Home News Business From Wooden Carriages to Vande Bharat Trains, Indian Railways Completes 170 Years: A Brief History

From Wooden Carriages to Vande Bharat Trains, Indian Railways Completes 170 Years: A Brief History

From Wooden Carriages to Vande Bharat Trains, Indian Railways Completes 170 Years: A Brief History

Marking the dawn of a new era in public transportation, the first passenger train in Asia was operated on a small stretch of 34 km between Mumbai and Thane on April 16, 1853, which proved to be a giant leap for the progress and prosperity of the country over the next 17 decades.

The inaugural train was flagged from Boribunder station – where the imposing UNESCO World Heritage Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus now stands – with 14 new wooden carriages crammed with 400 excited and nervous guests on their first day out on the tracks.

Also read: Indian Railways To Connect Khatu Shyam Ji Shrine By Rail Network: Ashwini Vaishnaw

The maiden passenger service was hauled by three engines, inexplicably named `Sahib,` `Sindh,` and `Sultan,` which blew off loud whistles, belched out thick smoke and steam, and soon chugged into the historic journey at 3.35 pm that day , accompanied by a resounding 21-gun salute, thunderous cheers and claps of those who witnessed British India’s first rail history.

The grueling spadework for that epochal journey started some 30 years ago, with an experimental railway line in Madras thrown in, followed by the first passenger service on the Mumbai-Thane sector. Unlike the old railways in many other countries, Indians quickly adapted to the quick, cheap, and safe mode of rail travel.

The railways soon spread wings — and tracks — to other parts of India. The first passenger train started in the east on August 15, 1854, covering 39 km between Howrah and Hooghly, followed by Veyasarpandy and Walajah Road in the south (Madras Presidency) on July 1, 1856, and in the north between Hathras Road and Mathura Cantt., a 53 km stretch, on October 19, 1875, — and chugged along, never to look back.

With these humble beginnings, in around 27 years, by 1880, India had a 9,000 km railway network spanning the length and breadth of the sub-continent, even as the country saw historical events such as the First War of Independence, which started on May 10, 1857, and spurred one of the most significant freedom movements in modern world history lasting 90 years.

Over the past 170 years, the Indian Railways, as it is known now, has mushroomed into a multi-gauge, second largest in the world with over 108,000 km of running lines, transporting passengers, animals, and cargo to some of the remotest corners of the country, traversing plains, forests, deserts or snowy mountains, safely and surely.

Starting with the heavy, highly-polluting steam locomotives, the Indian Railways started services on the first electrified 15 km track between Mumbai`s Victoria Terminus (now CSMT) and Kurla Harbor in February 1925. At one point, it even shifted in August 1955. to diesel locos, but these were gradually discarded as oil prices became prohibitive over the decades.

However, electrification picked up the pace, and in the past 100 years, the Indian Railways has become 80 percent electrified, offering a cheaper, environment-friendly, and faster alternative, as per the official data till 2022.

During the British rule, the railway network had multiple owners and `fathers,` but after Independence, the earliest visionary Railway Ministers – John Mathai, N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, and Lal Bahadur Shastri – initiated the process of unification into a single compact entity.

This started in 1951 with the formation of various divisions like Central Railway, Western Railway, Northern Railway, and Southern Railway, divided into zones — which later multiplied as per the growth and local requirements.

Many of the railway networks originally owned by private individuals, by companies, royalty or princely states, and other independent organizations in different territories were merged/integrated into a single entity, Indian Railways, which practically runs the entire standardized network now.

Central Railway’s chief spokesperson Shivaji Sutar said that from that humble beginning on April 16, 1853, today, the Indian Railways has come to a long distance with thousands of services daily.

They include some of the oldest services running for over a century, comprising long-distance trains like passengers/mails/expresses, Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Tejas, elite tourist specials (Palace on Wheels), unique toy trains or hill-trains, and the Most recent addition of Vande Bharat trains, suburban trains, all-women trains, and even women loco pilots.

In a few years, the first Bullet Train shall be zooming between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, catapulting the country`s rail network into the next era of high-speed train journeys.


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