Was the Indian Railways Born on April 16, 1853?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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It is generally believed that the railways were first introduced to India on April 16th, 1853. The Bori Bunder to Thane line is customarily seen as the birth of the world’s largest railway systems, but the plan for the first rail system was drawn in 1832. The laying of an experimental track began in 1836 near Chintadripet, in Madras (now Chennai). When the experiment proved successful, a 3.5 mile (5.6 km) rail track was laid between Red Hills and St. Thomas Mount in Chennai.

On December 22, 1851, the first steam locomotive in India was used during the construction of the Solani canal near Roorkee, a city in Haridwar district, Uttarakhand. Bengal Sappers of the Indian Army built the railway line to carry soil for the construction of the canal from Piran Kaliyar, 6.2 miles (10 km) from the city.

It is commonly believed that the two-wagon train was hauled by a Jenny Lind class locomotive built by E.B. Wilson and Company at their Railway Foundry in Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England or something very similar in design, by the name of “Thomason“. However, surviving work records do not substantiate this fact.

The engine had a short life. A boiler explosion destroyed it a few months after it started operating. It might have been a secondhand engine. Nonetheless, it pioneered a new era in the transportation history of India.

The locomotive rail paths are still intact.

Replica of Jenny Lind in Roorkee (Courtesy of Kota Shivaranjan/Flickr gallery of travel photos)
Replica of Jenny Lind in Roorkee (Courtesy of Kota Shivaranjan/Flickr gallery of travel photos)

A replica of what the locomotive might have looked like is exhibited at Roorkee Railway Station in original LB&SCR (London, Brighton and South Coast Railway) livery as a monument to the historic moment.

The National Railway Museum in Delhi also has illustrations of a Jenny Lind with the name “Thomason” the shop.

 

On April 16th, 1853, at 3.35pm, the first train in India left Bori Bunder, in Bombay (now Mumbai), for its destination Thane, 34 kilometres away. (Source: oldphotosbombay.blogspot.in)
On April 16th, 1853, at 3.35pm, the first train in India left Bori Bunder, in Bombay (now Mumbai), for its destination Thane, 34 kilometres away. (Source: oldphotosbombay.blogspot.in)

Although the first rails were laid at Chintadripet in Madras, the first train flagged off was on April 16, 1853, between Bori Bunder (later Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Thane. It travelled 21 miles (34 Km) with the aid of three locomotives: Sahib, Sindh, and Sultan. 400 invited guests in 14 carriages enjoyed the historic ride. This journey set a milestone in passenger train service. The governor, Lord John Elphinstone flagged off the train at 3:30 pm.

Robert Maitland Brereton (2 January 1834 – 7 December 1911) was an English railway engineer in India. (source: en.wikipedia.org)
Robert Maitland Brereton (2 January 1834 – 7 December 1911) was an English railway engineer in India. (source: en.wikipedia.org)

A British engineer, Robert Maitland Brereton, was responsible for the expansion of the railways from 1857 onwards. The Allahabad-Jabalpur branch line of the East Indian Railway was opened in June 1867. Brereton linked this track with the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, resulting in a combined network of 4,000 miles (6,400 km). And, from March 7, 1870, onwards, it became possible to travel directly from Bombay to Calcutta. “Around the World in Eighty Days,” the classic adventure novel written by the French writer Jules Verne was partly inspired by this railway.

At the opening ceremony, the Viceroy Lord Mayo concluded:

“… it was thought desirable that, if possible, at the earliest possible moment, the whole country should be covered with a network of lines in a uniform system.

An  Indian train (Source - dhankedeshme.blogspot.in)
An Indian train (Source – dhankedeshme.blogspot.in)

In 1951, the various railway systems were nationalized and brought under the banner of the Indian Railways becoming the world’s largest railway network. It covers more than 71,000 miles (115,000 km) of multi-gauge track – broad, metre and narrow gauges – over a route of more than 40,000 miles (65,000 km) and 7,500 stations. Its operations cover all the states and seven union territories in India. It also provides limited international services to Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Indian Railways have roughly over 200,000 (freight) wagons, 50,000 passenger coaches and 8,000 locomotives. Indian Railways also own locomotive and coach production facilities at several places in India.

On April 16th, 1853, at 3.35pm, the first train in India leaves Bombay for Thane (Source: oldphotosbombay.blogspot.in)
On April 16th, 1853, at 3.35pm, the first train in India leaves Bombay for Thane (Source: oldphotosbombay.blogspot.in)

In 2011, Indian railways transported more than 24 million passengers daily, roughly half of which were suburban passengers, amounting to 8,900 million passengers annually (not counting the ticketless travellers), and over 2 million tonnes of goods daily.

In 2011–2012, the Indian Railways had revenues of: ₹1119849 million (US$19 billion) consisting of ₹696760 million (US$12 billion) from the freight and ₹286455 million (US$4.8 billion) from tickets issued to passengers.

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3 thoughts on “Was the Indian Railways Born on April 16, 1853?”

  1. Such a far reaching and visionary idea could only have been rolled out by the Englishman, the westerner in general. Implementing such a new idea that it was then, not merely required tremendous vision but also a high degree of planning, organisation, synergy and team work- qualities again pretty much lacking in the Indian. Sorry for being so unpatriotic but truth is always bitter and isn’t our National motto ‘Satyameva Jayate’? .

    Like

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