Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Some Said Scrap: Golra Railway Museum

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Walking into the office of the Divisional Superintendant (DS) of Rawalpindi Division in early 2003, one could not but remark on the exhibit in the foyer. Here were a couple of those old paraffin oil Tilley flood lamps that lit up work sites on dark nights. Here was an old Neal’s Block Token Instrument, an imperative of every station master’s office; a telegraph key; and an old wind-up clock supplied by Gillett and Johnston of Croydon for the North Western Railway in 1912, and many more items. All the instruments were in working order. 
Only weeks earlier, DS Ishfaq Khattak and his Divisional Transportation Manager Hameed Razi decided to begin this collection of railway memorabilia. It was thought that with most of this old equipment either being phased out or becoming unserviceable, it was liable to be lost forever. The operation began on a tiny scale within the limits of the Rawalpindi railway division with instructions to all station masters to turn in old and unused equipment. And this proved to be a most prescient move.


In June 2003, the DS’s office received a circular from railway headquarters in Lahore directing all ‘old items’ whether crockery, furniture, locomotives, coaches or other machinery, be collected and sold as scrap to raise funds for a railway that was fast on the decline because of lack of governmental interest. Recognising that there would be many an officer around the railway network more than precipitate in following this instruction, the pair from Rawalpindi began an operation that was unprecedented in the Byzantine history of Pakistani bureaucracy.

Without asking for funds or permissions that would have taken years to be granted, the duo expanded and hastened their efforts. They called friends and colleagues across Pakistan to send to Rawalpindi whatever equipment they could lay their hands on. Transportation, being by rail, was free and soon there gathered a collection too great to be housed in the foyer of the office. A proper museum building was needed.

Knowing well enough that it was impossible for money to be earmarked for a museum in those hard times, the DS and his DTM cast around. The railway station of Golra caught their fancy as suitable site. Just a few kilometres out of Rawalpindi on the main line leading to the frontier, this was another one of those way stations that no one cared for. It was a simple, chunky building with a trabeate roof and platforms on either side. On its west end was an extension with a pitched roof. Stuffed with old furniture and broken pieces of equipment, this room had been out of use for decades. When it was opened, the stench of guano from the hundreds of bats roosting in the crevices of its broken roof was overpowering.

Again no funds were sought, no obfuscating paperwork prepared. Only work was quietly taken in hand to rehabilitate this neglected building. Two weeks of a sand-blasting operation to remove the thick yellow wash revealed a structure of grey limestone raised in 1882. The extension was cleared of all the detritus of five decades and equipped with a new roof and ceiling. Since the entire operation was executed by experts from railway workshops in the division, no expenditure was involved and soon the building was as good as new.

Meanwhile, the effort of collecting memorabilia from across Pakistan paid. A sizeable collection of equipment, rolling stock, machinery and tableware was received from the remotest and most obscure places in the country. Grimy from years of neglect and disuse, every item was carefully restored to its original shape. Before the end of 2003, Golra railway station had become the Golra Railway Museum. Today it houses the most amazing and priceless collection of railway memorabilia. This is heritage retrieved from the brink of being auctioned as junk in 2003.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:29 AM,

1 Comments:

At Friday, April 19, 2013, Anonymous Mohsan Jamal said...

This is perhaps the only Railways thing that lives on in Pakistan till today. You know what has happened to the rest?

So sad. More so when other countries are thinking to revert back and improve their rail systems.

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days