Royapuram station to survive Railway’s bid to wipe it off from heritage list

The Southern Railways’ plan to tear down the more-than-a-century-old Royapuram railway station will not fructify, as the State Heritage Conservation Committee is set to turn down its request to de-list the structure from the list of heritage buildings.

Sources in Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority told Express a decision to this effect would be made later this month when the heritage panel will hold a meeting. “We don’t want to set a precedent,” confided a CMDA source.

Built in 1856 during the colonial era by then Madras Railway Company, Royapuram was the first station that initiated railway services in South India. The list prepared by CMDA has described it as a Grade-1 heritage structure.

Southern Railways had planned to raze the Royapuram station and build a passenger terminal, adding two rail lines to connect stations in south Tamil Nadu with the rest of the country.

CMDA sources said the heritage panel would also discuss the first draft list of 79 heritage sites. After going through omissions and corrections, the list is likely to be forwarded to the State government for notification.

The Heritage Conservation Committee has identified 500 sites and so far details have been collected on only about 79 sites.

The Royapuram station, noted for its architecture, was the second to be built in India and it remained the main railway terminus in Chennai until 1907. However, due to lack of maintenance, the station is in a dilapidated condition and if the government does not notify it soon, the building would be consigned to the pages of history books.

About 16 trains pass through Royapuram railway station but none of the express trains stop here. However, the station serves local commuters from Arakonam, Gummidipoondi and Ponneri with 42 up and down train halts a day.

Rewari locos bring luck to movies

As Bhaag Milkha Bhaag gets off to a good start, Northern Railway might have another hit to its credit. Railway officials say they were counting on its success before hand. Almost all the films that have been shot at the Rewari steam locomotive shed — Gadar, Veer Zara and Rang De Basanti to name a few — have become runaway hits. The yard at Rewari is the only steam loco shed that remains in the country. A number of blockbusters have had it in the backdrop and used the Akbar (Shahanshah) loco engine, a WP model steam engine that served the Delhi-Kolkata main line.

“Gadar’s success was followed by a string of big-budget films staged in Rewari. Each one of them, including Guru and Love Aajkal, has met with success. Veer Zara was also received well,” said a Northern railway official. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was filmed between October 8 and 14 last year in Rewari. The adjoining railway colony served as an apt setting for Milkha’s childhood scenes.

The railways too have profited from such ventures. Besides the publicity that comes along, a day’s use of a four-coach train and engine fetches Rs 4 lakh. “With coffers drying up, films give the boost needed to maintain the loco shed,” said another officer.

Northern Railway, which hoped to cash in on the hoopla surrounding the new films — Fukrey was also shot in the Delhi division — is disappointed that shooting of two big-ticket productions — Chennai Express starring Shah Rukh Khan and Peekay starring Aamir Khan — was cancelled at the last moment. “We were hoping that the shooting planned by Peekay will mark a break from the period dramas set in Rewari and begin our dalliance with new-age Indian cinema. That is why we allowed Bullet Raja to be shot in Lucknow despite the inconvenience,” said an official.

The railway is planning special packages for filmmakers who plan to use the services of the Shahanshah, which is considered a lucky mascot. A third WP — actually a WP/P, one of the original Baldwin prototypes — No.7200 Shahanshah, which was at the Charbagh workshops in Lucknow, was restored for use in steam specials by the Northern Railway. It has also run several steam specials, including one between Royapuram and Tambaram on January 26, 2009, to commemorate the 153rd anniversary of Royapuram station, the oldest railway station in the country.