Chronology of railways in India, (1832 – 1865)

Note: This chronology is intended as a general overview for non-specialists to give them a feel for some of the interesting and complex events that shaped the development of railways in India. Many line openings are mentioned to give an idea of the geographic spread of railway services. Dates in most cases are those for when the completed lines were open to traffic; usually sections of the line may have been opened years earlier, and might even have supported revenue traffic in parts. Dates are often somewhat uncertain because of varying reports in different sources, or lack of documentation, hence in many cases they may be off by a couple of years. Anyone seeking reliable and specific information and more detail is strongly urged to consult the reference works listed in the guide to historical research and the section on books about IR history
  • 1832
First proposal for a railway in India, in Madras. This remained a dream on paper.
  • 1840s
Various proposals for railways in India, especially around Calcutta (EIR) and Bombay (GIPR).
  • 1844
R MacDonald Stephenson’s “Report upon the Practicability and Advantages of the Introduction of Railways into British India” is published.
  • 1845
Survey work carried out for Bombay-Kalyan line and an extension up the Malay Ghat for proposed connections to Khandwa and Pune.
May 8: Madras Railway Company is formed.
East India Railway company is formed.
  • 1848
Governor-General Lord Dalhousie while advocating railway construction in India also says, “No one can safely say whether railways in this country will earn or not”.
  • 1849
August 1: Great Indian Peninsular Railway incorporated by an Act of Parliament.
“Old Guarantee System” providing free land and guaranteed rates of return (5%) to the private English companies willing to work on building railways. Agreed upon in March, finalized on August 17.
  • 1851
Locomotive Thomason is used for construction work in Roorkee, beginning on December 22.
Construction begins of an “experimental” section of track (Howrah-Rajmahal) for the proposed Calcutta-Delhi link via Mirzapur (EIR).
  • 1852
Construction of a line out of Bombay begins, and a locomotive, Falkland, begins shunting operations on February 23. The line is ready by November, and on the 18th of November, a trial run of the Bombay-Thane trip (35 km) is held. (Some accounts suggest another locomotive, Vulcan might have also been used for shunting operations here.)
The Madras Guaranteed Railway Company is formed.
  • 1853
On April 16th, at 3:35pm, the first train in India leaves Bombay for Thane (see above for details). Initial scheduled services consist of two trains each way between Bombay and Thane and later Bombay and Mahim via Dadar.
Madras Railway incorporated; work begins on Madras-Arcot line.
Lord Dalhousie’s famous Railway Minute of April 20 lays down the policy that private enterprise would be allowed to build railways in India, but that their operation would be closely supervised by the government.
  • 1854
On August 15th, the first passenger train in the eastern section is operated, from Howrah to Hoogly (24 miles). The section is soon extended to Pundooah. Howrah station at the time is simply a tin shed with a small booking office, and a single narrow platform.
By May, GIPR Bombay-Thane line is extended to Kalyan and is a double tracked line; inaugurated by Lord Elphinstone. Dapoorie viaduct is completed.
GIPR opens its first workshops at Byculla.
Stations are classified into 4 groups on some railways, according to traffic and the proportion of European and Indian passengers.
  • 1855
BB&CI Railway incorporated, and begins work on a Surat-Baroda line.
Thane-Kalyan line extended to Vasind on the north-east.
February 3: EIR’s “experimental” track for a Calcutta-Delhi route now consists of a Howrah to Raneegunje (Raniganj, collieries near Asansol) section of 121 miles.
August: EIR 21 and 22 (“Express” and “Fairy Queen”) begin work. The Fairy Queen is still working!
  • 1855-1856
HMS Goodwin carrying railway carriages for East Indian Railway Co. sinks. Another ship carrying a locomotive is mis-routed to Australia.
  • 1856
May 28: Royapuram – Wallajah Road line constructed by the Madras Railway Company
Jul 1: The first train service in the south begins, from Royapuram / Veyasarapady (Madras) to Wallajah Road (Arcot) (approx. 100km) by the Madras Railway Company.
A combined Loco, Carriage and Wagon Workshop is set up by the Madras Guaranteed Rly. (later part of the MSMR) at Perambur, near Madras, later to become the Carriage and Wagon Workshops of SR (and the Loco Workshops at Perambur).
Sind (later Sind, Punjab and Delhi) Railway is formed, a guaranteed railway.
GIPR line extended to Khopoli via Palasdhari on the south-east. Regular services are now run from Mumbai to Vasind and from Mumbai to Khopoli. Stations opened at Dadar, Kurla, Titwala, Badlapur, and Neral.
  • 1858
Eastern Bengal Railway and the Great Southern of India formed (guaranteed railways).
June 14: Khandala-Pune section of GIPR open to traffic. The 21km gap over the Bhore ghat (Karjat – Khandala) is crossed by palanquin, horses, or on foot. In some cases the passenger cars were also carried over each way.
  • 1859
On March 3rd, the first train in the north was operated, from Allahabad to Kanpur (180km).
BBCI Railway obtains permission to extend its lines southwards from Surat, and opens its Grant Road terminus for its proposed line from Surat.
Eastern Bengal Railway begins construction on Calcutta-Kushtia line (175km).
Calcutta and South-Eastern Railway formed, with 5% guarantee from the government.
  • 1855-1870
Several (about a dozen) railway companies are incorporated.
Early 1860s
Various early experiments with providing passenger amenities such as toilets, lights, etc. These naturally tended to be introduced first in the First Class carriages and only later in the lower classes of accommodation.
Sind and Punjab Railway is engaged in construction of a northward line from Karachi, a Lahore-Multan line, and a Lahore-Delhi line.
Kanpur-Etawah section opened.
  • 1860
Bhusawal station set up by GIPR.
