The Early Days...

Inception of railway in India can be traced back to as early as 1838 when a temporary railway line was laid from Chintadripet (near Madras now Chennai) to the nearby canal for carrying granites. It was known as Red Hill Rail-road (RHRR). Going with the available historical documents/precepts some idea can be made about the type of primitive steam locos used in RHRR. Even though the line was planned for animal haulage, it is known that at least two to three steam locomotives were at service -- one with 2-2-0 wheel arrangement while other two locos with 2-2-0T configuration. The entire project was carried out under efficient supervision of Capt. A. Cotton of Corps of Engineers Madras Presidency. The line was eventually closed around 1845.

Some other account mulls about the existence of another railway line in 1845 from Quarry Hills to the bank of Godavari to construct a dam over the river. The railway was used to bring lime stones from adjacent Quarry hills-3 miles apart. This time also Capt. Cotton was at the helm of the project. Though this project didn't witness any locos, ponies along with humans were at work. This line was however dismantled following completion of the project around 1852.

Around 1948, the Bengal Public Works Department took up the work to construct a railway line near Roorkee which was later extended to Mahewar (Roorkee-Mahewar Railway) to assist the Ganges Canal irrigation project. By 1952 the line got well distributed along the adjacent areas of Mahewar, Roorkee, Dhunoree, Peeran & Kullear with a total length of ten and a half miles. The type of locomotives used were not known but according to Huges in Indian Locomotives Part-1 working of a six-wheeled tank engine with 2-2-0T wheel configuration cannot be ruled out.

As The Journey Began...

A plan for a rail system in India was first put forward in 1832, but no further steps were taken until 1844, the then Governor-General of India- Lord Hardinge allowed private entrepreneurs to set up a rail system in India. Two new railway companies were created and the East India Company was entrusted with the responsibility of assisting them. Serious interest shown by number of investors in the Britain led to the rapid creation of a rail system over the next few years. In 1843, Mr. George Clark , the then Chief Engineer of Bombay Govt. came up with a plan to join the Bhore Ghat inclines with Bombay. After ten years, his dreams came true and the first passenger train of India steamed off from Bombay (Bori Bunder) to Thane (Great Indian Penninsular Railway) on 16th April 1853, at 3:30 P.M. "amidst the loud applause and to the salute of 21 guns". The train consisting of 14 carriages was hauled by three steam locomotives named Sultan, Sindh and Sahib. The very next year after inaugural run, the Bombay - Thane line was extended up to Kalyan and was made a double line.

In the mean time, the survey of laying a railway line between Calcutta & Delhi was carried out by Mr. George Stephenson during 1845-46. The construction of railway line from Howrah to Raniganj was sanctioned after on 1849. But by the end of 1853, a total 61 km of line was ready upto Pandooah. But due to delay on receiving the locomotives from England, it was on 15th August, 1854 the first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station to Bandel. Thus the first section of the East Indian Railway was opened to public.

Soon after 1854 various Princely States & independent states began to have their own rail systems and the network spread to the regions that became the modern-day states of Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, etc. The British government also encouraged the setting up of railway companies by private investors under a scheme that would guarantee an annual return of five percent during the initial years of operation. Once completed, the company would then be transferred to the government, but the original company would retain operational control. Between 1854 and 1899, several railway companies were incorporated and each began work on their own lines which were pushing further and further inland from the coast. The biggest were GIPR (Great Indian Peninsular Railway) Bombay, EIR (East India Railway) Calcutta, MRC (Madras Railway Company), BB & CI (Bombay Baroda & Central India) Surat and others. This fast growing network had already a route length of about 14,500 km (9,000 miles) by 1880, mostly radiating inward from the three major port cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.

In 1864, the first train rolled into Delhi Junction (DLI) as a Calcutta - Delhi line was completed via Allahabad by EIR after 9 years of construction. In 1866 a regular train service was started from Calcutta to Delhi, which later became today's Howrah - Kalka Mail which is the oldest regular passenger service of India, the legendary Delhi-Kalka Mail-the train taken by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during elopement in disguise on January 19, 1941. BB&CI completed construction of a line from Ahmedabad to Bombay in 1867 and started a service from Virar to Bombay Backbay (present day CST), probably marking the beginning of what is today Mumbai's most famed suburban service.

