Trams in Mumbai: an Unforgettable Relic
The British treated Bombay (Now Mumbai) with a great deal of love and affection. Earlier it was a Portuguese colony, but was given as a gift in dowry to the king of England by the Portuguese when their princess Catherine of Braganza married Charles II of England in 1661. From that year it became a part of English possessions.
The English developed the island city of Mumbai and connected it by rail to all parts of India. Bombay became the Gateway of India and almost all Englishmen landed in Mumbai at Apollo Bundar and then proceeded to the hinterland.
In 1874, the British introduced the horse-drawn tram. This was immensely popular. The line was laid in the center of a metalled road and the trams were pulled by horses. They were slow moving affairs, but they helped people commute from one place to another. These horse-drawn trams were the city of Bombay's first brush with modernization.
The First Trams
The popularity of the tram increased. In those days there were two sets of trams, one for the locals and one for the English. In 1907 after 33 years of horse-drawn trams, the electric tram was introduced, just after they were introduced in London. The first electric tram thus ran after 33 years and about 108 years from the present time. The electric trams ran under a new company formed by the English called the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport Company (BEST). All trams were painted red in color, similar to ones in London. The initial trams had 2 compartments, a first class, and a general class, but the classes of trams were soon abolished. The tram line was laid from Bori Bundar to Sion and the trams took about an hour and a half to cover this distance of about 30 km.
The British also introduced the double-decker tram and these were very popular. The double-decker trams were introduced in 1920 and were imported from England.The earlier trams were more like open seats, but later trams were fully enclosed. The trams were extremely popular and helped the city of Bombay go ahead and develop a world image. Trams were also introduced by the English in Delhi and Calcutta (where they still run).
The fare was cheap and the tram thus became very popular. It was a substitute mode of transportation to the city bus and the local suburban train. The best part was as these trams ran on electricity, pollution was zero.
The trams were all imported from England and put on the rails in India. Along with double deck trams, the normal single coupled tram cars were also used. These trams had one driver and along with him 2 conductors who dished out tickets and collected money. The electric tram ran right through the days of the Raj and when the British left in 1947, the trams were still running. The BEST company ran the trams efficiently and the routes were well serviced.
The Demise of the Tram
When India became free from British rule in 1947, the new civic and state government of Mumbai inherited the tram structure. As the city was expanding and there was no place to widen the roads an expert committee was constituted to advise on methods of removing road congestion. The committee in a short-sighted recommendation proposed that trams be abolished and replaced by electric trolley buses.
The findings of the committee were accepted by the state government and a decision was taken to discontinue all tram services after 1964. The last tram ran at 10 pm on 31st March 1964 and all trams went off the road. For a short time, electric trolley buses were introduced and some buses were imported from Sweden, but the exercise failed and they were taken off the roads as well.
The removal of the trams was something that did not go down well with sections of the city population. Trams were also discontinued in Delhi. However, trams continued in Calcutta and even now in the 21st century, Calcutta trams traverse the city.
The trams in Mumbai were part of a historical link and Mahatma Gandhi also traveled by tram. Later many experts faulted the government on their decision, but now with greater congestion on the roads, the chance that the trams will come back is very remote. However as and when the trams ran, Mumbai city had a different look and many are nostalgic for the days the trams ran.