Indian Railways 160 years on April 16 and Mumbai played host to the national programme on railways. Here’s a story of how it all started.
If we count the trade of wool that started train journey then it will be the first-ever train in England between Stockton and Darlington in 1825, it was started for the trade of cotton and many other things, that will be counted as a first-ever train journey on the Indian sub-continent.
Indian Railways, which had a modest beginning in 1853, has since then been an integral part of the state — a network that has held alongside a population of 1 billion. A self-propelled welfare system that has become the lifeline of a nation, Indian Railways has woven a sub-continent together and delivered to live the concept of a united India.
The railways in India are the most important rail web in Asia and therefore the world’s second-largest under one management. With an enormous workforce of about 1.65 million, it runs some 11,000 trains a day, including 7,000 passenger trains. The tale of how railway communication gained an edge in India, where the locomotive was once considered as a “fire-spitting demon”, is indeed a stimulating one.
If we talk about the recorded train journey on illustration then it dates back to 1320, when a little wooden mine trolley was running in recessed stone guides, possibly originating in ancient Greece. But according to true facts, the railways emerged within the early 17th century when the primary wooden tracks were laid at Wollaton, England, in order to use for the running of horse-drawn carriages in 1604.
It was only in February 1804, an honest two centuries later, that Trevithick, an engineer, ran the world’s first external-combustion engine successfully on a railway track. If we talk about its structure then it was a locomotive with its single vertical cylinder and 8-foot flywheel. It has a long connecting rod which almost managed to haul ten tonnes of iron, 70 passengers and over five wagons from the ironworks at Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal. This was, however, a trial run and cannot be termed as the first railway passenger service train.
In 1821, Edward Pease, a wool merchant, during his travels of shopping for and selling wool, felt that a railroad with wagons drawn by horses to hold coal from the collieries of West Durham to the port of Stockton would be of great help. The same year, Pease and a group of businessmen formed the Stockton & Darlington Railroad company.
However, Nicolas Wood and his engineer Stephenson came with an idea and suggested that he should consider building a locomotive railway instead. And Pease agreed with his idea.
The Stockton & Darlington Railroad was started on 27 September 1825. The engine was built by Stephenson which can pull almost 36 wagons, including twelve wagons of coal and flour, six of guests and fourteen wagons filled with workmen. It has been recorded as the first train within the world.
There are some disputes over this matter and some claimed that the Liverpool-Manchester Railway of the 1830s was the first passenger railway. However, railway communication gained more popularity within the 1830s and since then there has been no backward journey.
The first train in India
The Railway line in Bombay was completed by November 1852 and on November 18, 1852, a few engineers and directors of the GIP Company took a trial run between Bombay and Thane. It was officially registered as the first train in India which was flagged off on April 16, 1853, at 3:35 pm between Boree Bunder (Mumbai) and Thane and covered a distance of 34 km. The day was more important because of the fact that the Bombay government declared it as a public holiday.
The train consisted of three engines namely Sindh, Sahib and Sultan which carried almost 400 passengers in its 14 coaches as its debut run. The Great Indian Peninsula Railway had ordered a set of eight locomotives from Vulcan Foundry, England. Some people of Durbar Tents came to Thane and welcomed the first train which was specially built for four hundred persons with tables laid with menus literally groaning under every delicacy of the season.
However, India spotted one of its earliest locomotives as early as December 22, 1851. The first steam engine was Thomason who hauled some wagons containing mud and earth during the construction of the Solani aqueduct near Roorkee. The second one was Lord Falkland was seen near Byculla, Bombay, doing shunting duties. The third engine was registered during the trial run of the passenger train in November 1852. And since then there has been no looking back. These were published in newspapers and from here the journey of Indian Railways was started.
By late 1850, some agreements were signed to prepare trial lines to run in Bombay (The Great Indian Peninsula Railway), Calcutta (East Indian Railway) and Madras (Madras Railway). Calcutta was the capital of India at that time, the western coast of the sub-continent was also in the race to be the first to introduce railways in India. The survey from Calcutta to Delhi for the East Indian Railway was done during 1945-1946. But it took almost 3 years for the construction of the railway line from Howrah to Raniganj.
But Calcutta didn’t get the privilege of being the first city to have railways in India. Locomotives and carriages for Bombay and Howrah were dispatched almost at the same time from England but the ship carrying the loco for East Indian Railway, HMS Goodwin, faced the problem of misdirection to Australia. The other ship delivered the carriages for Howrah sank at the Sandheads first.
Yet another problem started in east India, a dispute over the French territory of Chandannagar (Chandannagar) through which the railway line was to be aligned. The settlement was disputed because of French rulers who took considerable time and Bombay won over Calcutta in the railway race. Finally, on August 15, 1854, the first passenger train in the eastern section ran between Howrah to Hooghly by covering a distance of 24 miles and soon this section was extended to Pundooah.
In south India, the Madras Railway Company was formed in London on July 8, 1845. The shareholders of the company held a general body meeting in February 1846 regarding the construction of a railway line from Madras to Arcot which was also known as Wallajah Nagar.
But then the matters were delayed and the actual construction began on June 9, 1853. The first train was between Royapuram and Wallajah Nagar and it was started on June 26, 1856. The Bangalore section was opened on August 1, 1864, and also the Railway lines to Nagari, Raichur, Bellary were completed subsequently during that time.
Today, Indian Railways are the fourth-largest rail network in the world, with their tracks spanning more than 120,000 km of the country.
Now the Indian railway is preparing for the future with a number of initiatives. Current Rail Minister of India Piyush Goyal said in his statement that free WiFi services will be provided by 2019 at more than 7,000 stations and Indian Railways has invested in greener technologies in a bid to gain 25 per cent of its power demand with renewables, primarily solar, by 2025.