The history of Indian Railways goes back to 1832 when the modern plan was proposed. The innovative plan completely transformed the history of transportation of India. Though no action was taken for over a decade, in 1844 Lord Hardinge, the Governor General of India, allowed private entrepreneurs to launch the railway system.
Beginning of Railway Services
In 1845, the Indian Railway Association was formed, which was later incorporated into the Great India Peninsula Railway (GIPR). Among the 10 directors, there were only two Indians – Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebho and Nana Shankarsheth. The first train that came on track on 22 December, 1851 was used for carrying construction material in Roorkee. It was the first steam locomotive named Thomason with 4’8.5” gauge engine, which was dedicated for transporting earthworks for the construction of the Solani canal near Roorkee. Though it had a very short life, it was still considered a pioneer that replaced horse cart with steam locomotion. It was the beginning of the new era in the history of modern transportation.
Simultaneously, the East Indian Railway (EIR) was established in 1845 to introduce railways to eastern and northern India. On 16 April, 1853 the first passenger train service was started between Bombay (Mumbai) and Thane. It was a 14-carriage-long train drawn by three locomotives called Sultan, Sahib and Sindh. The train took about 45 minutes to cover 34 kms (21 miles). Since then, the Indian Railways has never looked back.
From 1857, Robert Maitland Brereton, a British engineer, was given the responsibility of expanding railway network and service. In 1800, the railway service, which was working through the major port cities of Bombay, Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata), mainly covered about 14,500 kms.
Expansion of Railway Sector
India started its own manufacturing unit of locomotives in 1895.
Several independent kingdoms started their own railway system and network was expanded to Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. GIPR was the first to become a state-owned company in 1900.
A new railway board was formed under the administrative power of Lord Curzon in 1901. It had three members – a Chairman, a Railway Manager and an Agent. The board served under the Department of Commerce and Industry. In yet another first, the railways started to make profit.
The first electric locomotive came into action in 1908. The railway service of India, which operated exclusively for the British during the World War 1, was in a pathetic condition after the end of the war. In a bid to establish a centralised management system, both GIPR and EIR were nationalised in 1923 with the government assuming ownership.
By 1929, the railway network was expanded to 66,000 kms, serving almost all the districts of India. At that point of time, the railways used to carry over 620 million passengers and approximately 90 million tonnes of goods per year.
Beginning of Indian Railways
Railway network of India was in a dilapidated state after India got independence in 1947. Newly created Pakistan got almost 40 per cent of the railway lines. For connecting important cities of India, new lines were constructed and existing lines were rerouted through India. 42 separate railway systems were combined with the Indian Railways, out of which 32 lines were owned by the former princely states. In 1951, the Indian Railways was formed as one nationalised unit and it became one of the largest networks all over the world.
The steam locomotives were phased out completely in 1985. ‘The Nilgiri Mountain Railway’ and the ‘Darjeeling Himalayan Railway’ were only spared as no other traction mode was found to be suited these lines.
Computerisation of reservation of railway tickets was first introduced in Delhi in 1986, and by 1995 the whole system got computerised. In 1998, Konkan Railways started operating. It covered the most difficult terrain of the Western Ghats.
Beginning of the Metro Rail System
India’s first underground metro railway system was established in Kolkata in 1984. Kolkata was followed by Chennai (1995), Delhi (2002), Bangalore (2011), Gurgaon (2013), and Mumbai (2014).
As Indians, we are privileged to have such a large railway network. Indian Railways has a rich heritage of its own. You can visit the National Rail Museum in Delhi to get a glimpse of several vintage locomotives, including the Fairy Queen – the world’s oldest surviving locomotive.