Friday, November 14, 2014

CTC displays its history in ... a tramcar

The Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) is the oldest electric tram in Asia, running since 1902, and currently the only tramway in India. Its service is known as the Kolkata tram.

Electricity replaces horses and steam during the early years
CTC is registered in London 1880. A horse-drawn tram track between Sealdah to Armenian Ghat is inaugurated on 1st November of the same year. Already two years later steam locomotives are introduced. By the end of the nineteenth century the company owns 186 tramcars, 1000 horses, 7 steam locomotives and 19 miles of tram tracks. In 1900 electrification and simultaneous reconstruction of one meter gauge tracks to the standard gauge (4'-8½ '') is initiated. The entire system is electrified within five years. When the tram network connects to the suburb of Howrah in the 1940s, the company's total track length reaches 67km.

The official anglicised name Calcutta was changed in 2001 
to Kolkata in order to match Bengali pronunciation.
Picture by Claude Waddell, military photographer, dated 1945-1946. 
At the left the Mohammddan mosque, Juma Masjid. 
Source : By Clyde Waddell , via Wikimedia Commons
double-click image to enlarge

Kolkata and CTC struggle with demographic stress, economic decline and political troubles 
In 1947 independent India is partitioned in the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Many Muslims leave Kolkata and hundred thousands of Hindus flee into the city. The city will experience a steady economic decline in the following decades due to steep population increases and a rise in militant trade-unionism. In 1965 CTC must deal with infrastructure damages and agitations from Marxist–Maoist groups against the rise of its fares. Furthermore, Kolkata undergoes power shortages and many strikes and CTC wrestles with lack of investments and financial pressure. In 1967 the Government of West Bengal takes over the management. Four years later, the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 will lead to a massive inflow, again, of thousands of refugees.

CTC fights a fierce competition
In the 1950s the automobile sector becomes competitor number one for the Calcutta Tramways Company. Buses, trucks, taxis and private cars claim their share in the city's transport services. Other traffic rivals are auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and hand-pulled rickshaws. All of these vehicles compete for the same road space. The slow-moving tram services are restricted to certain areas of the city. In 2004 the city's "road space" will turn out to be only 6% compared to 23% in Delhi and 17% in Mumbai. Over time CTC looses its reserve right of way. Further decreases of its passenger numbers lead to lack of profitability and unavoidably inadequate maintenance. In 1982 the Bengal Government will reincorporate CTC as The Calcutta Tramways Company 1978 Limited, a privately owned state government company. At that time 275 tramcars carry 0.75 million passengers per day. Two years later, new competitor The Kolkata Metro starts its services. In 1992 the Calcutta Tramways Company introduces bus services. Modern looking-trams, including air conditioned tramcars, have been introduced recently.

Taxis, buses, cars, rickshaws near Sealdah train station 
blocking the tram rails.
Picture by Arne Hückelheim
Source : Wikipedia

The future remains uncertain
CTC's bus fleet has been increased from an initial 40 to 400 buses but the number of trams operating every day has dropped to 100. The number of tramcar passengers fluctuates around 160,000 people per day; unlike the Kolkata Metro which today attains a daily ridership of 0.65 million passengers. CTC survices with an annual subsidy of nearly Rs 200 crore (26 million Euro). Who knows what the future will be bring. Yet, the company's tramcars have some trumps. They stand for a clean and environment-friendly mode of mass transport. The cars are more spacious than buses and the fares are cheap. In a fast evolving city like Kolkata, the trams lend character to the city and may give the city extra pride.

A museum in a tram
On 29 September 2014, CTC has inaugurated a museum in a tram stationed at the Esplanade depot. The museum may help bridge the gap with between the fast-paced urban life and its slow-moving vehicles. On display are
  • old archives
  • replicas of various trams
  • old tickets, passes and coins
  • pictures of great men who travelled in trams
  • badges, uniforms, caps and tassels worn by company staff
  • and much more
You can enjoy the museum along with a cup of tea or coffee with snacks in a tram originally built in 1938 and refurbished earlier this year. Open to visitors between Monday and Sunday, except Thursday, from 3.00 pm to 8.00 pm. Location : Curzon Park at CTC's Esplanade junction.

Horse-drawn trams in Kolkata, India 
(life-size model at City Centre arcade)
Notice the 'cTc' company logo at the front of the car.
Picture by  L N Roychoudhury
Source : Wikipedia

Call to action for the Kolkata readers !
Except for a few examples, scripophily of Indian tramways is rarely seen. As far as I know, I don't remember seeing any certificates from the Calcutta Tramways Company. Are there shares certificates on display ? I don't know, but this online article from The Times of India, says that "Also on display are cancelled share certificates of CTC ".  Aha !
I tried to find out more on this, but so far without success. So, to the readers from Kolkata : when you visit the CTC tram museum, take pictures of the share certificates and mail them. I'd love to include them in this post.


Reference links


  1. For those interested in Indian share certificates I recommend the following website:

    You can find the CTC Tramway Acts here (search for "Calcutta tramways"):

    Roland Schmidt (

  2. Hey Roland,

    Thank you for your comment !
    Lots to see on but so far no CTC shares.


  3. Facebook group "The Tram Lovers Club of Calcutta" confirms : yes , there are two old age share certificates displayed at Smaranika museum.