the Sirhind to Morinda line had four passenger vehicles and 30 goods wagons, it is assumed that the balance (26 passenger and 45 goods) were for use on the Patiala to Suman line. He also describes a single bogie coach that he found when he visited Patiala. He also talks about what he calls more ambitious coaches that remained at Patiala. One was a closed coach with platform ends of normal light railway type. The other was what he thought to have been Bowles's inspection saloon. When Satow visited Patiala in 1969 and 1970 he recorded the rolling stock there as being the inspection saloon, a water wagon, seven under frames with swing outriggers and 10 with double coil and guide pin outriggers.
It is well known that Satow was responsible for the preservation of the PSMT O&K locomotive and Bowles's inspection saloon at the NRM in Delhi. However it is fascinating to read his proposals for all the stock that he found at Patiala. In a proposal for equipment to be preserved he wrote in 1973, he devotes a whole section to the preservation of the PSMT equipment. His proposal was:
Proposal for preservation of relics
- One loco & coach to be retained and kept in working order at RTM
- The loco for static display at Patiala be reconstructed out of the complete frames and running gear from the loco at Patiala. A wooden boiler and fittings should be constructed.
- The third reasonably complete loco (now at Amritsar workshops) be offered to the Transport Trust for transfer to England and complete restoration to original condition for exhibition at the National Railway Museum. One or two complete coach under frames may be included to complete the exhibit.
- The remains of the compound engine should be recovered and taken to the RTM for restoration to static exhibition condition.
In a later, more detailed list of all candidate locomotives for preservation in India he says the following:
PSMT locos 4 (O&K 3359) 5 (O&K 3358) & 6 (O&K 3357) at PWD Godown, Patiala. Reason for preservation — unique example of Ewing monorail loco. Both locos and one frame should be saved.
PSMT 1908 2 wheeled, slide valves, Stephenson gear, 2 cylinder loco. Must be saved. At PWD Godown, Patiala
As already stated, one loco (O&K 3358) and the saloon are preserved at the NRM, Delhi. Another loco (O&K 3359) is preserved at Amritsar Workshops (whether this is the loco mentioned in proposal 2 or 3 above is unclear). Which brings us to the other two proposals. Number 3 certainly never happened — I have checked with the National Railway Museum at York and they do not have a PSMT loco or a couple of under frames hidden and forgotten in some dark corner. What is interesting is Satow's insistence in his detailed list that the Thornycroft? loco must be saved (my emphasis). Given that almost all the other locos in this list either ended up in the NRM or preserved elsewhere, it would be strange that something that he recognised as so important would not have been, especially as he was the person responsible for ensuring the preservation of India's railway heritage at the time. Which leads to the question — are either of these locomotives still in existence? That half were saved and Satow's insistence that all the remaining PSMT locos should be preserved leads to the conclusion that there is every chance that both of them could still exist somewhere. The obvious places would be Amritsar Works or NRM, Delhi. There is less chance of the frame only loco has survived but I think that there is more than an outside chance that the Thornycroft? loco is hidden away somewhere awaiting its second rediscovery.
If anyone cane solve this mystery I would be happy to hear from them, likewise if anyone can add anything to
the history then please contact webmaster
- An Indian Monorail: The Ewing System in Patiala, J R Day, Railway World, February 1962
- An Indian "might-have-been", H R Ambler, Railway Magazine, February 1969
- Satow papers held by British Library, reference Mss Eur F290