June 21, 2014

Time capsule: The Regional Rail Museum, Chennai

Vintage Vignette 
         As a child many of us probably got a toy steam engine or a train set on our birthday which was largely a part of our play time fantasies. Be it pretending to be a superhero trying to save a teddy bear tied to railway tracks, or pretending to be Godzilla that trampled down half of Manhattan, that little steam engine was the center of the story.
        Locomotives were a part of a lot of significant moments in history like the Industrial Revolution in America, Mahatma Gandhi's movement to prevent defranchise of Indians in South Africa, to riots in Gujarat. They are also big a part of cinema with Bollywood dance sequences being filmed on the Nilgiris Express to entire action sequences being shot in Super Fast trains.
       The first Railway line was proposed in India, at Chintadripet Bridge, Chennai in 1832 much before the first successful railway line was constructed in 1853, from Mumbai to Thane. Interestingly, the first coach factory for the Southern Railway was also established at Locoworks, ICF in Chennai. This coach factory functioning from 1872 has been constantly evolving over decades since its inception during the Raj.
        Tucked away in the sleepy suburban residential colony of the Integral Coach Factory area, hidden from view by a wall of thick foliage, the Regional Rail Museum is easily missed by commuters on the busy National Highway 205. Its not surprising that, although having been a part of the city since 200, many residents of Chennai city seem surprised when asked about the museum.
      So, for those of you who don't know, here is a peek inside this time capsule.

    The Regional Rail Museum is housed in two Imperial style buildings and over a vast area of greenery. With ample parking and a ticket counter coach to fit with the theme the Museum tries its best to be creative. As one enters the building that contains the technical exhibits the first thing you notice is the cool breeze blowing through the space, dim lighting and the incessant mechanical noise from the old ceiling fans, probably spinning from British times. What really gets you thinking is what a 19th century Mercedes is doing in a Rail Museum!
     After looking at two levels of a variety of engine parts, miniature coaches and an audio-visual presentation on the Integral Coach Factory (the voice-over happily quips "Incredible Coach Factory) one moves on to see the real deal. Set up over an extremely well maintained lawn, shaded by a variety of trees are the life size exhibits of decommissioned and vintage engines and coaches.
Who cried Fowl?

Vintage Mercedes Benz
      Pose in front of a coach from the Nilgiri Mountain Railway or hop onto the 1895 Fowler Ploughing Engine. Step into a coach and you can see the controls. Some of the most engaging exhibits are the Crane Hercules, Signal posts, Railroad switches and Inspection carts. After all the climbing and walking around one can head to the little cafeteria near the entrance for a quick bite or settle into the seats of the tour train which goes around the museum's perimeter. It's really meant for the kids. Past all the live exhibits at the very end is the souvenir shop. The souvenir
Gear on the axis: Engine part 
shop has a large functioning train set filling a good part of the space. Here a little 'Duronto' and an electric train chug along going over bridges and through tunnels. Well for train enthusiasts this section of the museum is a real delight as it also has vintage miniatures and paintings on sale for very affordable prices.
       Now, architecturally this museum seems to have checked off all the boxes which makes it a go-to place. First, the whole museum is incredibly well curated with placards and posters interspersed with the exhibits to break monotony and keeping visitors engaged. The placards provide a background history and a few technical details for those who might be interested. The layout allows a visitor to pick what he wants to see first, the live engines or the technical objects on display. The imperial building, being extremely well maintained creates an ambiance which almost teleports a visitor to the era of the Raj. This sort of lets you imagine men in sack coats and bowler hats walking around looking busy mapping new rail routes and inspecting engines parts.
         The brightly painted pieces of machinery in the open lawn amid the merging shades of green and yellow is visually stunning. The landscaping makes it all the more aesthetic with neat paved pathways and boundaries around the exhibits.
Honey I shrunk the....Duronto?

So for those of you who are in the city or will visit the city soon, put on that engine driver's hat and take that ride to the past and and back!If you enjoyed this post don't forget to hit +1 to share and subscribe!