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Extract from The Rangoon Times Christmas Number, 1912
The Burma Railways
Newenham A.E. Graydon
The Burma Railways
Newenham A.E. Graydon
No account of the Province of Burma would be complete without a description of the very remarkable work that has been done by the Burma Railways Company to facilitate the opening up of the country by the construction of new lines and the linking-up of those already in existence. If the youth of Burma is considered, it will be admitted that a Railway system which penetrates up-country for 725 miles and taps most of the important inland districts, connecting them with the Ports of Rangoon, Moulmein and Bassein, is an undertaking of which we may rightly feel very proud. Except where navigable waterways exist, it is the sole means of transport between these ports and the inland, and is, therefore a practical monopoly. Notwithstanding this monopoly and the enormous traffic the line now carries, its shareholders are at present receiving the moderate return of 4½ per cent on their capital. This is due mainly to the liberal policy of the Board in regard to the provision of increased facilities for the safety, comfort and convenience of their passengers and dealing with the periodical heavy rushes of paddy traffic.
The remodelling of the Rangoon Goods and Passenger stations at a cost of some 32½ lakhs is an example of expenditure undertaken for the purpose of meeting the increasing traffic and adding to the comfort of the Railway patrons. It is improbable that this expenditure will actually add to the receipts, or induce people to travel who would not have done so in any case. It will, however, involve an advance in expenditure under both working and maintenance, and the new passenger station is certainly an ornament and improvement to Rangoon.
This new passenger station was opened on April 4th last by His Honour, the Lieut.-Governor, who made an important speech on the occasion, as did also Mr Couchman, the Acting Agent of the Company. The photograph on this page gives a view of the function but is chiefly interesting as showing in juxtaposition the first locomotive ever used on the line the latest addition – a powerful engine capable of hauling a long and heavily laden train. The new Rangoon Railway Station is the final step of a large scheme of improvements in Rangoon embracing construction of a new Goods yard at Malagon costing Rs. 8,35,000, removal of the Locomotive yard from Rangoon to Malagon costing Rs. 11,32,000, constructing the necessary staff quarters at Malagon costing Rs, 8,73,000 and remodelling the Rangoon Station, costing Rs. 32,42,000.
The new station building, with the attached 3rd class Waiting Shed, has cost some 5 lakhs. It is 710 feet in length by 40 feet in breadth, with an area of 34,350 square feet. The 1st and 2nd class accommodation, including Booking Hall, waiting and Refreshment Rooms, has a total area of 6,075 square feet and the 3rd class Booking Hall and Waiting Shed of 6,000 square feet. A separate 3rd class local Booking office is provided in the main building and a local Booking Office for all classes at the Montgomery Street entrance to the over-bridge. This bridge consists of three separate pathways, two for inwards and outwards passengers respectively, to and from all platforms, each 7 feet in width and a central throughway to the main building, 11 feet in width. All the station offices, Waiting and Refreshment Rooms etc., are on the ground floor, with residential accommodation for the Station Superintendent, two Assistant Station Masters and Offices for the District and Traffic and Locomotive Superintendents and Superintendent, Railway Police, on the upper floor. The whole station is lit by electricity and supplied with electric fans or punkhas and provided throughout with sanitation on the water carriage system.
The building was designed by the Agent Mr Willcocks, who was at one time Architectural Adviser to the Bombay Government. Attached to the building are one main and two inland passenger platforms, 40 and 30 feet wide, respectively, giving five platform faces, each 1,000 feet in length, of a total area of 100,000 square feet of which 68,400 square feet is covered. For this a design has been adopted which leaves the tracks themselves uncovered to avoid the smoke nuisance and give as much ventilation as possible. Dock sidings and loading platforms for dealing with horses, carriages, motor cars etc., are provided at both ends of the station. The new Goods station alongside Montgomery street consists of four platforms each 600 feet in length, with roads alongside them, 230 feet of each platform being covered over, each platform having a separate office.
