Birth of Railways in Eastern India

      Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, grandfather of Nobel laureate  Rabindranath Tagore was a rich businessman in the 40s of 19th. century. He owned quite a number of collieries in Raniganj and Rajmahal area. Dwarkanath visited England on 9th. January 1842 for the first time and had a ride on a train. He could see the great potential of the rail transport in Bengal as a commercial venture since the province was rich in agriculture and mineral resources. He visualised  railways role in facilitating faster movement of goods and passenger.

    After returning from England  in January 1843, he formed a company called "Carr Tagore and Company" and the  first seed for the railways was sown in Bengal. In the  mean time Mr. McDonald Stephenson had already floated shares for East India Railway Company  incorporated in England. Dwarkanath wanted a railway line to his collieries and proposed to raise  one third of the capital for this portion of the line and being unable to strike a deal, he set up his new Company called the Great Western Bengal Railway Company. It was primarily for  movement  of agricultural and mineral products from Raniganj and Rajmahal Coalfields.

    Dwarkanath visited England in March 1845 to prevail upon the bosses of East India Company to grant permission to start construction  of the line. He faced bitter opposition from Sir George Larpent , the Chairman and Mr. R. McDonald Stephenson , Managing Director of East Indian Railway Company who had great influence over the Court of Directors of East India Company and it was not agreed to permit a  company under "native management" to construct such an important railway line. 

    Dwarkanath came back to India with a broken heart and died on 1st August 1845. Immediately after his death the Carr Tagore and Company went into liquidation. Dwarkanath had already spent a large sum on his railway project. After his death the "East Indian Railway Company" and Dwarkanth's " Great Western Bengal Railway Company"  merged into one and in January 1847. The new Company was named " East Indian Railway" or "E.I.R." as popularly known afterwards. Dwarkanth's dream of connecting Raniganj to Howrah by rail came true after 10 years of his death in 1855.

In May,1845 or about 20 years after construction of first rail road in England, the East Indian Railway Co. was founded. The managing director of this company Mr. R. McDonald Stephenson can be considered the founder of the company. He was the first person to have introduced the idea of rail roads in India and vigorously advocated the construction East Indian Lines from Howrah to Delhi via Mirzapore.

    After a visit to India in 1845 Stephenson made a proposal to the Court of Directors of East India Company for building a rail line from Calcutta to Burdwan. East India Co. considered this a "wild proposal". However, with Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor General of India, actively supporting the cause of the Railways for administrative reasons, the Court of Directors of East India Co. finally signed an agreement on 17th August,1849 with EIR for construction of a short experimental line. The main provision was that the company should be economically viable. The saga of East Indian Railway had begun. To see the progress of construction of E.I.R please click on the thumbnail on the left. Some of the important events and dates in the history of this great enterprise are given in this linked page: HOW DID IT GROW

     On 16th April 1853, the Great Indian Peninsular Railway ran the first train in India, for twenty-one miles from Bombay to Thane. The East Indian Railway (EIR) had been formed long before that, in 1845, but for various reasons- among them the delayed trans-shipment of engines from England and the loss of the first batch of coaches in a shipwreck, the first train in Eastern India steamed out of Howrah Station experimentally on 28th June 1854. It went upto Pandua, though the line had been sanctioned upto Raniganj.

      From 15th August 1854, the company ran a regular service, morning an evening, between Howrah and Hugli with stops at Bali, Serampore and Chandernagar. The fare ranged from Rs.3 by first class to 7 annas by third class. The main booking office was on the Calcutta bank of Hooghli, at the present Armenian Ghat, and the fare covered the ferry to the station on the opposite bank. At the Howrah end, the station consisted of a tin shed and a single line flanked by narrow platforms, somewhat to the south of the present station building which was constructed between 1901 and 1906.

    Three thousands people applied for tickets on the first train out of Howrah in 1854, only a small portion could be accommodated. Thousands of men and women lined the whole stretch of track Movement of trains would provide a sort of rural clock. The suburban trains made Calcutta nearer and more attractive than ever as a place of employment. This was more felt after the Partition. The  Partition, after independence radically altered the balance between long-distance and suburban traffic on the Calcutta railway system, adding to the general pressure of increased trade and travel.

Average cost of hauling of goods unit ( One ton ) per mile in 1880s was:

East Indian Railway  : pies 2.40
Grt Ind Peninsular    :  pies 5.27
Bombay & Baroda    :  pies 4.77
Rajputana Railway   : pies 5.20

As against this present day cost of haulage of goods per tonne Km is Rs.0.82.(1998)


The first section of the experimental line from Howrah to Hooghly was opened for passenger traffic on 15th. August 1854 and a fortnight later a extension was opened up to Pundooah. During first 16 weeks no less than 109,634 passengers were carried. Following is the class wise analysis of the traffic :
First Class 5511, Second Class 21005 and Third Class 83118.
The line to Raneegunge(Raniganj) was opened in 1855. 15 weeks after it was opened, the number of passengers carried were on and average 12,000 per week and the earning rose to about 900 a week !
In second half of 1855 the revenue from coaching traffic was 25,000, from goods traffic 6, 385 and from coal 7,856 and working expenses amounted to 42% of the gross traffic receipt. Profitability improved further during the next year.
In 1887, the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) had been set up to take over an extant line in Central India and extend services eastwards to Asansol. In 1857, the East Bengal Railway (EBR) was formed to lay a track along the east bank of the Ganga to Kushthia and then across the river to Dhaka. The line to Kushthia was opened in 1862, ending at Calcutta at a tin-roofed station room at Sealdah. In 1862 also, the Calcutta and South-Eastern Railway opened a line  from what was then called Beliaghata Station to southward Port Canning.
Line between Calcutta to Banaras was completed by December 1862. The progress of construction of East Indian Railways was nothing short of 90 miles a year, in spite of numerous impediments.
The bridge over Yamuna at Allahabad was opened on 15th.August 1865. A long chain of unbroken communication was established by EIR, for the first time in history of India, between right bank of Hooghly at Calcutta and left bank of Yamuna at Delhi. Finally the Yamuna bridge at Delhi was opened for traffic in 1866, this was last of the great bridges.
Due to abundant availability of coal in Eastern India, EIR possessed an enormous and indisputable advantage over the western lines.

Sealdah was Calcutta's first terminal station. Set up in 1862, it had the world's longest covered railway platform of 1000 feet.
The " FAIRY QUEEN", which has made in  the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working locomotive was used in 1895 for hauling mail trains between Howrah and Raniganj. After being reactivated in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi, it attracts tourists Delhi-Alwar route. Its twin named "The "Express" however after lying in Jamalpur shops for a pretty long time now found a place in Howrah Rail Museum.



Divisions : Sealdah  Howrah  Asansol  Maldah

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