Royapuram Railway Station, Chennai, TN - oldest functional station in India survived demolition!!

restored Royapuram railway station,Chennai,

The Royapuram railway station is  on the Chennai Beach–Katpadi section of the Chennai Suburban Railway network.  Devoid of  any major cultural significance, in terms of Indian Railway History, it is an integral part of the  growth of Madras city in the early 20th century.  The red-painted  station building, though simple in appearance without any architectural embellishments, structurally and historically it stands as an important site, hence it is classified as a  heritage site in Chennai. A few years ago this  structure was marked out  for demolition by the Southern railway. to introduce new projects. 

.Royapuran railway station, Chennai,

The story of survival of the Royapuram railway station in the superb of Chennai (Madras) is an enthralling one What is  special about this solitary railway station in a part of sprawling Chennai city?  Opened to traffic in 1856, still functional, it is  the oldest  surviving railway station in India, perhaps next to the Howrah Railway Station, Howrah, West Bengal that was opened in 1854. The building was designed by William Adelpi Tracey; resembling  like a Regency Mansion in a Quasi. Design:  classical style of the Renaissance Period.

Location map. Royapuram, Chennai,

The Southern railway officials after long deliberation opted for  the demolition  of the oldest station as a prelude in June 2013 approached the   Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority for the removal of the station   from the list of  heritage  sites in Chennai.  CMAD had the rights to make such a move. The CMAD official said, .....''heritage structures cannot be demolished, and no major work can take place in them. Royapuram  station’s deletion from the heritage list will make it easier for it to be demolished,” 

1870 original structure. Madras Railway terminus.

A sketch.Royapuram railway station,

Above image: Royapuram railway station, Madras - as appeared in the Illustrated London News dated June 28, 1856. About inauguration of the station and services by Gov. Harris of Madras Prudency........ .

Conservationist's and heritage lovers of Chennai were furious about the wrong move made by the Southern railways. and made serious objection to this proposal. Already the original structures of Bombay and Thane stations in Maharashtra  no longer existed. So, they wanted the oldest  surviving railway station in the subcontinent not to be erased from the history.   The railway officials, taking future  traffic needs and growth into account,  had planned  several projects on the 72 acre of prime land belonging to the station. Two  important ambitious projects  were the creation one more passenger terminal next to existing Egmore and central station and the other being  two rail lines to connect stations in south Tamil Nadu with the rest of the country. 

To thwart the further move by the railways, a PIL was filed in the court. Responding to the suit filed by a lawyer restraining the CMAD  from removing the Royapuram station from the heritage list of the city, the sub division of the Madras High Court, Chennai interfered in July 2016 and observed,''.....enlisted  ... in the list of heritage buildings as per the notification already issued. Thus, there is a protection to the building. As to what would happen in future, we cannot guess. But suffice to say there is a mandate prohibitory against railways at present. We may suggest that if the railways want to expand the station, such expansion is always possible even while preserving the heritage portion”.

2012 dilapidated Royapuram railway station, Chennai

June 2013.Royapuram railway station building in bad

Until 2016 this station  was  a picture of total neglect and was falling apart slowly after every Monsoon season. Covered with thick layer of dirt and overgrowth of vegetation,  the heritage structure had to be resurrected and repaired back to old glory. At last. by May 2017, Royapuram station was repaired and conserved under the watchful eyes of the conservationists and heritage lovers who wanted the heritage elements in the old building not to be disturbed while the restoration work was on.. 

Going back on the old history of this station, during the the East India company's rule  in 1832,  there was  a proposal to build a railroad between Madras and Bangalore but, it was dropped midway though the survey had been successfully  carried out.  Because of continuous lobbying by the mercantile community in the presidency regarding the need for the railway services, the then government decided to introduce railways in the Madras Presidency. 

 Royapuram railway station became  the first one in the Indian peninsular  and it  was here  the laying down of the second railway line (next to Howrah, WB) of the South Asia commenced in 1853.  Inaugurated by  the then Gov. of Madras Presidency Lord Harris on  01 July 1856 the first rail services  were run  between Royapuram and Ambur and another from Royapuram to Tirveloore (now Thiruvallur district). One train carried Lord Harris and 300 Europeans to Ambur and the second one had Indian invitees travelling to.Thiruvallur. A new chapter in the history of Indian railways had just been  made in the southern region. 

The present generation of people may not be aware that  Royapuram station (Built by Madras Railway Company)  also  served as  the headquarters of the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (private company) till 1922, when the headquarters was shifted to Egmore. Royapuram was the only railway station in the city  serving the people for about 17 years. The Madras Central Station  came into being  in 1873. From 1873, north-bound trains  were operated from Chennai Central and those  south-bound trains  were operated from Royapuram station and  after 1907 from newly built Egmore Railway Station. Royapuram mostly handled cargoes from the near-by port.  

The  sad story is the original structures of two old stations in Maharashtra - Boree Bunder (later Victoria Terminus and now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and Tannah (currently Thane station)  built in 1853  do not exist any longer as they underwent many structural  changes. So, Royapuram station now remains the oldest railway station in the entire subcontinent. The railway line was extended from Royapuram (Madras) to Arcot, then titular capital of the Nawab of the Carnatic, an alley of  the English company. When the Arcot ruler's family  was politically in a mess after the death of the Nawab, it was Robert Clive  (August 1751) who successfully saved the kingdom.   

Royapuram, in the earliest  colonial era, was an ideal location as it was  on the edge of a settlement of British traders and natives near Fort St. George. .Opened  for traffic in1856 and  the track was electrified on 9 August 1979.There is a  large swathe of land of about 72 acres on the station premises owned by the Southern railways. It was once a fishing village on the coast. 

The building was designed by William Adelpi Tracey; resembled like a Regency Mansion in a QuasiClassical style of the Renaissance Period.