A saga of performance

Print edition : April 22, 2005

The headquarters of the South Eastern Railway in Kolkata.-

THE saga of the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR), which later came to be known as the South Eastern Railway (SER), had its roots in the compulsions that arose from the Great Indian Famine of 1878. The metre gauge Nagpur-Chhattisgarh Railway was formed in 1880, primarily to carry relief and foodgrains from Chhattisgarh to the famine-affected areas in Vidarva (now Vidarbha). A 149-mile-long (240 km) rail link between Nagpur and Rajnandgaon was opened to traffic between 1880 and 1882.

The Bengal Nagpur Railway Company was formed in 1887 to take over the Nagpur-Chhattisgarh Railway and convert it to broad gauge, which it did by the following year. The extension of the main line from Nagpur to Asansol was completed by 1891; and within the same time a 161-mile-long (258 km) branch line connecting Bilaspur to the Umaria coal mine was completed and linked to the existing line from Umaria to Katni. By the turn of the 20th century, the Calcutta-Bombay and the Calcutta-Madras links were established.

After that there was no looking back for the railway, as it expanded its network at a rapid pace to help in the exploitation of the rich mineral resources in the region. New lines were laid and connections made to facilitate the movement of iron ore to the new steel plants - TISCO and IISCO at Tatanagar and Burnpur respectively. To tap the coal reserves in Jharia, a 115-mile-long (184 km) line connecting Midnapore with Bhojudih was set up in 1903 and extended to Gomoh in 1907. In 1922, the Talcher coalfields were linked by a rail line taking off from Nergundi on the East Coast. The Raipur-Vizianagaram link was completed in 1931, connecting the East Coast with the Central Province. Following these developments, the BNR Company owned the largest narrow gauge network in the country.

The BNR continued to be under the company until October 1944, when it was taken over by the Government of India. After Independence, the BNR maintained its separate identity until April 14, 1952, when it became a part of the Eastern Railway. The merger did not last long. Three years later, the South Eastern Railway, consisting of the old BNR lines, came into existence.

As independent India embarked on a policy of rapid industrialisation, the SER took upon the task of moving raw materials by constructing new lines from plants to the mine heads at Dallhirajra, Ahiwara, Barsuan, Kiriburu and Meghataburu. Doubling of sections and progressive electrification were taken up along with the setting up of marshalling yards and exchange yards to meet the demands of the steel sector. In order to meet the needs relating to the export of iron ore, the Dandakarnya-Bolangir-Kiriburu (DBK) project was taken up in the 1960s to connect Kirandul with the Vizakhapatnam port.

A line connecting Bondamunda with Kiriburu through Bolangir was also taken up to complete the missing links. A rail link to Haldia port was established in 1968, while the 84-km Cuttack-Paradip rail link was completed in 1973 for the development of the Paradip port in Orissa. In 1977, the Daitari-Jakhpura rail link was constructed to facilitate the movement of iron ore and chrome ore from the Daitari-Tomka belts to Paradip port. In 1995, the 164-km-long Koraput-Raigada line was commissioned for the smooth movement of iron ore, bauxite and alumina. The 174-km Talcher-Sambalpur line commissioned in 1998, connecting western Orissa with coastal Orissa, was a feather in the cap of the SER.

This reveals how a fledgling railway was transformed rapidly into a giant, serving the needs of the nation. On April 1, 2003, for the sake of administrative convenience, it was trifurcated into the South Eastern Central Railway headquartered in Bilaspur, the East Coast Railway headquartered in Bhubaneswar, and the South Eastern Railway headquartered in Kolkata.

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