|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD
© AUGUST 1971
THE COCHIN STATE FOREST TRAMWAY
HAROLD V. JACKSON
To one who spent some time in India and Ceylon in 1945-46, Frank Jux's article on the Changa Manga Forestry Railway in RECORD 34 induced an intensive bout of nostalgia. My answer to your enquiry about more articles of this type is — Yes, please!
I do not know if the travels of Messrs. Jux and Rickwood, or those of any other member, extended to South West India, but there is, or certainly was some years ago, a line of considerable interest, the Cochin State Forest Tramway. This ran from Chalakudi, some 30 miles north of the State capital, Ernakulam, on the then South Indian Railway (now Southern Railway) 5ft 6in gauge line from Shoranur Junction to Cochin. Although stationed at Cochin for some months, I was never fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit the line, and the only information I have is gained from Cochin Calling, a guide book to Cochin, published under the authority of the Government of Cochin, 1938, price annas eight. I have quoted that part dealing with the tramway below.
Chalakudi [is] an extensive village situated on the right bank of the Chalakudi river.... Being the headquarters of the State forest-tramway; it is a place of considerable traffic in timber ...
The State forest-tramway, of which Mr H. Champion, Imperial Sylviculturist, once wrote that "there is nothing like it in India", was introduced solely for the purpose of tapping an area of about 200 square miles of virgin forest, containing very valuable timber, which had remained inaccessible for want of transport facilities. Its construction was a very difficult piece of engineering work, for the line had to be taken through an unsurveyed tract of very rugged country interspersed with high ridges and deep valleys covered by dense tropical jungles and cut up by numerous mountain streams. The tramway, which is practically a light railway operated by steam traction, runs to a length of 50 miles from Chalakudi in an easterly direction.
The best way of conveying some idea of the tramway will be to attempt a description of a journey by it. Leaving the Tramway Workshop at Chalakudi at about 8.0 a.m., there is a continuous run of 21 miles, which is ordinarily covered in about four hours. Though the line passes through low country, the gradient is generally rising, and there are also some sharp curves.
On reaching mile 21, however, there is an abrupt rise of 1,000 feet in a mile and a half. The locomotive is left behind, and a single van or one or two empty trucks alone is taken up. The ascent is made by a series of double-track, self-acting, wire-rope inclines, of which there are three between miles 21 and 21½, known as the Kavalai Inclines. The ascending van is hauled up at the end of a wire-rope, one inch in diameter, which passes over a horizontal wheel fitted with two independent rim-brakes at the brake-house at the top, the descending load attached to the other end of the cable serving as counterpoise. The first incline, which is 2,910 feet long, has a gradient of 1 in 15; the second, 2,640 feet long, 1 in 7; and the third, 1,380 feet long, 1 in 3. The top of the third incline, Kavalai, is about 1,400 feet above sea level. Here there is a good rest house available for camping purposes.
Another train is then formed, which descends the ridge by means of ten reversing stations, aligned in zig-zags over the face of the steep hill, and proceeds up to mile 26½, which is at the foot of the second high ridge, Komalapara. Here, again, the ascent has to be made, as at Kavalai, by means of two inclines. The first of these inclines is 2,270 feet long and the second 3,220 feet, with gradients varying from 1 in 5 and 1 in 7. At Komalapara also there is a small rest house. Leaving Kavalai at about 1.0 p.m., Komalapara can be reached before 3.0 p.m.
From Komalapara the van in which the passenger has travelled so far is attached to another train that runs between Komalapara and Parambikulam, the terminus. At mile 41½ (Kuriarkutty) there is a good rest house, where the tourist can halt. This should be reached by about 5.0 p.m. and from there the train proceeds to Parambikulam which is programmed to arrive there by about 6.0 p.m. At Parambikulam also there is a good forest rest house where the visitor can halt.
Usually, empty trucks and waggons are taken on the up-journey to the hills and timber-loads are carried by the down-trains. Though furnished rest houses are available, the tourist will do well to remember that there are no catering arrangements in the hills, and he has to take his provisions and servants with him. It may be stated, however, that, as the tramway has been designed and constructed for the sole purpose of carrying timber, facilities for passenger traffic are very limited, and visitors are allowed to travel only as a matter of concession with the special sanction of Government.
This account gives no information as to the gauge of the tramway, but from two rather poor illustrations I have deduced it to be metre — which would be likely as the South Indian Railway line when owned by Cochin State was of this gauge. The first photograph, captioned 'Logs coming down the fifth incline', shows a double track incline of considerable length, with a single (? bogie) waggon descending on the left hand track, i.e., right hand running, carrying three logs with a brakeman riding on the front. In the far distance a rake of empty waggons is just discernible ascending the right hand track. The second photograph, captioned 'Arranging a load on a truck', shows an elephant loading a log on to a tramway vehicle at Chennar. The only map, a small scale one, shows the tramway leaving the SIR line at Chalakudi, following a somewhat devious course due east to Parambikulam, almost on the eastern State border. I have no recent information at all, and my thoughts often turn to the Cochin State Forest Tramway, and the tourist with his provisions and servants spending the night in a forest rest house!
(Details of the locomotives - and photographs - would be welcome for publication. Several readers have written in to express their enjoyment of Frank Jux's article, and we have asked Frank for further contributions. — KPP)
"The Lartigue Mono-Rail Company has made an offer to the Indian Government to build the Kalka-Simla Railway. It asks for a free grant of land for the line and a subsidy for carrying mails, but no guarantee of interest on the capital. Their offer is under consideration. The same company has put forward a proposal for building a railway from Jammu to Srinagar." ("Iron'; 10th February 1893. — KPP)
"The inhabitants of Bezwada pray for the extension of the East Coast Railway from Bezwada to Madras." ("Iron", 16th December 1892. — KPP)
"MILITARY RAILWAYS I N MESOPOTAMIA. - It will be remembered that about 90 miles of the Baghdad Railway, between Baghdad and Samarra, was opened for traffic by the Germans early in 1915. It was a bad blow to Turkish prestige when the city of Baghdad was captured by British troops on 11th March 1917, a success which was rapidly followed by the occupation of Samarra station on 24th April. Five locomotives were captured at Baghdad, and a further sixteen at Samarra, as well as a considerable quantity of other rolling stock, all of German make. Although the enemy had damaged the rolling stock as much as possible, our engineers, with very limited appliances, soon had the locomotives repaired, and the railway in full work. Its value has been well proved in the later military operations. …. Since the war began Germany has constructed a line through Palestine to the Egyptian frontier, while the British have built one across the desert of Sinai, affording direct railway service between Cairo and Palestine. The swing bridge over the Suez Canal at Cantara was completed and opened for traffic on 15th May, a significant symbol of the new era." ("The Locomotive Magazine", 15th July 1918. — KPP)