It Cost a King His Jewels, But This Railway Was a Success

July 16, 1902

In what is now the state of Kerala in southwestern India, the newly built Cochin Railway (commonly known today as the Shoranur Junction-Cochin Harbour Terminus section) was opened to passenger traffic. This took place more than six weeks after the railway was opened to freight traffic.

At the time, this part of present-day India was ruled by the Kingdom of Cochin. The kingdom was one of the semi-sovereign princely states on the Indian subcontinent. In an arrangement that was in effect until India achieved independence from British rule in 1947, the indigenous rulers of those states were able to remain in power through subsidiary alliances with the British Raj.

Rama Varma XV, who ruled the Kingdom of Cochin as its maharajah from 1895 to 1914, played a pivotal role in making the Railway a full-fledged reality. Rama Varma strongly lobbied the British Raj for the construction of this transportation link and, to help raise urgently needed funds for the project, he sold a major portion of the kingdom’s valuables under his immediate control. These valuables included 14 gold caparisons (headgear) for elephants at the Sree Poornathrayeesa temple in the kingdom’s capital city of Cochin (likewise called Kochi) and various other costly ornaments belonging to the royal family.

Construction on the sought-after railway line began in 1899. The Madras Railway, which had been established under British rule in 1852, built the line for the Kingdom of Cochin. The opening of the Cochin Railway to passengers on July 16, 1902, turned out to be a huge cause for celebration in the city of Cochin. With a band playing music throughout much of the day, hundreds of local residents joined the royal family at the railway station in Cochin to greet the inaugural trains as they chugged into the city from the town (municipality) of Shoranur approximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) away.

Well over a century later, this line remains in service as part of the Southern Railway zone of Indian Railways. It has been both a key economic lifeline for that high-density region and a major connection to other parts of India. An average of 110 trains – 60 of which carry passengers – travel on the longtime route each day.

For more information on the Cochin Railway (Shoranur Junction-Cochin Harbour Terminus section), please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoranur–Cochin_Harbour_section.

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