History of Steam - Introduction

Madras and Southern Maratta Railway (MSMR) 2-4-0 built by Sharp Stewart of Manchester in 1862. Photo was taken in 1864.

(Photo contributed by Ian Campbell, who's wife's great grandfather, Henry Stephenson worked as a locomotive engineer on the MSMR)

The first steam locomotive in India was a construction engine, employed for bringing in the earthworks, during the construction of the Solani canal near Roorkee in December 1851. It was a 4'8.5" gauge engine called `Thomason', probably a 2-2-2 tank built by E.B. Wilson. It had a short life, having been destroyed by a boiler explosion only months after it started working. Nevertheless it pioneered a new era in the modern transportation history of India, having replaced the horse cart with steam locomotion. The might of steam would remain unsurpassed for a century to come.

Over the next 140 years, some 30,000 steam locomotives were built to toil all over the Indian sub-continent. More than 50 locomotive builders spanning over 15 countries participated in supplying locomotives to the various state owned and sovereign railway systems. The indigenous locomotive design and building industry wasn't established until some 100 years after the opening of the first railway system in 1855.

In the pre world war II period, over 95% of all in engines used, arrived from England, the remaining were divided between other manufacturers, mostly from Europe plus the engines assembled at erecting shops in India using imported and spare parts. Later, during and after the war period, locomotives arrived in large numbers from North America and a few came from Japan as well. This could well make the collection of Indian steam locomotives the most diverse on the planet, not to mention that these assortments of engines were built for four distinct gauges.

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