How Byculla station restoration aims to resurrect landmark Mumbai structure's authentic state

The suburban rail network in Bombay/Mumbai has served as a lifeline holding the megapolis together for decades.  And on the Central Railways' Mumbai Suburban line, Byculla is a station that holds both strategic and historic importance.

 How Byculla station restoration aims to resurrect landmark Mumbai structures authentic state

Byculla was also the starting point for trials of the first passenger steam locomotive. Image via Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

Byculla is the oldest railway station in India; in 1853, when the first train rolled out from Mumbai's Bori Bunder to Thane, it served as the commencing point. Victoria Terminus — or what is now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) — wasn't built then. "At that time, Byculla was a wooden railway station. The present building was constructed in 1857. That makes it the oldest surviving railway station in India and therefore it is very significant and a Grade-I heritage building," says Abha Narain Lambah, noted conservation architect.

On 20 July, Union Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal inaugurated a conservation project aimed at restoring the railway station to its former state. The entire project, estimated to cost Rs 3 crore, is being funded by the Bajaj Group Charitable Trust as part of the company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, and is being spearheaded by Mumbai-based NGO I Love Mumbai, run by BJP leader Shaina NC. The restoration work is being carried out by Lambah's firm and is tentatively scheduled to be completed within a year.

An MoU was signed between I Love Mumbai and the Mumbai division of the Central Railway for the heritage restoration and beautification work of Byculla station in July 2018, as reported by the Press Trust of India. Sunil Udasi, the chief spokesperson of Central Railways told PTI that this move is part of  Indian Railways' safety and beautification mission.

The Hindu reported Piyush Goyal announcing at the inauguration event that a total of 10 stations including Byculla will be beautified under CSR initiatives of various corporate firms. The other railway stations in the pipeline include CSMT, Thane, Vasind, Dombivli, Nilaje, Kurla, Mumbra, Chunabhatti and Ambivli.

Shaina NC told PTI that the Byculla railway station is in a dire need of restoration in a holistic manner. "It has one of the most imposing facades in south Mumbai and is among the landmark stations in the area," she said, adding that she wished to dedicate the restoration project to her father (former mayor and sheriff of Bombay), the late Nana Chudasama.

"[Despite] being a historic railway station, it has been subjected to a lot of misuse over the decades; a lot of additions have been made," says Lambah. "The historic stone building was covered with cement plaster — today you don't see the stone. A lot of the verandahs, including the front facade, are covered because there was a wall built around. That verandah was enclosed to create additional storages and offices for the staff. So we have lost the frontage of the building."

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External Elevation of the Byculla Railway Station. Images via Abha Narain Lambah Associates.

External Elevation of the Byculla Railway Station. Images via Abha Narain Lambah Associates.

The false ceilings of the new structure cut through the historic pointed arches; the roof has changed and is leaking currently, mentions Lambah. Ceramic tiles were put over the historic flooring, which is cluttered with furniture. Apart from the structural issues, there is a lot of crisscrossing of electrical and telephone cables. "The whole building has completely lost its architectural integrity. Hence, the idea is to restore it to its historic and authentic state — both in terms of look and material. We have to make sure that the historic elements such as the cast-iron pillars, railings of the cast-iron booking offices, the grills, the benches, the foot-over bridges — all these are restored to the old Victorian design," she says.

Talking about the challenges faced while restoring such old structures and ensuring the authenticity of the material used, Lambah says it is a difficult process. "Sometimes you have to look for old stocks of Burma teak to be able to find the right matching quality teak," she explains. "Unfortunately, we are not able to get cast iron that readily. In that case, we have to cast making new moulds and match the original design. So, all that is important and hence needs to be done properly."

The ticket windows at Byculla railway station. Image via Twitter

The ticket windows at Byculla railway station. Image via Twitter

Lambah reveals that the restoration plan is ready and the heritage committee has already given it a green signal; now it has to be executed. Explaining further how the work will be carried out in Byculla railway station, she adds, "For the lime plaster, we will be slaking lime onsite and preparing the lime mixes that are appropriate for the building. The wooden members will be scraped and restored on-site. If required we will have to source Burma teak from the salvaged Burma teak sections available or will have to source it from the market. Once we are able to explore certain sections of the floor and able to remove the ceramic flooring we will be able to see what the original flooring of the area was. So on that basis, we will be working on matching the floor in the same pattern."

All the modern tools that are important for the functioning of a railway station will be incorporated in the restoration drive. The Times of India reports that not just the station building, but the garden area facing the façade too will also be restored. In addition to that, the water huts, toilets (for both the general public and the disabled) and electrical lighting will be upgraded and matched to the station's historic aesthetics. If the railway authorities approve, there is also a provision of creating parking spaces on both the sides of the station, under the same restoration plan.

Updated Date: Jul 28, 2019 11:55:58 IST