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C for Kurla, S for Karjat and N for Kasara. These are the codes used for stations on the suburban railway network in Mumbai. At first glance, it would seem at odds with the fundamentals of the English language. However, dig a bit deeper and it makes sense. While in some cases, the alphabets relate to the name given to the station by the Britishers, in other cases it is for the convenience of the railway staff. This, however, at times leads to confusion for those using the railway network for the first time.
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Railway officials have an explanation for this. Since there are several railway station names beginning with the same alphabet, they obviously had to find a way around the problem. Kalyan, for example, starts with K, and so does Kurla, Khopoli, Kasara and Karjat, among others. In certain cases like that of Khopoli, they just added a P, making it KP for Khopoli. For Kurla, which prima facie appears to have no connection to the alphabet C, they went back to its original name. “Kurla was earlier called Coorlie, a name that was used by the British. Hence, we retained C as the code for Kurla,” said A K Singh, Public Relations Officer, Central Railway.
Apart from Kurla, even Vasai Road that is signified by “BS” on railway platform indicators also signifies the bygone British era when Vasai was called Bassein, thereby giving it the “BS” code that is used today.
More interesting, however, is the case of Kasara and Karjat stations, the codes for which are N and S respectively. While most in the know believe the reason behind it is that since Kasara goes northwards from Kalyan it acquired the code N and Karjat going southwards acquiring the initial S. However, this version too is not fully accurate.
Railway historian Rajendra Aklekar says while initially this may have been the reason behind the peculiar codes, over a period of time some changes took place. “There would be massive confusion in the control tower manning the locals entering CST. Since a lot of long-distance trains also come to the city, purely giving it codes based on which direction it came from was becoming problematic. Hence, to change this and ensure that the two words do not sound same phonetically, which south and north did to an extent, they came up with Narayan for N and Shankar for S. Today if you go to a control tower at CST, instead of referring to trains as Karjat and Kasara, they would term them as a Shankar slow or a Narayan fast,” he says.
While these names made life easier for railway officials, it turned out to be the bane of visitors to the city. They would reach CST, look at the indicators and go blank wondering what codes like C stood for. Till a few years ago, apart from the indicators that had these codes, the signage that the trains themselves had at its two ends was in codes as against the full station names. Later, to help those using the trains for the first time, it was decided that at least the trains would carry the full names of the railway stations en route. The platform indicators, however, owing to its limited slots, would have to continue carrying these codes instead of the entire station names.