Mrs. Vinita Srivastava, IRSME has held leadership roles in various Government Ministries of Railways, Steel, Culture and Heavy Industries for more than two decades. In a recent conversation with Urban Transport News, he spoke candidly on the historical introduction of the concept of “Railways as World Heritage Sites” along with several theoretical and practical considerations.
Tell us about your professional journey in the railway industry.
I’ve had an interesting career that spans mechanical engineering, the transportation sector, and cultural preservation – an unusual mix. I have always loved Indian Railways. You see, railways is not just track and train. It is the backbone of the country, which connects and connects the transportation of people and goods to various remote parts of our country. The Indian railway system has a rich cultural, economic and historical significance. So it has been a great field to work in.
I started with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Special Class Apprentice Scheme in Jamalpur, which is a reputed input in their mechanical engineering services to the gazette cadre of Indian Railways. My first job was as a vendor development engineer at Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala (Punjab), working with Alstom-LHB on Indo-German technology transfer. Over time, I worked in various mechanical and operational positions for the Northern and Southern Railways and in other sectors such as steel, and manufacturing.
In 2011, I did my Executive Masters degree in Management from IIM Ahmedabad. This gave me the opportunity to expand my interest and reach beyond the mechanical engineering side of things. I worked on deputation to the Ministry of Culture in the areas of heritage studies, cultural mapping, museology and conservation architecture. In 2018, I was instrumental in developing a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding for Cultural and Conservation Information for the UNESCO World Heritage Site temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
I am currently the Executive Director (Legacy) in the Railway Board, which combines what I love about Railways and the culture of India.
What is meant by heritage in the context of railways? Please throw light on some heritage railway stations in India.
Indian Railways has a rich history of more than 160 years and a wide spectrum of both tangible and intangible heritage. this is Proud owner of four UNESCO awarded World Heritage Sites namely Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (1999), Nilgiri Mountain Railway (2005), Kalka Shimla Railway (2008) and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai (2004). There are two more in the waiting or tentative list named Matheran Light Railway and Kangra Valley Railway. So for me, being professional right now is an interesting turning point – railway technology and industrial heritage! Today, the Indian Railways maintains 34 museums, heritage parks and heritage galleries spread across India, which are designed to preserve India’s railway heritage. The National Rail Museum in New Delhi and the Regional Rail Museum in Chennai, Mysore, Howrah and Nagpur are iconic tourist destinations in their respective regions.
Virasat comes from the Hindi word “Dharohar” which is a combined expression of “Dhara” and “Ohar”. is intended A kind of trusteeship of fond positive memories, to preserve and retrieve what is valuable, Now with the railway legacy, engineering and industrial unions are important, but not In college connect. For India, railway technology has warm ties, conjuring up memories of colonial rule, freedom struggle, partition and then the journey from heritage to modernity. we should emphasize The mobility of this transport mode, and its important role in moving the nation forward in history and into the future, Maybe take a deeper look at the story of important railway stations like CSTM (erstwhile Mumbai VT) and latest Rani Kamalapati (formerly Habibganj, near Bhopal) The best showcases the trajectory of the heritage of our Railways – from old to new.
What is the relationship of heritage with railway infrastructure?
To answer this, I have to explore the academics of heritage studies – built heritage and intangible heritage. The term “infrastructure” is not limited to the structure being built, but extends to the stories associated with it, which survive for generations. Let me explain with an example.
Some say the story of America is that of its road network – which expanded in the post-war period and helped to connect and combine its aspirations and culture. I believe that for the nation-state of India, its story can be told beautifully by its railways! So the “Railway infrastructure” (built in) and “Railway heritage” of railway investment and development, which reflect the economic growth and aspirations (intangible) of a country, tell a powerful story when woven together in one narrative.
It is up to us to remember and retell these stories in a way that reaffirms the legacy of the Indian Railways as an undeniably powerful and service-oriented force-multiplier that supports the nation’s aspirations and its economic growth. important for development.
