Egmore station: then and now….

I vividly remember Egmore Station in the late sixties and early seventies when we used to go there every summer to take the Pandian Express to Kodi Road Station enroute to Kodi for the summer. The taxi ride to the station in the heat and dust. The bustle and clamour on arrival. The porters who would descend on us.

Then the quick allocation of responsibilities by my father. One of us would keep pace with the porters, while another would race ahead to locate the compartment and berths. Entering the portico through the crowds, and finding your way through the cavernous entry hall, past snaking lines waiting for platform tickets, or for reservations to distant stations.

The noise of the crowds, of metal rimmed wheels being pulled roughly over the paving stones loaded with baggage, of boys selling coffee, the rough sound of porters arguing with customers or amongst themselves, and the whirring of air circulators. There was always a palpable air of excitement, with the trains waiting there, seemingly ready to pull out adding to the tension.

The trains were much shorter then, and the new platforms to the South that snake all the way to the Egmore over bridge that goes over the tracks to Wesley Church didn’t exist. You could even drive into the station from the Northern end, take the car all the way up the platform to the compartment, then deftly unload your luggage from the car and into the train!

The swift boarding of the compartment, placing of the luggage expertly to pack the maximum in the minimum space below the berths, and then grabbing the window seats! The heat, oppressive and close, until the engine was attached and the fans began to work. The train pulling out at last, with our noses against the bars (No air-conditioned coaches then!), watching the arches of the beautiful vaulted roof of the station recede into the distance.

And now….

I recently went to the Egmore Station to pick up my brother and cousins who were arriving on the Pandian from Madurai after (what else?!) a Kodi holiday! What an enormous difference there was! It was all the more startling as for the last ten years or more, I have driven to Kodi for holidays there.

I arrived to find plenty of parking, fairly well organized, with someone to guide you in. Walked into the familiar entry hall to find there were no crowds milling around, no queues waiting for platform tickets or reservations (most reservations are done online now!). And an empty enquiry counter with a courteous officer behind it.

Platform tickets were available along the verandah that runs the length of the building on the ground floor so that there are no crowds in the entry hall. (Why didn’t they think of that before?!) The entry hall itself had clear information on train arrivals and departures, both electronically and otherwise. I bought my ticket, and being early, went in to look around.

The Pandian was late by twenty minutes, and this was being announced over the public address system in three languages- Tamil, English and Hindi. And, for the first time that I can remember, the announcer apologized for the inconvenience caused by the delay! I walked in, really appreciative of all these changes, to find a clean, uncluttered platform, with comfortable steel chairs for people to wait in.

The platform also had a fairly large vegetarian restaurant, and further on, a non-vegetarian restaurant as well! I wandered into the vegetarian restaurant and had a coffee while I waited. It was self-service, quick, fairly clean and convenient. Walked onto the platform again, and found shrines along the walls for travellers to offer prayers for a safe journey. The one I saw was a Catholic altar of sorts with a statue of Mary.

Further up, the new platforms stretched up to the Egmore over bridge, with an overhead walkway coming in from the parking area. Nothing remarkable about that but for the fact that the over bridge was being fitted with escalators on one side to each platform, while there were stairs on the other side! Not bad at all for progress what? Even the porters were very helpful and told me where I could expect the 2 tier a/c compartment to stop.

The train came in on the rescheduled time, I met my brother & cousins outside the compartment the moment it stopped, we picked up the baggage and walked out through the wide exit, and were in the car and on the way home within five minutes of the train stopping. Best of all, as we walked out, we noticed that the Egnore station building had been extended- but the fa├žade was exactly in the style of the Indo-Saracenic architecture of the original building!

Who said things aren’t getting better? At Egmore Station, they certainly are! Three cheers for the Southern Railway authorities!

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