Even as railways gathers pace of electrification across the country, Indian Railway’s oldest electric power sub-stations at Kurla and Wadi Bunder that powered the first electric train and started it all lie in ruins and neglect. In fact, the one at Kurla faces an imminent threat of demolition for a line expansion. In the next four years, Indian Railways would be celebrating the centenary of electrification.

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Kurla substation

India’s first electric train had run between Mumbai CSMT, (then called Bombay Victoria Terminus) and Kurla (then spelt Coorla) on the harbour line on February 3, 1925. The first Electric Multiple Unit local train service with 4-cars was flagged off by then Bombay Governor Sir Leslie Orme Wilson. The first motorman was Jahangir Framji Daruwala. Though the process of electrification of the railway was being considered since 1904, it was only in 1925 that the first electric railway train ran, delayed due to the First World War and subsequent developments.

Power for electrified services was supplied by Tata group of Hydro-Electric Co and the first sub-stations, which still remain in place were at Wadi Bunder and Kurla. The old Direct Current sub-station at Kurla station is close to the new line expansion happening and is under imminent threat of being demolished for the elevated harbour line corridor that is being built to make way for the 5th and 6th lines.

“This was first passenger railway to be electrified on Indian Railways. The power had been purchased from Tata-Hydroelectric group. It is a part of our history. This line served as a model for rest of the country. It paved way for massive development. This deserves to be honoured instead of neglected,” Mumbai city chronicler Kunal Tripathi, who runs the popular social media account Mumbai Heritage said.

“Electric traction in India began in Mumbai and CR was the first ever zone of Indian Railways which commenced electric operations in entire Asia and these substations were the heart and soul that helped run the first Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) trains, Kurla traction sub stations being a very pivotal and critical one. They cannot be destroyed like this. The Central Railway should take initiative and try and do something to restore them,” another enthusiast Vijay Aravamudhan said.

“The DC traction substations at Kurla and Wadibunder have a story to tell residents of Mumbai city as to how they contributed to the overall progress and development of the financial capital of India. Once housing a rare electrical machine converting Alternating Current (AC) to Direct Current (DC) and inversely also inverting DC to AC, the historic 1,500 V DC traction substations at Kurla and Wadibunder have witnessed various power converters before they were permanently switched off in April 2016. The structure of these historic sub-stations is larger If one observes carefully, there are four large diameter fans located on each of the substation’s roof for cooling. On entire Indian Railways (except Kolkata Metro), these structures are the surviving proof of indoor type substations,” rail fan Kaushik Dharwadkar said.

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Stained glass on Kurla substation

First electric train

The inaugural function was held on platform 2 of Victoria Terminus station and Sir and Lady Wilson were received by little Miss Idina Powell, the daughter of Mr Powell, head trial driver from Parel’s mechanical department. The line was thrown open after Sir Wilson signalled the power sub-station at Wadi Bunder to throw the conductor wire into circuit to commence the public service.

1925 – 4-car on Harbour Line            

1927 – 8-car on Main Line & Harbour Line

1961 – 9-car on Mainline

1986 – 12-car on Mainline

1987 – 12-car towards Karjat

2008 – 12-car towards Kasara

2010 – 12-car on Transharbour Line

2012 – 15-car on Main line

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