What is the purpose of preserving railway heritage sites?
Why does one save the past? There are many reasons for this – remembering, taking inspiration, avoiding repeated mistakes and strengthening identity. Purpose is what drives us to achieve what may seem impossible at first.
Railways in India began as a colonial expression of supremacy over a subcontinent. The fact that British railway mail parcels could navigate from Punjab to Burma in a matter of days made their rule seem omnipresent, communicative and coherent. And when students of history ask, “How can so few people rule so many?” In pre-independence India, railways, shipping, gunpowder and other products of the Industrial Revolution are part of the answer.
A free India adopted the railways and put it to good use in various ways. Railway bridges span mighty rivers, its public areas employ thousands, and the recent pandemic has demonstrated its response through services such as the Oxygen Express and Kisan and Shramik Specials.
Preserving railway heritage sites and intangible stories helps us remember the importance of “To be connected and move on” – perhaps that’s what the “purpose” is captured in one little phrase!
For the purpose of protection of property, some examples of tangible assets in this case are steam engines, meter gauge rolling stock, wooden body coaches, wagons, equipment and artifacts that are no longer in operation. With their phasing out, many maintenance practices have also been gradually forgotten. Sometimes, it becomes impossible to locate a craftsman who can do valve setting of a steam locomotive or a carpenter who can properly fix wooden body saloon doors. Preserving these helps us trace the history of technology that is more than a hundred years old.
Only then do we begin to work with intangible assets – the legacy of skills and techniques and popular memory transmitted from generation to generation, giving people a sense of identity. This is the reason why Indian Railways, apart from being a mode of transport, holds a special place within the national heritage of India.
When the tangible and intangible assets of Indian Railways are properly preserved and kept open for public display, they create memories of the past in the hearts of the future generation and thereby help maintain the continuity of the human experience. It is the prime duty of the Railways to protect this vibrant heritage and keep it intact for the generations to come.
Please throw light on some international heritage stations.
There are many international railway stations that preserve and transmit the national heritage in unique ways. I will describe two that I have visited myself:
The Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin, which was bombed in the war (November 1943), was then redeveloped as a heritage station complex, a technology museum and a post-war heritage complex. The station itself is now a modern relocated one and some of the older buildings have been acquired by Siemens, a railway technology company. Part of the old bombed-out red brick structure is preserved onsite. The entire bombed area was turned into a heritage area including a huge synthetic surface football field which is another German obsession. A concert venue called Tempodrome opened in 2001. Truly a heritage railway station site that tells a national story of reconstruction, industrial development and national rejuvenation.
London’s St Pancras has retained its legacy 1860s façade but has modernized large parts of its operational areas. It now houses the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel with 15 platforms, a shopping center, a security sealed area for international Channel Tunnel trains, public art exhibits and a rich history and heritage.
These and other heritage railway complexes around the world creatively tell the story of the old with the new. They remain areas that meet the modern public transport needs of citizens in an elegant and connected manner.
Whatever you want to share with our audience. please tell
One of my areas of work was to set up and operate the National Mission for Cultural Mapping (NMCM), a small but important project that aimed to address the need to preserve the threads of rich Indian art and cultural heritage and convert conversions. India’s vast and comprehensive cultural canvas in an objective cultural map, helping to create a strong “cultural vibrancy” across the country. In fact, when you think of the Indian Railways, you often think of congested trains and all that goes into the vast network of rail lines and rail cars. But you don’t think much about the cultural heritage of the railway system. Can you look beyond the tracks and trains into the richness of the history and heritage of rail systems in India?
Our ‘Heritage Charter’ is to preserve and make available the tangible and intangible heritage and history of the Indian Railways, the Industrial Revolution, and the various modes of transport and their socio-cultural impact on Indian society. It is important to realize how the industrial components of a society have much more than just economic and environmental impact on a country.
[Vinita Srivastava is the Executive Director (Heritage) at Railway Board and an alum of the Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership (CRISP) Programme, 2017]