A tryst with trains

Monday will mark the 25th anniversary of the jeep rally Paul Manvettam and other passengers took out demanding doubling of the Ernakulam-Kottayam rail route, reports Anu Kuruvilla

Published: 02nd January 2022 06:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd January 2022 06:25 AM   |  A+A-

K J Paul Manvettam leading an agitation demanding the doubling of the Ernakulam-Kottayam rail route

Express News Service

KOTTAYAM: October 16, 1956. The laidback countryside of Kuruppanthara in Kottayam saw hectic activity. The Ernakulam-Kottayam railway line was being commissioned. A huge crowd had gathered to see the first train chug along. And among them stood a seven-year-old boy holding his father’s hand. He had walked nearly three-and-a-half kilometres from his home to bear witness to the historic moment. Thus started the long relationship of K J Paul Manvettam, known as Theevandi Paul, with trains.

As the world welcomes a new year, the 72-year-old is moving into his 54th year as a daily train commuter. January 3 will also mark the 25th anniversary of the jeep rally he and other passengers took out demanding the doubling of the Ernakulam-Kottayam route. 

“My tryst with trains began way back in 1956 when I got to see the very first train pass by on the newly inaugurated Ernakulam-Kottayam track,” says Paul, the proprietor of Paulson Opticals in Ernakulam. “My maiden journey happened on May 15, 1967. I boarded the train, which was pulled by a steam engine, from my home town Kuruppanthara. Those days, an ordinary ticket from Kuruppanthara to Ernakulam Junction cost just 75 paise. But that was a princely sum then. Compared to the private bus, which cost `1.40, it was more bearable.”

Travelling on trains pulled by a steam engine was not very pleasant, he recalls. “By the time the journey ended, one would be covered in soot. It was never wise to wear white.”Two other dates are etched in Paul’s memory — July 1, 1995, and January 3, 1997. “They are associated with two railway issues. After many appeals and representations, the Railways approved a daily passenger train from Ernakulam to Kottayam after 7.30pm,” he recounts.

The train was a blessing for passengers travelling towards Kottayam. Until then, they had to depend on either KSRTC buses or rent rooms. “Once the train service began, many gave up their rented rooms and began travelling up and down, especially those working late hours,” he points out.

As for January 3, 1997, that was the day Paul and some of his friends took out a rally from Chengannur to Ernakulam demanding the doubling of the 114-km route. “The rally covered every railway station along the route and some of the legislators of the constituencies through which the rally passed supported us. I think that was the first full-fledged campaign for the doubling of the route. We even conducted gallop polls,” reminisces Paul, who is also a member of many railway users’ consultative committees.

However, the doubling project took another three years to get approval. “Various hiccups delayed the work further. Now, after 21 years, the doubling is expected to be over by the middle of 2022,” Paul says.He credits Bangaru Laxman, former minister of state for Railways, for having been proactive in considering the request for the doubling project.“January 2022 also marks the 25th year of my return commute, and the launch of the Ernakulam-Kottayam passenger,” Paul says.

The service has come in handy for passengers from places like Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram since it operates between Nilambur Road and Kottayam.The only break he had in his daily train journey was after the coronavirus pandemic set in. “I want to restart the train journey that helped me make a lot of friends, some of whom have passed away,” he says.


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