Indian Railways History

The East India Company initiated plans for a railway system in India as early as 1832. However, it was only in 1844 that the then Governor-General, Lord Hardinge sanctioned the first rail system that was put in place by private railroad companies. These, with the assistance of the east India Company, laid down the tracks in Roorkee and Mumbai (then Bombay). The first train plied in Roorkee on 22 December 1851, and was a freight train that carried construction material.

The first passenger train on the other hand, plied in Mumbai between Bori Bunder and Thane – a distance of 34 km – on 16 April 1853. Three locomotives that were christened Sahib, Sultan and Sindh pulled this first train along.

Private investors were sought after by the British Government in setting up of railway companies. The idea was to set up the railway system based on shared revenue, and the government being responsible for the established railroad, and the investor retaining its operational control. This scheme brought in an investment of approximately £95 million by the year 1875 through a number of British companies. Between them, these companies built 14,500 km of railroads by 1880. Most of these routes linked to the three important ports in Bombay (now Mumbai), Madras (now Chennai) and Calcutta (now Kolkata). By 1907, most railroad companies had been handed over to the government.

1895 saw the establishment of locomotive building factories, resources from which helped in building the Uganda railway.

In the consequent years, some of the richer kingdom-states started their own railroad projects, and railway networks started being established in what are today parts of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

The turn of the century saw the establishment of the Railway Board, that had three members. A Railway Board exists to date. The department of Commerce and Industry oversaw the working of the Board, and this step led to the railway industry turn from a loss incurring to a profit-making agent. Even with the installation of the railways Board, the decisive power nevertheless remained with the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

The first electric engines arrived on the scene in 1908. In spite of progress, the advent of WW I diverted the use of railways to the needs of the British Empire in the war. With heavy use and low care, the railway systems suffered heavily. As private financers were unable to meet demands, the government took over total control in managing the railways, and conferred a unique status to the railways financially. Echo’s of this practice are seen even today in the presentation of the railway budget, as against the rest of the national budget.

The WW II was as crippling to the railways. The focus shifted to the Middle East, and so did the infrastructure. By the end of the war, India was standing at the brink of its independence. With Partition, part of the existing railway lines went into the jurisdiction of Pakistan, leaving 42 railroads in India. Dissolution of these princely states led to nationalization of all the existing railway systems into one body – the present day Indian Railways. This system was then – and still is – the largest railway network in the world.

The Indian railway network was then reorganized into zones for better administration. There were six zones in 1951. Technology has since then gravitated towards electric locomotives. The 1908’s saw the start of computerization of the databases and reservation process. This is being refined with every new technology that is becoming available. Today this applied to both the suburban and passenger travel.

Type Departmental Undertaking of The Ministry of Railways, Government of India
Industry Rail transport
Founded 16 April 1857
Headquarters New Delhi, Delhi, India
Area Served India
Key People Ministry of Railways
Ministers of State
(Chairman, Railway Board
Products Rail Rransport, Cargo Rransport, Services, more...
Revenue Rs 8,355 crore (US$19.61 billion) (2009-10)
Net Income Rs 51 crore (US$211.12 million) (2009-10)
Owner(s) Republic of India (100%)
Employees 1,600,000 (2009)
Divisions 16 Railway Zones (Excluding Konkan Railway)

Indian Railways Celebrating History

The Indian Railways still celebrates parts of its history with some of the tourist routes.

  • The Fairy Queen is the world’s oldest locomotive that still runs on the mainline. On commemorative occasions, she is brought out and people throng to travel by this piece of history.
  • UNESCO has classified the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (narrow gauge, using both, steam and diesel engines) as a World Heritage Site. The route starts at New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and ends at Darjeeling. On the way is Ghum, a station that has a claim to being among the highest situated stations.
  • Another railway that is classified a World Heritage Site is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that traverses the Nilgiri hills. This is India’s only rack railway.
  • Another World Heritage Site that sees millions on a daily basis is the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus of before) station in Mumbai.