Vasind-Asangaon line opened.
  • 1861
Madras Railway’s trunk route from Madras extended to Beypur / Kadalundi (near Calicut). Work begins on a north-western branch out of Arakkonam.
Great Southern Railway of India completes 125km BG line between Nagapatnam and Trichinopoly. (? Some sources suggest the line was till Tanjore, and extended to Trichinopoly by March 1862.)
Churchgate station opened by BBCI Railway as its new terminus for Bombay.
January 1: GIPR’s Kasara line opens (extended from Asangaon).
May 13: Karachi-Kotri section of the Scinde Rly. opens to public traffic, the first section in the region that would later become Pakistan.
  • 1862
Feb. 8: Jamalpur Loco Works established.
Khanderao, the Gaekwar of Baroda, opens 8 miles of an NG railway line from Dabhoi towards Miyagam. Oxen were used as the motive power!
EIR’s Delhi-Calcutta route progresses as far as the west bank of the Yamuna, via Mughalsarai. Sahibganj Loop.
Sealdah station commissioned.
Bhore ghat incline constructed, connecting Palasdhari to Khandala.
November: EBR’s Calcutta-Kushtia line open for traffic.
Calcutta and South-Eastern Railway’s 45km line from Calcutta to Port Canning is constructed.
Amritsar-Attari section completed on the route to Lahore.
The Indian Branch Railway Co. formed to construct short branches and feeder lines in northern India, with a 20-year subsidy but no guarantee.
The Indian Tramway Co. is formed for building short lines around Madras, also with a 20-year subsidy. This suffered losses later, was reorganized to become the Carnatic Railway and finally was taken over by the South Indian Railway.
Two-tier seating is introduced in Third Class (on EIR, GIPR, etc.) as a measure to alleviate overcrowding. A typical coach carries 50 passengers on the lower seats, and 70 on the upper level, nearly doubling the capacity of the already overcrowded third-class coaches. These were the first double-decker coaches to be used in India, and perhaps in the world (?).
Madras Railway extends its lines to Renigunta.
GSIR’s Nagapatnam – Trichinopoly line opened to traffic.
  • 1863
May 14: GIPR line from Bombay across the Bhore Ghat to Pune constructed.
BB&CI Railway completes Surat-Baroda-Ahmedabad line.
EIR completes Arrah bridge over the Sone.
Port Canning – Mutlah line opened by the Calcutta & South-Eastern R Railway.
Nalhati – Azimganj 4′ gauge line built by the Indian Branch Railway Co.
First luxury carriage in India is built for the Governor of Bombay.
  • 1864
August 1: First train into Delhi. Through trains run between Delhi and Calcutta; coaches are ferried on boats across the river at Allahabad.
Bombay-Surat line completed by BB&CI Railway.
Jolarpettai – Bangalore Cantt. branch added by Madras Railway; Bangalore Mail begins running.
First proposals for (horse-drawn) trams in Bombay.
  • 1865
Sind and Punjab Railway’s Multan-Lahore-Amritsar line is completed. Works begins on line from Delhi to Amritsar.
BB&CI completes Bombay-Ahmedabad rail link.
Yamuna bridge at Allahabad opened, allowing EIR trains to cross over without using ferries.
Arakkonam-Conjeevaram 3’6″ line built by the Indian Tramways Co.
Kasara line extended to Igatpuri over the Thull (Thall) ghat.
GIPR timetables show ‘local trains’ separately for the first time. These are in the sections to Mahim and Kalyan.
Alambagh Workshops set up by the Oudh and Rohilkhand Rly. (formerly the Indian Branch Rly. Co.).
Howrah station gets a second platform.
  • 1866
Railway Branch formed in Central Public Works Department.
Delhi and Calcutta are linked directly by rail as the completion of the Yamuna bridge (road and rail) in Delhi allows the trains to reach what later became Delhi Junction. The 1 Dn / 2 Up Mail begins running — this is the predecessor of the Howrah – Kalka Mail.
Bhusawal-Khandwa section opened.
W. Newman & Co. begins publishing the “Newman’s Indian Bradshaw” for train timetables in India.
Indian Branch Rly. Co. begins construction of Lucknow-Kanpur light MG line.
  • 1867
Virar – Bombay Backbay suburban service commences (BB&CI); one train in each direction each day.
Some Indian locos are sent overseas for the Abyssinian expedition.
GIPR branch line extended to Nagpur; Bhusawal-Badnera section opened.
EIR branch line extends from Allahabad to Jubbulpore (Jabalpur).
Lucknow-Kanpur line opened by the Indian Branch Railway Co.
  • 1868
Madras Railway extends its network (with a new terminus at Royapuram) to Salem, and also finishes the Jolarpettai – Bangalore Cantonment branch.
November: Sind, Punjab, and Delhi Railway’s line towards Amritsar from Delhi (Ghaziabad) is open for traffic up to Ambala.
Calcutta and South-Eastern Railway, having suffered extensive losses on their Sealdah-Canning line because of floods and other problems, decide to transfer the line to the government in return for capital costs, becoming the first railway to be taken over by the state.
GSIR’s line reaches Erode, connecting to the Madras State Rly.
Charbagh workshops set up by the Oudh and Rohilkhand Rly
  • 1869
Governor-General Lord Lawrence suggests that the Government of India itself undertake all future construction of railway lines. But GIPR’s guarantees and leases are extended, and also those of the Bombay, Baroda, and Madras Railway Companies. Still, this year marks a turning point in government policy away from the guarantee system.
GIPR locals extended from Mahim to Bandra.
Jan. 25: Runaway train on the Bhore Ghat derails and crashes after failing to be stopped by a catch siding, and is made (in)famous by pictures in the Illustrated London News.
Total trackage in India is about 4000 miles.