Cochin State Forest Tramway
The Cochin State Forest Tramway was a 1,000 mm metre gauge(MG) railway line and historical forest tramway running from the Parambikulam Forest Area (now the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary) in Palakkad District to Chalakudy in Thrissur District . Operating from 1907 to 1963, it served the State of Cochin and brought prosperity by bringing Teak and Rosewood from forests which were later shipped to different locations all around the globe. .
Chalakudy was a station on the Shoranur-Cochin Railway, a MG line that had opened in 1902 between Shoranur and the Ernakulum Terminus in Cochin, this line was first worked by Madras Railway, and by South Indian Railway from 1908  .
The construction of the tramway commenced in 1901 and was inaugurated by Sir Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, 2nd Baron Ampthill, Governor of Madras, in October 1905. Regular work in the tramway started in 1907. On June 26, 1907, the Maharaja of Cochin passed the Cochin Forest Tramway Act, which provided for protection and management of the tramway .
The total length of the tramway system was 49½ miles/79.5km from Chalakudy, the location of the forest headquarters used to house the tramway workshop & timber yard. The entire tramway is divided into three sections and five inclines as detailed below :-
- ‘Section 1 from Chalakudy to Anapandam’ (Mile 21/33.8km, altitude 400ft/120mtr above sea level), through plains for the first 9 miles on the north side of the river. Between mile 9 and 10, there were 2 zigzag bends with minor ascents; then through plains to mile 19 along Muppili range of hills; then 4 more zigzag climbs to Mile 21.
- ‘Inclines 1,2,3 from Anapandam to Kavala’i (Mile 23/37km, altitude 1400 feet/430mtr) had three inclines:- Gradient 1 in 15 of 2910 feet/890mtr in length; Gradient 1 in 7 of 2640 feet/800mtr; Gradient 1 in 5 of 1380 feet/420mtr
- ‘Section 2 from Kavalai to Pothupara (Mile 26.5/42.6km). From Kavalai through 12 zigzag curves, gradually descending to Mile 25.
- ‘Inclines 4,5 from Pothupara to Komalapara’ (Mile 29/46.7km, altitude 2500 feet/760mtr) had two inclines:- Gradient 1 in 5 of 2270 feet/690mtr; Gradient 1 in 7 of 3220 feet/980mtr
- ‘Section 3 from Komalapara to Chinnar’ (Mile 49.5/79.5km, altitude 2000ft/610mtr). From Komalapara, the line passed through 5 zigzag curves and descended to Myladappan. The line continued to descend from this point through another set of 4 zigzag curves and reached mile 32. At this point, the line crossed Muthuvarachal River and entered Orukomban ranges. The line continued further along the banks of Karappara River till Mile 36. At Mile 41 mile, the line crossed Kuriyarkutty River and ran along Parambikulam River up to the last point at Chinnar in the Parambikulam range
Description of Zigzag Sections
The zigzags were in sections where difficult terrains had to be covered. The train moves forward through an extended line till an end point, starts moving backwards in reverse, rolls along the main line till it reaches another reverse point. Many such forward – backward – reverse movements take the train up or down through steep faces of mountains. There were two such zigzags in section 1 & 12 zigzags in section 2.
Description of Incline Sections
There were two tracks in parallel on each incline, one for upward movement and the other for downward movement. There were brake houses at the top of each incline, erected between both the lines. There was a wheel drum of 6 feet(1.8mtr) diameter in the brake house complete with gear wheels & brakes. The 1½ inch(38mm) diameter steel cable was wound on this wheel drum. The train of trucks carrying timber was brought to this point, the locomotive detached and each truck manually brought near the brake house. The cables were then attached to each truck and manually pushed downward through the incline. While the truck kept moving downwards with the control of brakes, another set of empty trucks & saloons carrying passengers kept moving upwards
It used to take 4 hours to cover Section 1; 2 hours to cover Section 2 and another 3 hours to cover Section 3. There were rest houses in Kavalai, Komalapara, Kuriyarkutty & Parambikulam. The tramway used to charge 4 Anas (25 paise) from civilian passengers for travelling the entire distance. The line went through lush green forests, crossed streams & rivers and was considered to be a scenic & enjoyable journey. British officers used to travel in saloons attached to the tramway with servants & supplies and spend vacations in the rest houses en route :-
With the tramway completed, there was still no plan in place for proper forest management of this new area. Proposed timber surveys, mapping, and felling plans were never implemented. The forested areas were merely divided into 4 felling quadrants, and the permissible felling area was set at 640 acres annually. Minimum girths for felling were assigned to the various species, Teak and Rosewood at 6 feet and other species at 4-1/2 feet. The only purpose to the felling was to keep the tram operating without a loss. The tramway helped to transport about 10,000 cu.m in a year and exploit about 32,000 ha of forest areas.
In 1926, the special finance committee recommended the abolition of the tramway. However in 1928, the government unwilling to abolish this ‘engineering marvel’ decided to continue to keep the tramway running at any cost, mainly by exploiting the nearby forests in the most intensive scale possible. This was another conceptual mistake which resulted in the severe damage to the forests of the area. In 1940’s the Anamalai road, from Chalakudy to Valparai came in to being and through this road motor vehicles started carrying the timber which diminished the unique role of tramway. The gradual depletion of the forests could not justify the capital expenditure and in 1950 a special committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Chief Conservator of Forests in order to evaluate the situation. The committee recommended that the “Tramway is just a white elephant causing great loss of revenue for the state”. Based on the recommendation of this committee, the Government Vide G.O.F4. 3594/49/DD dated 24th April 1951, decided to discontinue the tramway .
However, in 1953, another commission under the Chairmanship of late Mr. B.V.K. Menon, Retired Chief Secretary of the former Cochin State was appointed to evaluate the possibilities of reviving the tramway. This committee reported that such a monumental venture should be revived at any cost. But this idea did not materialize. In 1957, the Food and Forest Minister suggested that the tramway could be used for tourism purpose and allocated Rs 5 lakhs (0.5 Million Rupees) for the same. Three diesel locomotives (Benz engines) were brought from Germany for this purpose. But soon the ministry changed and the next ministry did not evince much interest to continue in to the work .
Finally in 1963, after serving 56 years and making modern Cochin Port a present day commercial harbour and Cochin City, the economic hub, the Cochin State Forest Tramway was abolished on the basis of a special finance committee report. The staff was absorbed in various departments of Government.
- “Journal on the Cochin State Forest Tramway” by Devan R Varma with David Churchill and Marc Reusser, 2005 published on-line by ‘Indian Railways Fan Club’  provides considerably more information than given here.
- For a detailed account of the locomotives and wagons used, see “Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia” compiled by Simon Darvill .
- Wikipedia "Cochin State Forest Tramway"; Retrieved 10 Apr 2018
- “Administration Report on Railways 1918” page 145 (pdf153) ; Retrieved 10 Apr 2018
- “Journal on the Cochin State Forest Tramway” by Devan R Varma with David Churchill and Marc Reusser, 2005 published on-line by ‘Indian Railways Fan Club’"; Retrieved 10 Apr 2018
- “Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia” compiled by Simon Darvill. Published by ‘The Industrial Railway Society’ 2013. ISBN 978 1 901556 82-7. Available at http://irsshop.co.uk/India. Reference: Entry KL15 page ....