But the seemingly impossible Ghats in and around Mumbai posed as a serious challenge for constructing a line out of Mumbai towards Calcutta. Finally in 1864, after 10 years of rigorous struggle against the odds of nature GIPR completed the herculean task of putting it up across the Thal Ghat to reach Igatpuri. Still today it is considered as an engineering marvel. By 1870, that line had extended to Jabalpur via Manmad and Itarsi, where it met EIR's Allahabad - Jabalpur branch line, completing the Bombay - Calcutta line. Meanwhile, work was also in progress to overwhelm the Bhor-Ghat to reach Pune. This daunting task also met success and later saw the light of the day.

In the South, the first line was laid from Royapuram in Chennai to present day Walajah Road constructed by the Madras Railway Company. On July 1, 1856 a train plied over this route. The second line was from Beypur (now defunct) to Tirur in Kerala which was opened on March 16, 1861 by the South Indian Railway (SIR). By 1864, the Madras line was extended to Jolarpettai and then to Bangalore Cantonment and the Bangalore Mail started its journey. By 1871 Madras Railway had constructed a line from Madras to Raichur via Arakkonam, Renigunta and Guntakal. By then GIPR had overcome the challenges of laying tracks over the Khandala Ghat and their line too had reached Raichur via Pune, Daund, Wadi and Gulbarga. Both the lines were unified at Raichur completing the Bombay - Madras link, hence connecting the South to the North.

By 1895, India had started building its own locomotives and Ajmer Workshops of the Rajputana Malwa Railway (RMR) made history by manufacturing first Locomotive in India the 'F-734'. In 1896, India also sent engineers and locomotives to help build the Uganda Railways.

An ever-expanding network demanded a more professional approach which led into constitution of a Railway Board in 1901, but the powers were still formally held by the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon. The Railway Board operated under aegis of the Department of Commerce and Industry and had three members: a government railway official serving as chairman, a railway manager from England and an agent of one of the company railways. The railways by then had already started making profits. There was no looking back after then. Railway lines criss-crossed the nation at incredible speed and post 1900, an undivided India boasted of a whopping 24,000 km of Railway track and more than 50 scheduled services. This Princely States also got fascinated by the growing trend. They pitched in with their own network. The Maharaja of Cochin sold his valuables to build and complete the 58 km Ernakulam - Shoranur line in 1902. The Nawab of Hyderabad built the Hyderabad - Raichur line with funds out of his own coffer. As the Railways grew more and more, problems started arising due to the prevalence of a large number of railway companies. Again with the First World War in progress, the railways were used for transporting troops and food grains to the port city of Bombay and Karachi en-route UK, Mesopotamia, East Africa etc. By the end of the First World War, the railways had suffered immensely and were in a poor state. In 1923, both GIPR and EIR were nationalized with the state assuming both ownership and management control. The Second World War severely crippled the railways as rolling stock was diverted to the Middle East, and the railway workshops were converted into munitions workshops. To stem this volatile situation, the government decided to further nationalize the network and by 1940 it had taken over almost all companies. By the time of independence in 1947, India had 53,000 km of railway track route, with locomotive powers of mainly steam and some diesels, carrying about 680 million passengers annually, covering the various frontiers of the country.

The Public Reaction...

There were apprehensions that the Railways in India would not be a profitable venture owing to the primitiveness of the Indian society which was then shrouded with social-evils like superstition, casteism, untouchability, gender-biases, etc. But the pundits were made to eats their words as they were proved wrong right from the beginning itself. The railways were welcomed amid much fanfare & it had already caught the imagination of the masses. People started liking this new mode of transport, which allowed them to expand their horizons and visit places they had never been to in their lifetime and led them out of the darkness they were living through generations. Be it for migration to the other cities and even abroad, or to visit the relatives, or for pilgrimage or just to go out and see places-trains were steadily becoming a rage among the people. Most trains ran overcrowded in fourth-class with people on the roofs, hanging off the windows and glued to the carriages. Indians were mostly not allowed on First and Second classes, except some very wealthy & distinguished ones and had access to third and fourth classes only.

Electric Traction came calling...

