Railways During Colonial Era
A rail system in India was first proposed in 1832
in Madras but it never materialised. In the 1840s, other proposals
were forwarded to the British East India Company who governed India.
The Governor-General of India at that time, Lord Hardinge
deliberated on the proposal from the commercial, military and
political viewpoints. He came to the conclusion that the East India
Company should assist private capitalists who sought to setup a rail
system in India, regardless of the commercial viability of their
In 1832 a proposal was made to build a railroad between Madras and
Bangalore, and in 1836 a survey was conducted for this line. On
September 22, 1842, British civil engineer Charles Blacker Vignoles,
submitted a Report on a Proposed Railway in India to the East India
Company. By 1845, two companies, the East Indian Railway Company
operating from Calcutta, and the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR)
operating from Bombay, were formed. The first train in India was
operational on December 22, 1851, used for the hauling of
construction material in Roorkee. A few months later, on April 16,
???? , the first passenger train between Bori Bunder, Bombay and
Thana covering a distance of 34 km (21 miles) was inaugurated,
formally heralding the birth of railways in India.
The British government encouraged the setting up of railways by
private investors under a scheme that would guarantee an annual
return of 5% during the initial years of operation. Once completed,
the company would be passed under government ownership, but would be
operated by the company that built them.
The East Indian Railway Company's Chief Engineer George Turnbull
built the first railway from Calcutta (the then commercial capital
of India). It opened for passenger traffic from Howrah station to
Hooghly on 15 August 1854. The 541 miles (871 kilometres) to Benares
opened to passenger traffic in December 1862. 
Robert Maitland Brereton, a British engineer was responsible for the
expansion of the railways from 1857 onwards. In March 1870, he was
responsible for the linking of both the rail systems, which by then
had a network of 6,400 km (4,000 miles). By 1875, about £95 million
were invested by British companies in Indian guaranteed railways.
By 1880 the network had a route mileage of about 14,500 km (9,000
miles), mostly radiating inward from the three major port cities of
Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. By 1895, India had started building its
own locomotives, and in 1896 sent engineers and locomotives to help
build the Uganda Railways.
In 1900, the GIPR became a government owned company. The network
spread to the modern day states of Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra
Pradesh and soon various independent kingdoms began to have their
own rail systems. In 1901, an early Railway Board was constituted,
but the powers were formally invested under Lord Curzon. It served
under the Department of Commerce and Industry and had a government
railway official serving as chairman, and a railway manager from
England and an agent of one of the company railways as the other two
members. For the first time in its history, the Railways began to
make a profit.
In 1907 almost all the rail companies were taken over by the
government. The following year, the first electric locomotive made
its appearance. With the arrival of World War I, the railways were
used to meet the needs of the British outside India. With the end of
the war, the railways were in a state of disrepair and collapse.
In 1920, with the network having expanded to 61,220 km, a need for
central management was mooted by Sir William Acworth. Based on the
East India Railway Committee chaired by Acworth, the government took
over the management of the Railways and detached the finances of the
Railways from other governmental revenues.
The period between 1920 to 1929 was a period of economic boom.
Following the Great Depression, the company suffered economically
for the next eight years. The Second World War severely crippled the
railways. Trains were diverted to the Middle East and the railways
workshops were converted to ammunitions workshops. By 1946 all rail
systems had been taken over by the government.