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India’s First Railway : The opening of the Bombay to Thane line was the real beginning of British India.
India’s First Railway

With acknowledgements to ‘Our Indian Railway: Themes in India’s Railway History’ (2006), ‘The Hindu’ for April 18th, 2002, and ‘Victorian Web: Indian Railway Chronology’.

Just twenty-three years after the Liverpool and Manchester Railway hosted the world’s first regular steam-hauled passenger service, British entrepreneurs began running the first trains in India. The ‘Illustrated London News’ described it as an event more important than all Britain’s battles on Indian soil.

AT 3.30pm on April 16th, 1853, as the band played ‘God Save the Queen’, fourteen railway carriages carrying four hundred VIPs jolted, and left Bombay for Thane. It was the opening day of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, India’s first passenger-carrying line, and ahead were twenty-one miles of 5'6" track, which the triple-headed train gobbled up in forty-five minutes.*

The railway was the brainchild of George Clark, Chief Engineer to the Bombay Government, and delivered with the help of the East India Company, keenly anticipating a lucrative trade in cotton, silk, sugar and spices. The route was engineered by James John Berkley, a pupil and associate of Clark’s consultant in London, Robert Stephenson.

Despite the highly technical nature of railway-building, just two years separated initial surveys and opening ceremony, thanks to quick-witted and hard-working local navvies. A further section to Kalyan opened in 1854, and by 1950 India’s railways employed over nine million people, and carried a billion passengers every year.

* Various figures may be found online for the time taken on the initial journey. Wikipedia has fifty-seven minutes; forty-five minutes is given in ‘Our Indian Railway: Themes in India’s Railway History’ (2006).

With acknowledgements to ‘Our Indian Railway: Themes in India’s Railway History’ (2006), ‘The Hindu’ for April 18th, 2002, and ‘Victorian Web: Indian Railway Chronology’.

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Picture: British Library Collection, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
A train heads out over Dapoorie Viaduct on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in 1858, five years after the line opened. The only railways before this had been short, experimental lines or lines for construction projects, including the GIPR itself.

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