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.