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History of Indian Railways

The railway system was first introduced in India during the British rule, in 1853. By the time of independence in 1947, the country had more than 42 rail systems and today, it is the third-largest rail system in the world.

Who started railways in India?

The introduction of railways in India started in early 1832. However, no steps were taken until a decade later on this front. In 1844, the then-governor general of the country, Lord Hardinge, encouraged private organizations to start the railway system in the country. Under his guidance, the East India Company created two rail companies, which pulled investors from the Victorian United Kingdom to India.

Why were British Railways introduced in India?

The British government introduced private companies to start a railway system in India. The government announced a scheme, which guaranteed the investors a 5% return during the initial years. Within a few decades, the country had more than 14,500 km covered via train routes. Near the end of the 19th century, Indian companies started building locomotives.

Why did the British government show effort in introducing modernism and industrialism to India? Some credit Britain for providing a long-lasting good advancement for India. However, the reality is far-fetched for such a credit. According to the historical report, the East India Company pressurized the British Government for the railway system to improve their profits. The reason for a decade of delay was the fear among the governors that India would get benefited by the trains in the genre of military, commerce, government and other fields, which would put their iron-clad colonial rule to demise.

British introduced the railway system as a hoax. Under which, wealthy British men invest money in the railway system, and the British would pay them back with Indian money from taxes, double the investment — this increased economic development in Britain, not India.

The railway system thus proposed was intended only for resources. The introduction of passenger trains was a complete incidental scenario. Even then, the Indians were given third compartment rights, which had wooden benches, no basic amenities, and so on. On the other hand, Indians were not employed in this system until the early 20th century.

Which was the first railway station in India?

The first train of the country started its maiden run in 1851. This system was not for people transportation. The first station was constructed in Roorkee for transporting materials. The first passenger train came 18 months later, the first train for passengers started between Thana and Bombay (Mumbai). The train covered just 34 km with the help of three locomotives. The first station for passenger trains was established in the BoriBunder region of Mumbai. Later, the old station became the famous Victoria Terminus at the end of the 19th century.

Who is the father of Indian Railways?

Lord Dalhousie is the father of Indian Railways. His Railway Minute of 1853 stood as a milestone to impress the British government that introducing railways to India would benefit them more in terms of profit and better control of the country.

165 years of History on Indian Railways

1853-1869: The Era of Passenger Trains

The railway system proposed in the 1830s started in 1853 at BoriBunder. The first passenger train station at Boribunder handled one route that ran for 34 km with 14 cars. This route has three locomotives. During one trip between BoriBunder and Thane, the train carried 400 passengers per trip.

Similar railway stations and routes spurred in other major areas creating the Eastern India Railway System in 1854 and the South India Railway System. Under these systems, many major routes came into existence like Allahabad – Jabalpur route, Calcutta, Delhi route, and other. By the end of the decade, the country covered more than 4000 miles using trains.

This era primarily relied on private funding. By the end of 1960, the railway system had eight companies in the run like Bombay Baroda, Great Indian Peninsular Company, Central India Railway, Madras Railway, and others.

1869 – 1900: The Economic Growth of Trains

After the Indian Rebellion Movement in 1857, the East India Company was on the verge of liquidation. Thus, the company took control of the railway system instead of depending on private companies. During this period, the East India Company laid many routes, and by the end of 1880, the distance covered by train tracks reached 9000 miles. Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkatta), and Madras (Chennai) were considered as three main regions, due to the port operations. Thus, most of the train tracks connected these three port regions to many major parts of the country.

By the end of the 19th century, the train received economic growth in terms of amenities. Until this point, the trains had bare minimum amenities for the general population. By the end of this era, trains received amenities like toilets, electric lighting, and others. This is also the time when the popularity of trains increased and the coaches were overcrowded all the time. In 1896, the Indian Government started building its trains.

