An iconic symbol of Chennai

Laid in Madras; Lifeline of Chennai

You reach most cities at the end of a railway journey and very likely you leave the towering building and the associated din of the railway station behind once you venture into the chaos of the city.

You come back to the city’s railway station only for the next journey that takes you far away, otherwise trains or railway stations rarely chug into your daily life. Provided, you don’t live in Chennai.

Everyday Chennai can be painted in a mosaic of railway imagery. Some in garish colours and zig zag forms, others in pastel colours and alluring curves. But all about journeys of  metallic tracks and electric power that connect impossible ends far apart in the city with incredible ease.

Its vast network of city trains (suburban and MRTS) surely is an unmistakeable icon that defines Chennai. And a legacy that connects the vibrant city to its colonial past.

Operating 580 services through its 3 segments, the Chennai Suburban Railway moves about 5 lakh people on its city stretch alone everyday. If you add the 1995-born MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) to the 82- year old Suburban Railway, what could be called City Trains is a formidable force in urban transportation with a total capacity of nearly 6 lakh people per day. But it is not so much about the numbers as it is about the social fabric in motion it weaves everyday.

Sitting next to a hurried IT professional rushing to a ‘life-threatening’ client meeting could be a migrant labourer scanning the city in search of a job. Airtime on board a city train could be shared by the latest Tamil chart buster playing from a smart phone and the loud calls of a hawker selling boiled peanuts in paper cups. Unfading smiles on the wet faces of children coming back form the beach could mix well with fragrant glances exchanged between romancing couples. Despite an apologetically feeble “First Class” signage that notionally separates one or two coaches from the rest, the sheer human power on board these trains pull down barriers of separation, though momentarily, and blends all forms of religion, caste, class and strata, connecting people with their purposes with amazing speed.

And the myriad narratives of everyday urban lives pour out at all city railway stations abutting street markets selling fruits, vegetables, stationery and magazines. If you get out of an MRTS train, you could also step into the middle of nowhere.

For those who are running short of time as well as for those on a lazy exploration, these iconic locomotives of Chennai takes you to your destination with predictability, going over the road traffic or cutting through them. Accomplishing hour-long commute in minutes running  through 17 MRTS stations and 24 suburban stations (from Beach to Kattangulathur), city trains form a lifeline as well as a channel for the cultural life of the city.

Have your ever stood in a melting night at a sleepy suburban railway station staring at the distant green light, waiting for the katalkkari chellum katassi vandi (the last train to the Beach)? That is an experience you can not let go of in Chennai and conjure elsewhere in the world!

Post by: Sajan PK, Runner Up Winner

The views expressed in the posts and comments of the Madras Week blogs do not reflect the positions or opinions of British Council. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. British Council is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied here.

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