February 1, 2017 2:12:52 am
THE ROUNDEL, or the diamond-shaped signs at railway stations mentioning its name, may seem like a humble identity marker for railway stations, but it has over the years seen changes, from its design, the number of languages in which it identifies stations to the recent changes to its shape. At its core, however, the roundel, like several other railway features, owes its design to the British, who laid the foundation of the present-day local railway lines.
Talking about the history of the roundel in his book, Halt Station India, railway historian Rajendra Aklekar says the signage, also termed “bulls eye”, has its origins in London. He says in 1908, the Underground Electric Railways Company of London used a winged, spoked wheel for its stations’ name boards and “fashioned a bright red circle with a blue bar across”.
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Later, the London Transport’s first chief executive along with a calligrapher “replaced the solid red disc with a white circle framed by red, within this were ‘plain block letters of Roman proportions in which the main strokes were of equal thickness and there were no end strokes or serifs’”. The design would later become popular across London Underground and its centennial year was celebrated in 2008. At some point, this design was then adopted for Indian railway stations’ signage as well.
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While the design may have been borrowed from the British, there were other changes like the number of languages in which station names were displayed. The Western Railway, a portion of which connected Mumbai to Gujarat, that saw a huge influx of Gujarati population, had its signages in four languages — English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, said a railway official.
“Over a period of time, due to demand by local parties, the names were displayed in three languages only as Gujarati was taken off,” Aklekar told The Indian Express. He added that certain central railway stations had names displayed in Urdu as well. “Khopoli railway station still has a signage in Urdu,” he said.
The latest change facing the roundel is the loss of the diamond shape that it has maintained over a century-and-a-half in favour of an oval shape. Mukul Jain, divisional railway manager, WR, said after raising the heights of railway platforms, the corner of the diamond signages were at a height where it could hit commuters’ heads and cause injuries. “Hence, we decided to go in for the oval shape that is less injury-prone and more passenger-friendly. As it is, the signages were due for repairs,” Jain said.
Currently, the roundel at Nallasopara has already been changed to oval. The signages at other railway stations will follow suit soon.
A railway official said, “Earlier, there were just these yellow boards with the station names on it at the two ends of a station that are there even today. These roundels that have now become the default signage were introduced at a much later stage.”
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