It was in the 1929, electric traction with 1500V DC was introduced for the first time in India between Bombay and Kurla-a 15 km stretch. The emergence of electric traction was due to difficulty in maintenance of a huge number of steam locomotives in the steep ghat sections of Bhore ghat and Thal Ghat in Great Indian Penninsular Railway for banking and also to avoid scarcity of water in arid regions. In 1928, a 36.21 km stretch between Bombay & Borivili of Bombay, Baroda & Central Indian Railway (BB & CI) was electrified. And by 1929 the entire stretch of 53.1 km from Bombay to Kalyan was electrified. Entire 138 km section between Kalyan & Pune was electrified at one side and 53.2 km stretch between Kalyan & Igatpuri completed electrification on the other side by the end of 1930. On the southern part a meter-gauge line between Madras Beach & Tamabaram was electrified on 1930. And finally in 1936 the 26.22 km stretch between Borivili & Virar was electrified. By the time of Independence, India had total 388 km of electrified lines and it was decided to continue on steam traction, though the Calcutta suburban network was electrified using 3KV DC around 1954.

Emergence of Indian Railways...

India inherited a total of 55,000 km of British Indian railways, with about 40 percent of the railway line passing through Pakistan. New construction had to be undertaken to maintain the lines & keep them operational as many lines had to be rerouted through Indian territory. About 8070 km of line from the erstwhile Northern Frontier Railway went to the newly created state of Pakistan and almost all of the Assam-Bengal Railway went to Bangladesh. The partition cut through many railway lines and it resulted in further cutting-off of the North-Eastern part of India from rest of India as all lines that led there passed through the new state of East Pakistan. A total of forty-two separate railway systems, including thirty-two lines owned by the Indian Princely states were amalgamated into the Indian Railways. The then existing rail networks were abandoned in favour of zones in 1951 and a total of six zones came into being in 1952. IR was facing an uphill task ahead as it had to procure a large number of locomotives, wagons, coaches and materials. They had to look for new personnel and train them and decide on the methods, standards and policies to be adopted.

The first priorities of the newly formed Indian Railways were to be integration, bringing in uniformity in services and operations followed by decolonization, upgradation and modernization. Several indigenous projects were taken up immediately after independence, most of them to address the infrastructural needs of the then existing network which needed an uplift. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) started producing coaches in 1950 alongwith the Intergal Coach Factory (ICF) which was founded in 1955. The Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), established in 1949 and the Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) of Varanasi which came into being in 1961 started producing locomotives. By 1957 it was decided that the network was to be gradually electrified with 25KV AC to be adopted as traction following the recommendation from French National Railway Corporation and 2000 km of route length to be electrified by the next 8 years. It was approved and by the 1960s mainline electrification of lines of the erstwhile undivided Eastern Railway had begun in earnest and electrified route km jumped from 758 km in 1961 to 3,708 km in 1971. Another leap forward was the decentralization of the Indian Railways with the creation of different zones for increased efficiency & efficacy. Southern Railways was the first to be inaugurated in 1951. Northern, North Frontier, Eastern, Central and Western Railways followed. Later, more zones were added and as of today we have 17 zones including Metro Railway, Kolkata corresponding to the 17 stars in the logo of Indian Railways.

In 1979 it was decided that all trunk routes were to be aggressively electrified and the Central Organization for Railway Electrification (CORE) was set up to achieve an ambitious target of 1000 km of route to be electrified every year. In 1980, WAP-1,-India's first electric traction locomotive specialized for passenger services was introduced-indicating the start of the era of the electrics. The hugely successful WAM series were in use till then in addition to the WCAM locos of Bombay which could run on both AC and DC. By 1985, steam locomotives were phased out in favour of diesel and electric locomotives. In the 25 years from 1980 till 2005, a whopping 23,066 track kilometres or 12,562 route kilometres have been electrified-a landmark in itself. Talking about milestones though, the story of emergence of Indian Railways remains incomplete without the mention of an engineering marvel renowned as Konkan Railways.

In the mid twentieth century, people travelling to Mumbai from Mangalore and adjoining areas would had to go to Kadur or Birur by bus and then catch a train to Bombay. In 1970's the National Highway 17 (NH-17) was built to connect these cities by road. Even though rail-link to connect these two cities was the need of the hour, it could not be conceived given to the geographically tough terrain comprising of hard volcanic rock, soft and wet clay, tropical jungle, wet clay and loose sand through which the railway tracks would have to be laid. An engineering marvel would have to be unravelled to tide over the challenge. Railway tracks could not be laid because of the very presence of the Western Ghats or the Shayadris. However, in 1966, a line was constructed between Diva in Mumbai and Panvel in Raigad district which was extended up to Roha in 1986, mainly to serve the industries located in the area. But the missing link from Roha to Mangalore still existed. In October 1984, the Ministry of Railways decided to take a final location engineering-cum-traffic survey for the west coastal portion from Mangalore to Madgaon -a total distance of 325 km. In March 1985, the railways decided to extend the scope of their survey to include the omitted length of the west coast line extending from Madgaon to Roha.

