Some times a question hunts the mind why a place like Jamalpur was selected as a site for EIR Company’s Locomotive Workshops.
Jamalpur was at a very far distance from the Bengal and Bihar coalfields, which was the most important criterion for selecting the place for locomotive workshop way back in 1860s. The place is also off the mainline of EIR. The most mportant fatal draw back was the place has no natural water supply. This can be construed as a great blunder on the part of EIR.
The probable reasons for selecting the place may be listed as follows:-The place was adjacent to Munghyr, which was that time considered as “Birmingham of the East.”
There would be a plentiful supply of skilled mechanics from Munghyr because inhabitants of Munghyr had been the mechanics by trade for centuries, famous for manufacturing of iron wares, guns, pistols, spears and other works
When the selection was made it was probably thought that Jamalpur would be on the proposed mainline of EIR which was subsequently changed and was directed to Delhi via Ranigunj, Gaya, Mughalsarai, Allahabad and Kanpur.
Initially, Jamalpur was only a engine changing station and light repairs were done in the running shed there. The original headquarters of the locomotive department of EIR was located at Howrah had a great draw back because it was too confined for extensions as and when needed. At Howrah, the original workshop was supposed to handle building of locomotives, carriage and wagons.
Mr. John Strachan, late Locomotive Supdt. of EIR Company as accounted for the cause of the removal of locomotive workshops from Howrah to Jamalpur. It was in the early 60s (1860) that Mr. D.W. Campbell decided to remove the workshop to Jamalpur and this was because the drivers and fitters giving troubles. They were all covenanted men from England who had left their families, and hotels and billiard rooms were their only amusement. It was not in common for them to leave the shops during working hours and adjourn to a hotel “then situated opposite the Railway Station, Howrah”. Kept by a very old Ship Steward named Bobby Deans who could always give them something to eat as well as something to drink and a game of billiards. There were also several other places of amusements in Howrah and Calcutta to which men could go and among these, was a place known as Wilson’s Coffee Room.
One day Mr. Campbell was returning from weekly meeting at the Agents Office (29,Theatre Road) happened to call at Wilson’s Coffee Room for Tiffin and their he found three of his Principal Workshop Foremen and two Engine Drivers enjoying themselves in rather a boisterous manner. They also asked him to join them in having a peg. What he said in reply has never been recorded, but the men there quickly retired and after that Mr. Campbell never rested until he had the workshops and the locomotive workshop officers removed from Howrah to Jamalpur.
At the early stages different narratives have stated that there were 26 foremen and Asstt. Foreman and about 180 Europeans and East Indian Mechanics of which a large portion was recruited directly from England. The whole staff was housed in quarters built by EIR at Jamalpur and live within easy distance of the workshop. There were also other buildings, a church, Roman Catholic chapel, Mechanics Institute, Swimming Bath, Hospitals with separate buildings for infectious diseases. A school for children of the employees both European and Indian. There were also a building house in which 40 Europeans and East Indian Apprentices could be lodged and cared under the charge of resident Master and Matron. It was for the first time in India that a system of training indentured apprentices was conceived and implemented. Initially, recruitment of sub-ordinate services grade was done by introduction of men from England that gradually suitable staff trained in the workshop were inducted to take the appointments and expenditure of importing men was saved. Jamalpur was also the headquarters of East Indian Volunteer Rifles with about 2300 strong personnel and necessary armoury and headquarters staff in Jamalpur. It is still there in the form Territorial Army Organisation of Eastern Railway.
The Gymkhana at Jamalpur which later became a renowned school of Railway officers was started during this period for the recreational facilities.
Among the hectic activities during early 1900, the workshop was equipped and developed in manufacturing of locomotives, in addition to several other small jobs for Engineering Stores, Collieries ( EIR had its own Collieries at this time ) Carriage & Wagons Departments, cast iron sleepers, all signalling and interlocking gears, posts, cranes, etc.
A few important shops which are no more now are listed below.
STEEL FOUNDRY : The first in India was commenced in 1898 and had a capacity of 10 tons per day.
IRON FOUNDRY : A very large shop covering about 100,00 sq. ft. was fully mechanised with about 1800 staff which included a few women also.
Laboratory : Chemical and metallurgical laboratory existed close to the foundry shop. The laboratory still exists catering for scientific analysis of metallic parts of IR.
ROLLING MILL: Started in 1879 was closed down recently. It had 3 mills , steam driven Power hammer, fish plate machine, billet shears, The mill was driven by steam from boilers placed on the top of the furnaces and heated by gas from the furnaces. It produced about 400 tons of rounds, channels, angles and fishplates per month.
SIGNAL EQUIPMENTS SHOP: More popularly known as “Points and Crossing and Interlocking shop” was started in 1894. produced entire requirement of Interlocking frames of different sizes for EIR.
Other shops were Brass Foundry, Machine shop, Forge , Smithy, Pattern, Carpenter, Bolt & Nut, Brass finishing, Tin & Coppersmith, Cold Saw Chain Testing, Wheel, Boiler, Millwright, Paint, Tender and a very large Detail Stores.
Jamalpur Shops had their own Power House, and produced Electricity for the entire Workshop and the Staff Qrs. This was commenced in 1901, with with a 100 KW output. The Generators were driven by STEAM at 150lbs pressure supplied from a battery of 14 boilers. Natural drought was supplied by two steel chimneys, each 120 ft. high having a clear diamter of 5ft. 6 inches and these chimneys were built by Jamalpur and erected section by section. The boundary of the workshop was lighted by arc lamps.
A devastating earthquake on 15th. January 1935 flattened everything including the staff quarters which had to be rebuilt.
Source : History of East Indian Railway – By George Huddleston.1906 and other documents consisting of Interviews from retired British staff of E.I.R.