Up to 1896 all railways in Burma were constructed and worked by the Province. When the Company took over the working of these on the 1st September 1896 the system consisted of 886 miles of single line with 134 miles of sidings, including the main line from Prome to Mandalay, the line to Meiktila and the Mu Valley up to Mogaung and Katha. The total capital expenditure had amounted to 769 lakhs. The annual gross receipts then amounted to some 76 lakhs and the working expenses to 46 lakhs. At the present time the total system worked by the Company consists of 1,529 miles, of which 119 are double track with 329 miles of sidings. The total capital expenditure has risen to 1,864 lakhs of which 1,190 belong to Government and 674 to the Company, while the branch now in hand for Government to the Southern Shan States is 105 miles in length and is estimated to cost about 200 lakhs.
The first section of the line from Rangoon to Prome was opened in 1877 ; the next Rangoon to Toungoo in 1885 ; and the extension to Mandalay in 1889. Since then the MU Valley section to Myitkyina, with a branch to Alon, the Lashio section, the Thazi-Myingyan branch, the Letpadan-Bassein section and the Pegu-Moulmein and Henzada-Kyangin branches have been opened and there is at the present time a branch to Yaunghwe in the Southern Shan States under construction.
When the Company took over the Railway in 1896 the number of trains in and out of Rangoon was about 68 daily, the average number of passengers carried per day about 3,200 and the annual tonnage of goods dealt with about 493,000, including 249,000 tons of paddy brought into Rangoon.
At the present time the daily number of trains in and out of Rangoon reaches 180 and the number of passengers about 12,000, not counting those dealt with a Pazundaung and Pagoda Road and other suburban stations. Since the Company took over the line, they have spent altogether some 450 lakhs additional capital on works of improvement only, such as remodeling large stations, doubling the line, additional sidings, interlocking signals and fitting automatic brakes, improved workshops, more powerful locomotives, improved rolling stocks etc. They have lengthened the siding accommodation at all main line stations, doubled the line to Wanetchaung 30 miles in one direction and to Pyuntaza 88 miles in the other and have the largest and most powerful metre-gauge locomotives in British India.
There is no special demand for high speed in Burma but though the Railway is at present running at reduced speeds until special repairs and improvements have been carried out, the speeds compare very favourably with those of any of the metre-gauge lines in India. Burma has considerably the longest non-stop runs. The first and second class traffic is comparatively very small, the receipts from these two combined forming only 7¾ per cent of the total passenger traffic. The average number of passengers per first class compartment is only 1.01 and for second 2.47.
The locomotives daily haul a through bogie composite coach weighing some 20 tons from Rangoon to Maymyo and lift it about 3,500 feet up very steep grades. The Company carries 1st class passengers for 1¼ annas per mile, 2nd class for ¾ anna per mile and 3rd class from 4 to 6 miles for an anna i.e. a penny. For the safety of passengers all stations through which trains run without stopping and all important junctions are already, or are being, interlocked and all purely passenger trains are fitted with continuous automatic brakes.
The Burma Railways Company is the largest commercial undertaking in this country and one on which both the town of Rangoon and the whole of the Province depend to a large extent for their prosperity and with so large a concern it is not possible to please everybody. The Railway is still by no means perfect but it is an efficient and useful undertaking and it has the safety, comfort and convenience of its passengers and the requirements of the merchants very much at heart.
When railways were first started in Burma there was difficulty in obtaining adequate funds for their construction and it appears to have been considered that anything would be good enough for us. It was at one time seriously proposed to lay the line to Prome with wooden rails and the line was made the dumping ground for other State Railways. Moreover, the initial blunder was made of constructing what obviously would soon become a main line trunk artery on the cheapest lines possible. Much of the Prome line was laid on a tortuous bank originally intended for a cart road and the line was laid on the meter-gauge, which gauge has consequently has to be adopted as the standard. In addition to these preliminary handicaps, in comparison with Indian limes, Burma suffers from an exceptionally long and heavy rainy season. The line runs through large areas of deeply flooded country and there is a general scarcity of materials and labour. There are too, complaints as to the absence of rolling stock for the prompt removal of paddy but the shortage is due chiefly to the speculative accumulations of crops with a view to obtaining higher prices at a later period and the grievances of merchants are usually the direct result of their own policy. On the whole however, the railway works well and its management reflects the highest credit upon Mr J. Willcocks, the very popular Agent, Mr F.D. Couchman, Mr H.B. Huddleston and all the Executive Officers who contribute to make it such an exceedingly prosperous and successful concern.