The Great Railroad Revolutionary

Veteran journalist Rajendra B Aklekar pays tribute to Dr E Sreedharan and elucidates how an ordinary railway engineering service officer managed to script extraordinary success stories in his latest book

As a child growing up in a village in Kerala in the pre-Independence India, 84-year-old Dr Elattuvalapil Sreedharan found trains fascinating as he revealed in his biography, India’s Railway Man written by Rajendra B Aklekar.


In the book, he fondly reminisces his first train ride from Pattambi to Payannur at the age of six with his father and how he stayed at a friend’s place and walked the 10 km distance to reach the station to board the train. “The rattling of the train’s wheels and the fast-moving panorama outside the woodframed windows of the coach they were in, mesmerised the little boy throughout the five-hour-long or so train journey across the 200 km that lay between the coastal towns in Kerala. The excitement and ecstasy as the steam engine blew its whistle and chugged ahead was an incomparable wonder to a child who had never seen a train before.”

His association with the Railways was further strengthened when he moved to Quilandy after completing his primary schooling. He had to cross the rail line daily to reach school and occasionally, got to touch the mighty steam engines. The fascination ultimately laid the foundation for his longserving career in Indian Railways as he joined the Railways in 1954, after earning his civil engineering degree from Kakinada Engineering College in Andhra Pradesh.


“The curiosity to explore his personality was my inspiration to write this book,” says Aklekar. For his book, Aklekar met more than a hundred Railway officers and employees, who had worked and interacted with him to unravel some interesting facets. The author said, “There are several hidden aspects of his life. I also got in touch with his family, his spiritual guru and his ex-colleagues for my book.” Aklekar’s hard work paid off and the result is a beautifully researched book on the man hailed as the messiah of new age infrastructure projects. It gives an insight into the his personal life — love for football, school-days’ friendship with TN Sheshan, storytelling sessions for grandchildren and the enviable collection of model train sets.

The first feat that brought him under the spotlight was how he and his team rebuilt the cyclone-ravaged Pamban Bridge in Rameshwaram in 46 days flat, even though it meant meeting his first-born child only after the bridge was back in operation. “Sreedharan worked under two senior Railway officers — GP Warrier and BC Ganguli — for the Pamban Bridge Project. These officers were known for their engineering and management skills, professionalism, intelligence, diligence, and their pioneering roles in transforming the Railways and as an ardent protege, he picked up all these qualities,” says Aklekar on the Railway’s Man’s icons.


In 1970, Sreedharan moved to the Metropolitan Transport Project, popularly known as Calcutta Metro Project, as Deputy Chief Engineer (Planning and Design). It was India’s first metro rail experiment and as he recounted in the book, “The construction of Kolkata Metro proved to be an unpleasant experience because a 17 km line took almost 22 years to complete.” The learning from this association came in handy when he took over as the Chief of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) in 1997. Interestingly, with the exception of Mumbai, he has been a part of all the Railways’ Metro Project in the country.

He left a deep imprint wherever he went. “The rail link that connects Mumbai and Navi Mumbai had been stuck for years, and it was Sreedharan who got it moving,” says Aklekar.

The man has won the sobriquet of ‘Metro Man’ for starting the Metro revolution in the Capital that has today spread to other cities across the country. As the Managing Director of DMRC, he managed to complete gigantic projects within the deadline (in seven years) and budget and that’s quite a feat.


Interestingly, the man has had his shares of bouquets and brickbats, and Aklekar’s book has a chapter devoted to it with Sreedharan’s response to an anonymous former colleague, rebutting his charges and countering it with facts. The book also has a note from Sreedharan as a message to the younger generation extolling them to be a virtuous doer who merely does his share of work without any attachment or expectation or thinking about its outcome. That is his mantra for success.

Text: Shilpi A Singh

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