NOT MANY regular passengers of the Western Railway (WR) know of a 10-year-old heritage gallery that is an ode to the history of the railway, on the ground floor of the heritage building of Churchgate. Home to more than 150 rare artefacts, the gallery has failed to attract crowds.
Among the rare artefacts in the gallery is a hand grenade made in a railway workshop for the India-China War of 1962; hand-written notes from then officials of the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway Institute (BB and CI, which is the predecessor to WR) and cutlery used in the then passenger trains. Spread across 130 sqm, a television screen fitted outside the gallery gives visitors a peek into the valuables inside.
“Each of the items in the gallery is unique. The Mumbai division then had taken up great efforts to collect a variety of items from eight divisions of the Western Railway. For example, the gallery has a wooden dressing table that used to be kept in the retiring room of Omkareshwar Road station in Madhya Pradesh. One can imagine the kind of efforts made to bring it to Mumbai,” a senior WR official said.
In its exhibition on signalling systems, the gallery has a “pappu” engine that used to be at the Bandra railway station. A “pappu” engine refers to an old engine that is non-operational. “There is a three-dimensional model of the present signalling system that alerts motormen about any obstacle on the tracks. When there are visitors, we show them how it works,” a senior railway official said.
Many old photographs of train engines used in the past and of the bungalow of the general manager are also part of the gallery.
“We have treasured a hooter that was used in railway workshops then. A hooter stands for a siren call to alert employees about any natural calamity. Back then, when there was no electricity, the hooter whose sound is sharp and jarring would be rotated manually to give the call,” a WR official said.
The gallery also has a wooden telephone directory in which phone numbers are etched on a wooden block that is required to be rotated to view the numbers. Headlights and taillights of steam engines, equipment used by then Chief Minister Morarji Desai to lay the foundation stone of the new Churchgate building in 1956 are all part of the collection.
But historians and heritage lovers complain that the railways have failed to ensure that there are frequent visitors to the gallery. Sapna Desai, a commuter on the WR who wanted to visit the gallery last year, said: “I was asked to get an official letter or take permission from someone to visit the space. It is closed on weekends, which also dissuades me from visiting it.
The process should be made easier for commuters who wish to visit.” Historian Bharat Gothoskar recalled visiting the museum when it was inaugurated. “There is not much hype about the gallery on social media. The railways could collaborate with heritage groups and arrange walks to ensure that people get to see the museum. The railways should also encourage heritage events and keep historians in the loop about new additions to the gallery.”