McLeod and Bag­nall

The orig­i­nal McLeod and Com­pany ran McLeod’s Light Rail­ways, in the vicin­ity of Kolkata. McLeod’s or­dered lo­co­mo­tives from Bag­nall and the first lot turned up in In­dia in 1917


There is a McLeod House in Kolkata, on the western side of Dal­housie Square, or if you pre­fer, BBD Bagh. In th­ese col­umns (Fe­bru­ary 10, 2017), I have ear­lier writ­ten about Martin’s Light Rail­ways (MLR) and the “light” rail­way lines it op­er­ated. Sim­i­larly, there was a man­ag­ing agency based out of Lon­don, known as McLeod Rus­sell and Com­pany. Its sub­sidiary was McLeod and Com­pany, formed in 1887. (Legally, both com­pa­nies still ex­ist, though their own­er­ships and fo­cus are dif­fer­ent now.) The orig­i­nal McLeod and Com­pany ran McLeod’s Light Rail­ways, in the vicin­ity of Kolkata. Th­ese were nar­row gauge lines. Most rail­ways (Bur­d­wan-Katwa Rail­way, Banku­raDamoodar River Rail­way, Ah­mad­purKatwa Rail­way, Ka­lighat-Falta Rail­way) were con­structed by other rail­way com­pa­nies, but op­er­ated by McLeod’s. The only ones ac­tu­ally owned by McLeod (through take-overs) were prob­a­bly Jes­sore-Jhenidah Rail­way and Kotchand­pur Branch Rail­way, but it hasn’t been con­clu­sively proved that McLeod’s ever took them over for­mally. Bur­d­wan-Katwa and Ah­mad­pur-Katwa were taken over by Eastern Rail­way in 1966 and Bankura-Damoodar River Rail­way was taken over by South Eastern Rail­way in 1967. Ka­lighat-Falta closed down in the 1950s. Even among Ben­galis, I won­der how many peo­ple re­mem­ber James Long now. (If noth­ing else, “Nil Darpan” should ring a bell.) There is a James Long Sarani in Thakur­pukur. What most peo­ple prob­a­bly don’t know is that this road runs over what once used to be the tracks of Ka­lighat-Falta.

At the risk of some sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, you could say that Martin’s op­er­ated in the Bi­har area, while McLeod’s op­er­ated in the Ben­gal area. If one sticks to rail­ways where one is cer­tain about the as­so­ci­a­tion with McLeod’s, th­ese were con­structed be­tween 1913 and 1917. Hence, one shouldn’t be sur­prised that McLeod House was con­structed in 1917. McLeod and Com­pany had var­ied in­ter­ests in tea, coal, rub­ber, indigo and steamer ser­vices. Light Rail­ways rep­re­sented only one bit of the port­fo­lio. There is a lot of his­tory hid­den in the old build­ings in BBD Bagh. For ex­am­ple, as soon as you en­ter a build­ing, there will be boards with names of com­pa­nies that have of­fices in that par­tic­u­lar build­ing. Many of th­ese com­pa­nies may have long since ceased to ex­ist, but their boards linger on. An ac­quain­tance (Partha Pra­tim Roy) re­cently went to McLeod House and took a pic­ture of what the McLeod House board showed. Ah­mad­pur-Katwa Rail­way, Bur­d­wan-Katwa Rail­way and Bankura-Damoodar River Rail­way show up, as ex­pected. In­ter­est­ingly, HowrahAmta Light Rail­way, op­er­ated by Martin’s Light Rail­ways and not by McLeod’s, had an of­fice in McLeod House. How­ever, Ka­lighat-Falta didn’t have an of­fice in McLeod House.

The real sur­prise was some­thing called Katakhal-Lala Bazar Rail­way Com­pany Lim­ited. It still has a board in McLeod House. The others were nar­row gauge, this was me­tre gauge. This com­pany was in­cor­po­rated in 1915 and the con­struc­tion (1921-22) and sub­se­quent work­ing was done by As­sam Ben­gal Rail­way. As­sam Ben­gal Rail­way was sup­posed to con­nect parts of As­sam with Chit­tagong port. Both Katakhal and Lala Bazar are in Hailakandi dis­trict of As­sam and the dis­tance be­tween the two sta­tions is 36 km. This line is part of North­east Fron­tier Rail­way now. While it is true that Kolkata used to be im­por­tant, why did Katakhal-Lala Bazar Rail­way have an of­fice in McLeod House? There is an in­ter­est­ing tit­bit about McLeod’s nar­row gauge steam lo­co­mo­tives. There was a lo­co­mo­tive man­u­fac­turer named WG Bag­nall, based out of Stafford in Eng­land. McLeod’s or­dered lo­co­mo­tives from Bag­nall and the first lot turned up in In­dia in 1917. Th­ese were known as 2-62 Delta Class lo­co­mo­tives. That 2-6-2 is based on the Whyte (named af­ter Fred­er­ick Meth­van Whyte, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer) clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, used to cat­e­gorise steam lo­co­mo­tives ac­cord­ing to wheel ar­range­ments. 2-6-2 means two lead­ing wheels, four driv­ing wheels and two trail­ing wheels. Steam lo­co­mo­tives needed to carry coal and wa­ter. The wa­ter tank was some­times un­der the coal bunker, some­times in a con­tainer above the boiler. Th­ese Bag­nall lo­co­mo­tives had side tanks, the wa­ter was in two con­tain­ers along the two sides.

Th­ese lo­co­mo­tives were first used on Ka­lighat-Falta. There was some­thing called the Egyp­tian Delta Light Rail­ways (con­structed in 1898) in the Nile Delta re­gion. They too or­dered lo­co­mo­tives from Bag­nall. But since the Egyp­tian line couldn’t use all the ones or­dered, and since Bag­nall was busy with War-re­lated work, some turned up in In­dia, to be used by Ka­lighat Falta and Bankura Damoodar. (The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment or­dered their di­ver­sion.) Thus, they came to be known as Delta Class en­gines. Some Bag­nall lo­co­mo­tives were used by Ah­mad­pur Katwa and ob­tained the ap­pel­la­tion AK. Where are th­ese lo­co­mo­tives now? Not a sin­gle one is in work­ing con­di­tion. Here is a list of known ones in In­dia — pri­vate col­lec­tion of Arun Mo­han, a lawyer; head­quar­ters of East Coast Rail­way; Tugh­lak­abad lo­co­mo­tive shed; and Bankura rail­way sta­tion. But th­ese four lack the proper pedi­gree. Th­ese are lo­co­mo­tives built in 1950s. There is one from 1920 in the DRM’s (Di­vi­sional Rail­way Man­ager) in Vado­dara. There is one from 1917 in Re­gional Rail Mu­seum, Howrah, used on Bur­d­wan Katwa. The oldest one is prob­a­bly the one in Katwa rail­way sta­tion, built in 1914, used on Ah­mad­pur Katwa and num­bered AK15. In 1996, there was cel­e­bra­tion in Bri­tain when AK16 re­turned “home” from In­dia. It is now main­tained by the Phyl­lis Ramp­ton Nar­row Gauge Trust. We are not that ex­cited about our rail­way her­itage.

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