1901 – 1925: Centralization and effect of World War

According to British reports, the Indian Railway system started making profits from 1901. Government intervention in the railway system increased during this era. GIPR, the first state-owned company started its operation in 1900. By the end of the decade, the government took control of most of the train routes from East India Company and started leasing it out to private companies again.

Lord Curzon started a board, which took care of the growth and development of Indian Railway System. GIPR and East Indian Railway company were taken under the control of the railway board in 1923.

By the end of World War I, railway development took a halt as the British used Indian resources for their war requirements. The total railway system was on the verge of collapse and amenities started to decline. To avoid further decline, the government separated railway finances from the government finances in 1924.

1925 – 1946: Era of Electric Trains and Effects of Wall Street Crash

1925 saw the first electric train in the country, which ran between Bombay and Kurla. Further down the road, numerous trains started to become electrical routes. By the end of this decade, the country had 66,000 kilometer of tracks laid down, serving 620 million passengers, every year.

The railway department was under the control of the British government. Thus, when the Wall Street crash took a stir, the government took INR eleven million from the railway fund to tally their depression. Also, the effect of World War II took a toll on railway development.

1947 – 1980: Indian Railway System and the Era of Partition

When the British left India in 1947, the nation split into two. 40% of the network development came under the control of Pakistan. Bengal – Assam railway system and the North-Western Railway system were separated from the Indian railway system. During the partition, the mob took their anger on the trains, damaging locomotives and tracks. By 1950, India took control of the entire railway system. In 1952, the railway system was divided into zones and the era of decentralization started. The first inter-country train between Pakistan and India started in 1976. The transition from colonial locomotives to modern locomotives started slowly. By the end of this era, most of the trains were converted into electric trains.

The 1980s – 2000: The Modernization and Luxury Era

During this era, the entire railway system relied on electricity. Steam engines ceased their operations due to the energy crisis. The first metro system was started in Calcutta in 1984. With the development of science and engineering, many routes covering difficult terrains were introduced. The major revolution of this era is the introduction of an online reservation system. It started with major stations of Calcutta, Delhi, Madras, and Bombay. Later, many amenities and facilities were added to the online system.

This is also the era of luxury trains. The first luxury train, Palace on Wheels started its service in 1982.

2000 – to 2018: Connectivity era

The railway system is focusing on introducing better train travel options. Speed of the train is gradually increasing. Travelers can opt for varying luxury levels basedon their budget. In 2002, the IRCTC was introduced, allowing millions of people to book tickets at the same time. During this era, more than 4.5 billion kilometer was travelled by trains per year. New trains like Gatimaan Express, Tejas Express, and others were introduced. Metro stations were introduced in major cities. The first underwater train was introduced during this period.

The Future of Indian Railways

Shortly, underwater trains, bullet trains, and other amenities would develop. The railway system focuses on taking the service to every nook and corner of the country. By 2025, there are plans to switch from electricity to solar power.

Frequently Asked Questions


If you have pre-booked, you can travel with your PNR number, seat number, and ID proof.


Tatkal booking is for immediate travellers, which can be booked one day in advance. The window is open only for a few minutes.


Yes, you are under a cover of free insurance.


New Delhi Bhopal Shatabdi Express runs at 150 km/hour. There are plans to introduce trains running at 220 km per hour shortly.


The Palace on Wheels is the first luxury train in the country, which started in 1982.


More than 20,000 trains are running every day between more than 7,349 stations.


There are plans to launch the first bullet train in 2022 between Ahmedabad - Mumbai, and Gujarat - Mumbai.


The longest train route of India runs between Kanyakumari and Dibrugarh. The route covers 4,286 kilometers in 82.5 hours.


Every day, more than 23 million people travel by train. This number is more than the population of Australia.


A: Palace on Wheels luxury train, Darjeeling Himalayan toy train, Mandovi Express, Konkan railway route, and others are some of the best train routes of the country.


Gorakhpur railway station of Uttar Pradesh is 1,366.3 m long. It is the world's longest railway station.