The first commercial railway was introduced in India in the 1850′s, based on a plan set forth in 1832. An experimental line was established in 1836 in Chennai, with another short line set up in 1837 in Red Hills. By 1844, the government invited private businessmen to create rail systems. Entrepreneurs received land grants, a cash advance, and guaranteed returns by agreeing to 99-year leases for building and operating rail lines. They even launched an IPO, and many claimed it was the best stock to buy. The first Indian commercial train became operational in 1851 in Roorkee. In 1853, Bombay became the hub for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR). At the same time, the East Indian Railway (EIR) was starting up in Calcutta. The first passenger train service began in 1853 and connected Bombay with Thane, a 34 kilometer run. North India received its first passenger railway in 1859, to be followed in 1889 by a line anchored in Delhi.
“The 1854 trunk line plan of the Indian Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, provided the genesis of much entrepreneurial activity,” said Kamal Nath Minister. “New rail companies began to spring up in native states that became Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Rajasthan. Route mileage grew 20-fold in the generation beginning in 1860, most of it centered in port cities like Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The railways were built by Indian companies, and starting in 1895, India began building its own locomotives. For the first time the transportation of much needed goods could reach across the vast Indian landscape.”
By 1900, India had many different rail lines with different types of track. In that year, the Indian government took ownership of GIPR. World War I caused the government to employ railways for troop and food transport from Bombay and Karachi to points west. This caused great wear and tear on the country’s rail networks, and left them in poor condition following the war. Finally, in 1923, the government nationalized the GIPR and EIR. World War II was also unkind to the Indian railways, as railway engines and cars were sent to the Middle East, and production facilities were diverted to munitions manufacture.
When independence came to India in 1947, one new rail unit, the Indian Railways, emerged from the remains of forty-two separate systems. This was then divided into six zones by 1952. Railway production became a mainstay of the Indian economy. Steam locomotives became extinct, replaced by electric and diesel units. A reservation system was completed in 1995.
Indian Railways has received numerous suggestions over the years from attentive passengers and would-be passengers. Online suggestions became available in 2002. It is apparent that the Indian people have no shortage of good ideas for improving the railway system. We are an independent website not affiliated with the Indian Railways, but you can post your ideas regarding the IR on this site for all to see and discuss.