On the right track – My Experience with the Chennai Suburban Railway

I had to write about a special entity, that I had been experiencing since my childhood, had been integral part of my life in my college days, and after a two-year break, back with the same intensity and radiance.

For anyone who is in need of traversing the spinal cord of Chennai, the suburban electric units are the way to travel. Ripping past the toughest traffic -epicenters of the city and the suburbs, these trains can take you to the terminals from where you can efficiently shift to different modes of transport. As a matter of fact, I am writing this post, sitting in one of them, comfortably beside the window.

These trains cover a wide area encompassing different zones. From Melmaruvathur in the South to Arakkonam in the West, and from Sulurpeta in the North (it’s not even in Tamil Nadu) and Velacherry in the East. The important stations include Chengalpattu, Tambaram, Chennai Egmore, Chennai Beach, Chennai Central and Thirumalpur. It’s one of the best-networked and best-maintained suburban railway systems in the country, and but for the trains, the entire world. Many of you might not even be aware that the second railway line in India was opened in this circle, from Royapuram to Arakkonam.

Until seven years before, the Chennai network was full of meter-gauge trains that had been in service even before Independence. In the time they were decommissioned, they were the only active meter-gauge units in the world. No wonder, it has been the flagship of Southern Railways, almost like how the Concorde was to the British Airways.

Now the entire circuit operates on broad-gauge, much to the disappointment of the ‘fans’ of the meter-gauge unit. I could not believe when people were clicking photographs and wearing black dresses on the day of its decommissioning. However, broad-gauge trains proved to be an efficient option because of its capacity, and universality in usage.

There were level-crossings (yes… sad) that lay across the hottest highways in here, thanks to the new Government, flyovers have been built. There are times when people feel, if the railways weren’t there, things would be so much easier. It is true to a good extent. So many constructive projects can be completed in Chennai if the crucial piece of land had no rail tracks. But if the trains stop for one day, I will not be exaggerating if I say that the life in Chennai will almost come to a standstill.

The Railway stations and the rail lines are important landmarks in Chennai. Most of the areas in Chennai that are bifurcated as East and West, like Tambaram and Mambalam, is with respect to these railway lines and stations. It was an important factor in influencing industries and commerce, and even to this day, the proximity to a railhead determines the popularity of a business. No wonder, Chennai Beach and Velacherry are preferred office locations and Ranganathan Street near Mambalam Railway station still continues to be an undisputed choice of the middle class, and the rural population that comes to Chennai for shopping.

Electric unit trains will continue to be a preferred mode of transport for office goers, students and people commuting from suburban locations. And as long as these classes of people continue to use them, there is always a green-signal for Chennai to see drastic improvements in the railways system, like the upcoming metro rail project.