The Southern Railway was entrusted with this final location survey. They submitted the project report for this route to the Railway Ministry in 1988 and named it as the Konkan Railway after the coastline along which it runs.

On July 19, 1990, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) was incorporated as a public limited company with its headquarters at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai and E. Sreedharan- a senior railway official, as its first Chairman and Managing Director. The company set itself a challenging target of five years to complete the work- something that had never been achieved in India before, especially, for a project of this magnitude. The foundation stone for the project was laid at Roha on September 15, 1990 as the Corporation had its task cut out. With a total number of over 2,000 bridges and 91 tunnels to be built through this mountainous terrain drained by many rivers, the project was the biggest and perhaps most difficult railway project ever undertaken in the history of Indian Railways.

To enable quicker construction, several innovative practices were adopted. Piers for major bridges were cast on the riverbanks itself and launched using cranes mounted on pontoons. The technique of incremental launching of bridge spans was used for the first time in India. Since it would take too long to complete the project using locally available tunnelling technology, nine hydraulic tunnelling machines were imported from Sweden in order to bore through the hard rock of the Sahayadris. The biggest challenge, however, came from the nine tunnels that had to be bored through soft soil.

No technology existed anywhere in the world leave alone this part of the world for this purpose and the work had to be carried out through a painstakingly slow manual process. Excavation was almost impossible due to the clayey nature of the soil that was saturated with water owing to the existence to a high water table in the region. Several times tunnels collapsed immediately after they had been dug, necessitating work to be redone. Nineteen lives and four years were lost while constructing the soft soil tunnels alone. In all, a casualty of seventy-four marred the construction of this otherwise high-profile line.

The Konkan Railway boasts of the 64 meter tall Panval Nadi Viaduct near Ratnagiri, the second highest bridge in Asia, a visible example of the ingenuity of the line and the dedication of the builders who braved the wild fury of nature with violent monsoons and tropical thunderstorms causing cave-ins, landslides, flash floods and what not. It connects two hills and has 12 spans and10 pillars, 6 of which are taller than the Qutub Minar!

In March 1993, the southernmost section of 47 kilometres (29 mi) between Thokur and Udupi in Karnataka was inaugurated, followed by the northernmost section of 47 kilometres (29 mi) between Roha and Veer in Maharashtra in June 1993. The first passenger train on Konkan Railway route was run between Mangalore and Udupi on 20 March 1993. Thorough services on the line commenced after a formal inauguration of the entire stretch of 740 kilometres (460 mi) from Roha to Thokur on January 26, 1998. From May 1998, the entire route between Mumbai and Mangalore became fully operational reducing the journey by several hours & kilometres.

Evolution of Indian Railways....

Indian Railways had come a long way; its ambitions of a wider network had taken wings. But it really came of age when the entire railway reservation system was streamlined & refurbished with computerisation between 1987 and 1995 putting an end to a complicated reservation system of manually handwritten ledgers and registers and that too could be done only from originating stations enroute the train. It was almost impossible to reserve a ticket from an intermediate station and also from some station at another end of the country. CRIS, the Center for Railway Information Systems was established in 1986 to handle the Information & Technology Dept. of Indian Railways and the Passenger Reservation System (PRS) is only one among the several projects that CRIS handles. PRS was started as a standalone reservation system at Delhi in 1985 to handle computerized reservations for a few trains. It was then extended to Bombay, Madras, Calcutta (all in 1987) and Secunderabad (1989) and by 1990 most of the long distance train reservations were computerized as far as the railways are concerned, but that was of little use for the passengers who still had to go to their originating stations to book tickets as all these five PRS systems were independent with their own databases and not interconnected. But on April 18 2000, CONCERT (Country-wide Network for Computerized Enhanced Reservation & Ticketing), a CRIS software database system went online, interconnecting the 5 PRS centers and finally enabling reservation from any corner of the country in any train in any reserved class. Thus, real time booking of train tickets became a reality thereby facilitating passengers and putting an end to their ordeal.

The Railways is often described as one of the major unifying forces of this vast and diverse country. Gradually with time Indian Railways has become the back-bone of the nation.

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