Indian Railways is the fourth largest national railway system in the world by size and total route length. The history of Indian railways is more than 150 years old. Read here to learn about the history, present, and future of the Indian Railways.
The Indian government owns and operates Indian Railways. A monopoly on the nation’s rail transportation was held by Indian Railways until relatively recently.
Around 750 million tonnes of freight are transported on one of the world’s busiest and biggest rail networks each year, carrying little over six billion people.
Indian Railways employs more than 1.6 million people worldwide, making it the largest commercial or utility employer.
History of Indian Railways
1832-1837: In Madras, India’s initial railway ideas were made in 1832. Between 1836 and 1837, Arthur Cotton’s Red Hill Railway, which was designed to transport granite for road construction, went from Red Hills to Madras’s Chintadripet Bridge.
The first railway on the Indian sub-continent ran throughout 21 miles from Bombay to Thane.
1843: The idea of a railway to connect Bombay with Thane, Kalyan, and with the Thal and Bhore Ghats inclines first occurred to Mr. George Clark, the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Government, during a visit to Bhandup in 1843.
1853: The formal inauguration ceremony was performed on 16th April 1853, when 14 railway carriages carrying about 400 guests left Bori Bunder at 3.30 pm “amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and to the salute of 21 guns.”
1854: The first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station destined for Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles, on 15th August 1854.
Thus, the first section of the East Indian Railway was opened to public traffic, inaugurating the beginning of railway transport on the Eastern side of the sub-continent.
1856: In the south, the first line was opened on 1st July 1856 by the Madras Railway Company. It ran between Vyasarpadi Jeeva Nilayam (Veyasarpandy) and Walajah Road (Arcot), a distance of 63 miles.
1859: In the North, a length of 119 miles of line was laid from Allahabad to Kanpur on 3rd March 1859.
1862: The first Railway Workshop was established at Jamalpur, near Munger, Bihar, in 1862. It gradually became one of the major industrial units of India, with iron and steel foundries, rolling mills, and more.
1864: The north got its first station – the Delhi Junction. The oldest one of the cities, it was a major station and junction and remains so to date.
It was first established near Chandni Chowk in 1864 when trains from Howrah/Calcutta started operating up to Delhi. The current building was made operational in 1903.
1875: The first section from Hathras Road to Mathura Cantonment was opened to traffic on 19th October 1875.
These were the small beginnings that in due course developed into a network of railway lines all over the country.
By 1880 the Indian Railway system had a route mileage of about 9000 miles.
1880: The Darjeeling Steam Tramway (later the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) started its first section between Siliguri and Kurseong. The line was extended to Darjeeling in 1881.
This Line operated on Narrow Gauge and was accorded World Heritage Status in 1999, the first Railway in Asia to get such a standing.
1895: After four decades of importing ready-made British locomotive parts for assembly, in 1895 the first steam locomotive was manufactured completely in India at the Ajmer Workshop.
1899: The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is among the first, and still outstanding, examples of a Hill Passenger Railway. Opened in 1899, it was extended up to Ooty in 1903. It was a bold and ingenious engineering initiative to establish a rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty.
The “engineering marvel” still stands, a testimony to the skills of Railway Engineering. It was accorded World Heritage Status in 2005.
1903: The Kalka Shimla Narrow Gauge Railway opened for traffic in November 1903. This line was accorded World Heritage status in 2008.
Indian railways, the premier transport organization of the country is the largest rail network in Asia and the world’s second-largest under one management.
1914-20: The railroads were employed to suit British demands outside of India as the First World War broke out. The railways had seen great losses and were in disrepairafterf World War One. In 1920, the government assumed control of the Railways and severed the connection between their funding and other state resources, a practice that is still in place today with a distinct railway budget.
1945-47: Trains were redirected to the Middle East during the Second World War, and railway workshops were turned into weapons factories, severely crippling the railroads. A sizable chunk of the railways was allocated to the then-recently created Pakistan at the time of independence in 1947.
A total of 42 different railway networks, including 32 lines held by the former Indian princely states, were combined to establish the Indian Railways, a unified organization.
1951: The organization of Indian railways into regional zones began in 1951, when the Southern (14 April 1951), Central (5 November 1951), and Western (5 November 1951) zones were created.
National Rail Museum, the first rail museum in India, was established in 1977 at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. The Indian Railways now have 33 Museums, Heritage Parks and Galleries spread all across the country.
The railways became popular at an unprecedented speed. The frequency and the number of trains were increasing as more and more people become dependent on its services.
At the same time, there was a need to enhance the safety of the passengers and the number of trains on the track increased. Many instruments were thus developed for better management of railway sections.
Pamban Bridge is the railway bridge that connects Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India.
- Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge.
- The rail bridge is, for the most part, a conventional bridge resting on concrete piers, but has a double-leaf bascule section midway, which can be raised to let ships and barges pass through.
One of the latest challenges undertaken by the Indian Railways is the building of the steel arch bridge over the Chenab in Jammu.
The history of Indian Railways spans over 160 years since its existence, the Railways in India have grown and expanded by leaps and bounds, yet there are still unchartered territories to cover. Slowly but steadily the railways are connecting every part of India, which with the constant innovations in technology is much easier to do today than it was before.
Though the newer generation is more used to air travel and automobiles, the railways must continue to grow; because even with all the other options available, the experience of an Indian train ride will remain unparalleled and continue to enthrall people for generations to come.
Today, Indian Railways manages the fourth-largest rail network in the world, with tracks spanning more than 120,000km of the country.
The railway is preparing for the future with several initiatives. Free WiFi services were envisaged to be provided at more than 7,000 stations by 2019, and Railways has invested in greener technologies in a bid to meet 25% of its power demand with renewables, primarily solar, by 2025.
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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