Friday 16 August 2013

A ticket lost in the pages of history

One of the most popular and inexpensive means of communication-the telegram-came to be formally discontinued in India and there was a last minute rush in several cities, including Bangalore and Mysore, to send messages before the telegrams were consigned to posterity.
While the closure of telegram services received nation-wide and even international attention, a similar closure of another heritage service barely drew a whimper.
This related to the closure of the Railway Ticket Press in Mysore which had been in existence for more than a hundred years. The press had heritage value and it was known in the Railways for printing Edmundson Railway Tickets.
The press was operating from the Divisional Railway Offices in Mysore since 1908 when they had been set up by the Wodeyars. Though the Railway Board had ordered the closure of the Press in 1908, it finally downed shutters only in March 2013.
This was one of the few presses in India that printed railway tickets and even platform tickets. The tickets were printed in millions before computerized bookings took over. The tickets were brownish in colour and they had the destination, fare and other details printed in black.
India was one of the last few countries with an extensive railway network (it is the third biggest in terms of network and the ninth largest employer in the world). The Mysore press printed tickets of all denominations, platform tickets and other stationery.
It had a ticket printing machine which was manufactured in 1908 and this year is engraved on the machine along with the name of its manufacturer Waterlow and Sons of London, United Kingdom.
Waterlow and Sons Limited was a major worldwide engraver of currency, postage stamps, stocks and bond certificates.
Five tickets printing machines were installed in the press on the ground floor of the magnificent building. They were dismantled after March 1 and shifted to the shifted to the store room on the premises of the Divisional Railway Workshop, South Western Railway (SWR) at Ashokapuram, Mysore.
Though the closure of the press was expected, not many know that it was the only such facility in South Western Railway limits and one among the eleven in India.
The Edmundson (brown coloured card) tickets were printed for halt stations or short distance travelling on trains in Mysore, Bangalore, Palghat andMadras divisions. The Press thus supplied tickets to a little more than 300 trains. The tickets were printed in Kannada for Bangalore and Mysore trains and Tamil for Chennai.
A few tickets in Telugu were also printed.
The Mysore machines had a capacity to print 4,000 tickets per hour. On an average, eight lakh tickets were printed every month. With the closure of the Mysore Press, the printing press at Trichy, which has been printing tickets in Tamil and Malayalam, will now take over the load of  its erstwhile Mysore counterpart.
The Mysore press employed nine persons- a supervisor and eight skilled workers. All of them have been given different jobs.
The Edmondson railway ticket was a system for recording the payment of railway fares and accounting for the revenue raised, It was first introduced in the 1840s and it is named after its inventor, Thomas Edmundson, a trained cabinet maker, who later went on to join the Railways in UK as a Station Master in 1836 on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway.
Edmundson first introduced his ticket system on the Manchester and Leeds Railway to replace handwritten tickets. Edmundson saw that handwritten tickets were a laborious task for ticket clerks as they had to physically write  out a ticket for each passenger. Therefore, long queues were common at even small stations.
He felt the need for a system to expedite issue of pre-printed tickets.
The Edmondson system came into general use with the creation of the Railway Clearing House in 1842. The first tickets were printed on brown coloured card cut to 1+7⁄32 by 2+1⁄4 inches (31.0 by 57.2 mm), with a nominal thickness of 1⁄32 inches (0.79 mm).
The tickets in each series were individually numbered. When a ticket was issued, it was date-stamped by a custom-made machine. The tickets to different destinations and of different types were stored in a lockable cupboard where the lowest remaining number of each issue was visible. Different colours and patterns helped distinguish the different types of tickets.
British Rail’s last press was switched off in 1988 and the use of Edmondson tickets by British Rail ceased from February 1990. India still prints these tickets though the Mysore Press has ceased to exist.
However, Edmundson tickets and the system is still in use on most heritage railways in the UK, but has been superseded on other railway systems.
In India, the tickets were printed in different shades to indicate different class such as sleeper, AC-3, AC-2. But over the years they were phased out of the main trunk routes and between major stations. They came to issued only for short journeys on remote routes that are not frequently patronised. They are issued only for unreserved class journey by passenger trains on the branch lines.
However, major stations used to issue Edmondson Card-type platform tickets which too nowadays has been replaced by computer-generated paper tickets
These tickets have served commuters in India for over 150 years. The first Edmundson tickets were issued in India in 1860 and this was just seven years after the first train ran in India in 1853.
Now, the presses at Garden Reach, Kolkata, South Eastern Railway, Gorakhpur, North Eastern Railway, Kurseong, North Frontier Railwayand Ajmer will be closed.
The Lancaster Museum in England has a well-preserved specimen of an original Edmondson wooden dating machine, with unprotected jaws, which was improved upon in 1862 by his son, J. B. Edmondson, in collaboration with Carson and Blaycock.
An interesting point is that a German, Frank Helker has a collection of 163,235 Edmondson railway tickets that he has amassed since the 1980s. Frank has in his possession tickets issued from 1902 to 2003.
Born in 1792, Thomas Edmondson died on June 22, 1851. He took  his brothers Joseph and Blaycock into partnership of the firm he founded. Today, this firm is one of the leading suppliers of machines for ticket printing, dating and issuing. The modern electrically-driven printing machine can turn out 10,000 printed railway tickets an hour, as compared with the 1,000 tickets an hour of the old hand-operated presses invented by Edmundson. No wonder, Edmundson is on its last legs.
These tickets, vestiges of the British way of ticketing, are on their way out. Computerisation has begun replacing them with printed slips called Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) ticket slips. The Railways now have a centralised accounting software, making huge transactions on the suburban lines easy.

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