Matheran train

Foresight of Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy now coming to light

It's probably the longest wait for a train in history. And it's not quite over yet. In 1999, the Central Railway began work on a new 28km line to connect Panvel with Karjat via three new stations. Seventy-five per cent of the work is done and the project is scheduled for completion in March 2004.

It will be the beginning of a train service nearly 100 years in the making. Long before the Central Railway was born, a man called Adamjee Peerbhoy-the man who built the Neral-Matheran Tramway in 1907-first proposed a railway link from Panvel (at one end of what is now Central Railway's Harbour Line) to Karjat (on the Main Line) in a letter to the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in November 1904.

His plan was to build a railway connecting Mumbra with Belapur via Kalyan, Karjat and Panvel. He got the go-ahead from the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in a meeting with the general manager, known as the Agent, on November 22, 1904.

They agreed to link the line beyond Panvel near Karjat or Khapoli and recommended a branch to Belapur, important because of its salt industry. The Raliway Board later decided that the line should start from Kalyan instead of Mumbra.

"(The line) would pass through several prosperous villages," noted a 1905 Great Indian Peninsular Railway memo about the project.

"When Panvel was visited, it was found that there were about 100 traders in their town, and 5 to 6 train-loads of grass stacked on to the creek awaiting dispatch to Bombay by boats. There is a large goods traffic from and to Panvel and the surrounding country."

They concluded that the new line would ''have a stimulative effect on the salt industry near Belapur besides passing through rich low-line country hardly within economic distance of the main line."

Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy insisted on a 2 ft gauge line instead of the standard 2.5 ft gauge, using heavy rails so that powerful engines could run on it. The idea was that rolling stock from the Matheran Tramway-also 2 ft gauge-could run on the line during the monsoon.

It was also a way of avoiding red tape. With a narrow-gauge line classified as a tramway, it only needed a to-ahead from the Bombay Government; if classed a railway, it would require a contract with the Secretary of the state, causing considerable delay.

Then, on August 11, 1906 Peerbhoy asked the secretary of the Bombay Government and the Public Works Department to grant permission for his company, Masers Adamjee Peerbhoy and Sons, to begin construction.

It all seemed set to go. In September 1907, the Board approved plans for a survey of the 47-mile route for the Kalyan to Karjat line via Belapur and Panvel, plus a 37-mile branch line. The cost of the survey was projected at Rs. 22,800.

Whether the survey was carried out is not known. For some reason, perhaps buried in the Railway Board's archives, the Kalyan-Panvel-Karjat line never got off the drawing board.

What difference could it have made to Panvel and the area had the line been constructed? Historian G D Patwardhan speculates: ''If this railway line had been built 100 years ago it would have cost a tenth of the cost today and the area would have become very prosperous agriculturally."

Even as late as 1908, the project was still being discussed. In a letter to the joint secretary of the Government of Bombay in April, the Railway Board in Shimla wrote that it still wanted a private firm to build the line:

"The construction of a line similar to the one described cannot reasonably be expected to be included in the Railway Board's programme of construction for some years at least." Little did they know that would be 90 years before construction on a line connecting Panvel and Karjat began.