The city's last surviving electric tram is dying its own death. And that too at a place where it is supposed to be preserved! Dumped in the premises of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking's transport museum at its Anik depot near Sion, this piece of Mumbai's transport history has been left rotting in utter neglect.
Stabled on its original tracks, the model lying at the depot is a vestibuled version of two British-built tram cars with an original set of wooden seats and wheels, having driving cabs at both the ends and an overhead electric pantograph to draw power. The first set of electrical trams was bought from Brush Electrical Company and they were then shipped to Bombay.
"The trams with such trailers were first seen in Mumbai in 1910 when there were not enough trams to cope with the rush-hour traffic and they were vestibuled with trailers like this to increase the carrying capacity of the trams," says SN Pendse in his historical book The BEST Story.
BEST sources, who did not wish to be named, however, said the tram that is lying at Anik may not the original one, but had been brought all the way from Kolkata and that all the original ones had been scrapped.
"I have not seen the museum yet and what you have told me is shocking and sad. If this is the case, I will do everything possible to refurbish it. It will be restored to its original glory," BEST general manager Uttam Khobragade assured HT.
The BEST's transport museum has been around for 30 years, yet only a handful of Mumbaikars have even heard of it and has almost no visitors for most part of the year. Except, for the dilapidated tram, other relics at the museum have, however, been maintained very well.
"I have seen the museum and it is located along the highway, which makes it more dusty and bad. But we will do everything possible to save all the relics," Surendra Bagalkar, BEST's chairman told HT from Chiplun.
Another version of the older horse-drawn tram car has, however, been maintained very well at the Nehru Science Centre. Horse-drawn tramcars have been running in Mumbai since 1874. When the electric tramcar appeared for the first time in the city on 7th May 1907, it was given a warm welcome as a very modern mode of transport.
However, electric trams ceased to be modern once the bus arrived on the scene in 1926. It became quite important as the 'poor man's transport' till the Second World War. The years that followed brought dramatic changes in the life of the city. Its population grew rapidly. The people wanted faster transport.
The tram was, however, innocent of the fast-changing environment and continued to rumble up and down, in its 1907 manner. It found the crowds bothersome and the crowds found it a clumsy, lumbering impediment to the smooth flow of traffic. The poor thing had no place in this swift-changing city. In 1952 a survey of tram traffic was conducted. The truth was that tramway had come to be an outdated mode of transport. So, in 1953, it started closing down the uneconomic routes.
The one plying between Null Bazar and Jacob Circle (Route No 12) was the first to be closed down, its place being taken by a bus route. More and more tram routes were closed down in the years that followed. Finally only one remained —the one between Bori Bunder and Dadar. And the last tram on this route left Bori Bunder at 10 pm on 31st March 1964. Thus the tramway in Mumbai came to an end!
Trams coming back?
Interestingly, one of the options before the state government to strengthen public transport system in the city is to reintroduce trams. Secretary special projects Sanjay Ubale had said a few days ago that the government is planning to send a team of experts to Kolkata to study the country's only existing tram systems.