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Kidderpore Tram Depot -- The oldest operational Tram Depot of Asia

22 September, 2020 13:59:30
Kidderpore Tram Depot -- The oldest operational Tram Depot of Asia

Trams are an inherent part of the culture and history of Kolkata. Although their numbers are now diminished, they are still far from extinct, and a trip to Kolkata does not seem complete without a tram car ride across the city. Today, it is the only tram system in India, and quite possibly the only one of its kind in Asia. In fact, Kidderpore Tram Depot is still in operation and it is the oldest operational tram depot in Asia. 

Khidirpur or Kidderpore has been an ancient abode of local fishermen. The name Khidirpur or Kidderpore was possibly twisted from its original name, Khidrpur or Khizarpur, Khizr/Khidr being the guardian saint of the seas to the fishing communities of Bengal. Writing in 1909, H.E.A Cotton mentions, ‘Kidderpore, which lies to the west of Alipore, is extensively populated principally by natives. Another theory points out that the port probably got its name from James Kyd, a 19th-century engineer who designed and supervised the building of the lock gate that connects the nearby port to the Hooghly River.

In the early years of British Rule, Kolkata port was a river anchorage where sailing ships would load and unload in mid-stream. The shore-based Calcutta jetties, with cranes and sheds, came into operation in 1869. In 1884, Kidderpore was selected as the site for the wet docks of the Port of Kolkata, and it was ready in 1892. King George (later renamed Netaji Subhas) Dock was added in 1928. Soon this area transformed into a busy port, frequented by sailors from across the globe. The British took initiative to develop the area and measures were taken to improve the surface transport system here. And that’s how the Kidderpore Tram Depot came up. 

The city’s first electric tramcar ran from Esplanade to Kidderpore on 27 March 1902, with service from Esplanade to Kalighat introduced on 14 June of that year. In fact, the tram system has been operational in Kolkata for more than a century now. Started in 1902, it is the second oldest electric tramway in India (the Madras electric street tramway being the first). In the subsequent years, the tram services were extended to Tollygunge, Belgachia, Sealdah, Baghbazar, College Street and to Howrah Station. The next couple of years saw a proliferation of tram cars plying on newly-laid rails that criss-crossed the city. 

Years went by and the tram became an important means of public transport. In its heyday, the trams had 10 depots. These were located at some of the most important junctures — Tollygunge, Ballygunge, Kalighat, Gariahat, Park Circus, Kidderpore, Rajabazar, Belgachia, Howrah and Nonapukur. Today, only six are functional. Tramcars are built and sent for repair work at Nonapukur. The depots at Kalighat, Park Circus and Howrah have been closed down. The Belgachia depot is out of service, albeit temporarily. Kidderpore Tram Depot is still in operation and it is the oldest operational Tram depot of Asia. 

There was a time when numerous routes were operated from here. Kidderpore Bridge is one of the few bridges in Kolkata that has trams plying across it. The Kidderpore Tram Depot connects locations like Kalighat, Tollygunge and Ballygunge. The main Kidderpore intersection is connected with northern, southern and central Kolkata. One of the biggest tram depots in the city, only one route, Number 36, is currently operated from here which has been suspended temporarily after cyclone Amphan hit the city on May 20 this year. 

The sprawling Kidderpore depot has garage provisions for providing shed to other tram cars in case of any emergency. Route number 36 that plies between Kidderpore and Esplanade passes through the most picturesque stretch of the city, including the vast greenery of the Maidan, often called the lungs of Kolkata, the imposing Fort William and Victoria Memorial. The view of the ethereal beauty of the vast, undulating stretch from the window seat of a moving tram car is truly  elixir for the troubled soul and is bound to make even the most bitter critic of the city fall in love with its magnificence once again.

Story Tag:
  • Bengal, Transport

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