Thursday, December 11, 2014
Stopped in its tracks
In the 19th century, many of the companies operating in India were incorporated in London. It was therefore quite easy for Messers Hutchinson & Co to set up a firm in London to offer services to the people of Madras. Hutchinson's idea was to run electric trams, since there seemed to be a high level of acceptance for horse-drawn trams in the city. And so, in 1892, the Madras Tramways Company was floated on the London Stock Exchange with a capital of £100,000. It took them three years to build the first section of the tramway and it was on May 7, 1895 that the first electric tram started running in the city. But that was the formal launch, for the trams had been making sorties in the pervious weeks, and the public was encouraged to hop on for free rides. In the week before the formal inauguration, pamphlets were distributed, reminding them that they would have to pay for rides at the rate of 6 pies a mile.
That was not very profitable for the company, and in 1900, M/s Hutchinson sold Madras Tramways Company to The Electric Construction Company (also based in England). Maybe they were also unable to run it well, for we find that in 1904, a new company has been formed to take over the tramways of Madras. That was The Madras Electric Tramways Limited - and they seemed to have either found the secret to profitability or very deep pockets, for they went on an spree of extending the tramlines; 1905, 1911 and 1919 saw new lines being added, and the company was running trams over 16-plus miles, 11 of them double-tracked. But eventually, after the II World War, the company had intractable labour disputes, which went on and on, eventually forcing them to wind up operations on April 11, 1953. They hoped to re-commence, but in the late 1950s, most of the tram-tracks in the city were removed and the trams have never since run in the city.
With the company owning 110 tramcars at its peak, they needed sheds to be parked in. The main such tramshed was on Poonamallee High Road, at what today is Periyar Thidal, near the office of the Dina Thanthi. The other major shed was on Radhakrishnan Salai, and you can see the shed in this picture. It is today part of the TANGEDCO's facilities. The only city in India where trams continue to run (at least, I think they still do) is Kolkata. But the trams of Calcutta started only in 1902 - seven years after the service in Madras. And that is one of the lesser known 'firsts' that the city of Chennai holds - the first tram services anywhere in India!