Alighting from your train at Jamalpur Junction station of the Eastern Railway and making your way through the market adjacent to it,you are not likely to be impressed.Turning right at the end of what could well be called the station road,you cross an over-bridge and enter the Railway East Colony.
This egalitarian title is now given to what used to be the European Colony in colonial days.There is a Jamalpur beyond the East Colony also,but most things in this town begin end here.The first turning to the right is the Workshop Road,that leads to the Eastern Railway Locomotive Workshop,the biggest and the oldest in the country.
It was only after the setting up of the temples of modern India after independance that bigger workshops were built.you next pass the Club Road and Stadium Road.You soon cross the Golf Road,before you come to Gymkhana Road on your left.
Standing between these roads, you see a vast expanse of a rolling green maidan stretching towards a right that seems to cover your entire field of view.This maidan is the Golf Course,a small but reasonably well kept 9-hole course,that is perhaps the cheapest in the world to play golf on.
Right in the centre of the course, you will note what looks like a grave. The epitaph on the tombstone tells you the gory tale:a 27 year old Foreman of the Erecting Shop was killed by a tiger near the spot two years after the workshop had been established in 1862. In the tranquil serenity of the present maidan, tigers had roamed in the not too distant past. If this was the situation,then why Jamalpur, is the question that is often asked.
The answer lies in the history of the area and the nearby town of Munger (earlier Monghyr). The inhabitants of this town and the surrounding areas had always been a reservoir of skilled craftsman in mechanical fields like ironware – notably guns ,pistols ,spears, and other weapons.
It is not a coincidence that Monghyr was often referred to as the “Birmingham of the East” in those days. It will also not be out of place to record that Jamalpur was on what was then intended to be the mainline of the Railway,had good water supply and congenial surroundings.
Jamalpur was at first only an engine changing station. The actual headquarters of the Locomotive Department were at Howarah,but the latter not only possessed great drawbacks but was too confined to permit extensions.There was ,in fact., no room for the work shop of the Locomotive Department as well as the Company’s carriage and wagon works, and after long and matured consideration , it was decided to remove the former to Jamalpur .
Mr. John Strachan , the then Locomotive Superintendent of the Company,gives the following account for the cause of the removal.”It was not till the early sixties that the late D.W.campbell decided to remove the workshops to Jamalpur ,and this was owing to the drivers and fitters giving trouble.They were covenanted men from home who had left their families there,and as hotel and billiard rooms were their only amusement,it was no uncommon thing for men to leave the shops during working hours and adjourn to a hotel that was then opposite to the railway station…
“There were also several other places of amusement in Howrah and Calcutta to which men could go and among them was a place known as Wilson’s Coffee Room.
“One day Mr. Campbell,returning from the weekly Meeting in the Agent’s Office ,happened to call at Wilson’s Coffee Room for tiffin,and here he found three of his principle foremen and two engine drivers enjoying themselves in rather a boisterous manner……The men were quickly retired,and after that Mr. Campbell never rested until he had the workshops and the Locomotive offices removed from Howrah to Jamalpur.”
And,so it was that the Locomotive Workshop came to be located at Jamalpur.By 1890,the workshop had 3122 men ,which grew to 9528 by 1906.(In its heydays 30 years back,the figure was 14000).By this time ,the number of locomotives whose overhaulwas based at Jamalpur had grown to 952.Since there was virtually no industry in the country,the workshop grew to be totally self sufficient.It set up the country’s first rolling mill in 1879,as well as the raiway’s first captive powerhouse,which was set up in 1895.A steel foundry with a 7-ton open-hearth furnace started operations in 1898.
The Iron foundry was amongst the best in the country and even produced cast iron sleepers.
Jamalpur has the distinction of manufacturing locomotives well before Chittaranjan Locomotive Works were set up. A total of 214 locomotives were built at jamalpur between 1899 and 1932.
Along with the technical side of the development ,care was also taken to develop the human resource.A Technical School was set up in 1988 for Trade Apprentices with one teacher.In 1905, the training of Apprentice Mechanics was started for Anglo-Indians and later in 1911,the Apprentice Mechanic scheme was thrown open to indians also.It is chronicled elsewhere in this issue,how the training of special class Apprentices at the Technocal School in 1927,set into motion the chain of events that we are commemorating this year.
Jamalpur has always attracted visitors who could well be a Who’s Who of the land.A sampling of the messages recorded in the Visitor’s Book of the Workshop can be seen in this write up.
Even today,the Workshop and the Training institute at Jamalpur are the mainstay of not only Jamalpur town but also the entire district of Munger.Although there are other workshops and units in the Railways and outside that are bigger and more contemporary than the Locomotive Workshop at Jamalpur today,the words of Mr.Huddlestone,C.I.E,Chief Superintendent of the East Indian Railway,give an idea of the Spirit behind Jamalpur.
“There are ,of course,larger Railway shops existing in Europe but not few are more self contained or better occupied with modern electrically driven machinery than this workshop.”