Express news service
KOTTAYAM: October 16, 1956. The relaxed countryside from Kuruppanthara to Kottayam has seen hectic activity. The Ernakulam-Kottayam railway line was being commissioned. A huge crowd had gathered to watch the first train move forward. And among them was a seven year old boy holding his father’s hand. He had walked nearly three and a half kilometers from home to witness this historic moment. So began KJ Paul Manvettam’s long relationship, says Theevandi Paul, with trains.
As the world welcomes a new year, the 72-year-old is entering his 54th year as a daily commuter. January 3 will also mark the 25th anniversary of the jeep rally that he and other passengers carried out to demand the doubling of the Ernakulam-Kottayam road.
“My appointment with trains began in 1956, when I saw the very first train pass on the new Ernakulam-Kottayam track,” says Paul, the owner of Paulson Opticals in Ernakulam. “My maiden voyage was on May 15, 1967. I boarded the train, which was pulled by a steam engine, from my hometown Kuruppanthara. Back then, a regular ticket from Kuruppanthara to Ernakulam Junction cost only 75 paise. But it was then a princely sum. Compared to the private bus, which cost $ 1.40, it was more bearable. “
Traveling in trains pulled by a steam locomotive was not very pleasant, he recalls. “At the end of the trip, we would be covered in soot. It has never been wise to wear white. “Two other dates are engraved in Paul’s memory: July 1, 1995 and January 3, 1997.” They are associated with two railway problems. After many appeals and representations, the railways approved a daily passenger train from Ernakulam to Kottayam after 7:30 pm, ”he said.
The train was a blessing for the passengers traveling to Kottayam. Until then, they had to depend on KSRTC buses or rent rooms. “Once the train service started, many gave up their rented rooms and started traveling up and down, especially those who worked late at night,” he says.
As for January 3, 1997, that was the day Paul and some of his friends organized a rally from Chengannur to Ernakulam to demand the doubling of the 114 km course. “The rally covered all the stations along the route and some of the constituency lawmakers the rally passed through supported us. I think it was the first full-fledged road doubling campaign. We even ran surveys at a gallop, ”recalls Paul, who is also a member of several railroad user advisory committees.
However, the doubling project took another three years to get approval. “Various hiccups further delayed the work. Now, after 21 years, the doubling is expected to be completed by the middle of 2022, ”said Paul. He credits Bangaru Laxman, former Minister of State for Railways, for being proactive in considering the request for the doubling project. “January 2022 also marks the 25th year of my return trip and the launch of passenger Ernakulam-Kottayam,” said Paul.
The service has proven useful for passengers coming from places like Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram as it operates between Nilambur Road and Kottayam. trip that helped me make a lot of friends, some of whom are deceased, ”he says.