Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
167 years ago, on this day- 16 April, the wheels of the first passenger train in India started rolling from Mumbai to Thane- with the zeal of ‘never to stop’. It never did. Till 22 March 2020. For the first time, in its 167 years history on 22 March 2020, Indian Railways announced a nationwide shutdown of passenger rail service to combat the coronavirus pandemic in India. However, the national rail network continued to maintain its freight operations during the lockdown, to transport essential goods. On 29 March, Indian Railways announced that it would start service for special parcel trains to transport essential goods, in addition to regular freight service.
Indian Railways is the largest rail network in Asia and the world’s second largest under one management with a route length of 67,368-kilometre (41,861 mi) as of March 2017.
Going back to the history of railways in India, the first railway proposals for India were made in Madras (now Chennai) in 1832.The country’s first train, Red Hill Railway (built by Arthur Cotton to transport granite for road-building), ran from Red Hills to the Chintadripet bridge in Madras in 1837.
India’s first passenger train, operated by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and hauled by three miles) with 400 people in 14 carriages on 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge track between Bori Bunder (Mumbai) and Thane on 16 April 1853. The journey took and hour and fifteen minutes.
The first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station destined for Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles, on 15th August, 1854. Thus the first section of the East Indian Railway was opened to public traffic, inaugurating the beginning of railway transport on the Eastern side of the subcontinent.
In south the first line was opened on Ist July, 1856 by the Madras Railway Company. It ran between Vyasarpadi Jeeva Nilayam (Veyasarpandy) and Walajah Road (Arcot), a distance of 63 miles. In the North a length of 119 miles of line was laid from Allahabad to Kanpur on 3rd March 1859. The first section from Hathras Road to Mathura Cantonment was opened to traffic on 19th October, 1875.
Gradually a network of railway lines all over the country. By 1880 the Indian Railway system had a route mileage of about 9000 miles.
Indian Railways has been described not only as one of the lifelines of the country- but also one of most visible binding force. It has served the country dutifully at moments of crisis. It is doing so now- as the country is facing one of its harshest challenges- medically, socially, logistically and economically.