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IR: a slice of history active blast from the past


16 Apr. 1853 - 16 Apr. 2002

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The Indian Railways are well and truly on the technology trail. Today's superfast culture, heavy haul locomotives, and speeds of upto 145 kmph, soon to become 160 to 185 kmph., are a far cry indeed from the humble beginnings way back in 1853: 16 Apr. 1853 to be precise, when three locomotives, SULTAN, SAHIB and SINDH hauled India's, and indeed Asia's first railway train between Boribunder and Tanna (Bombay VT (now Mumbai CST) and Thana (now Thane). 

Life on the IR is nowadays such a mad rush that one just presses on, unconcerned with the beauty and charms of the old. What is this life so full of care, with no time to stand and stare?

On the glorious event of the 150th Anniversary of the Indian Railways, I am pleased to dedicate to all you sentimentalists this small collection of truly historic scenes from the IR. The pictures are drawn from various sources, but most of them are from my good friend in Australia, John Lacey. My special thanks to him for making this page possible.

The pictures have been merely grouped for ease of reference, but are otherwise completely at random. They do not follow any sequence or chronological order of events whatsoever. Sentimentalists will undoubtedly delight at the sheer variety and the historical value of these pictures. As for those on the high tech technology trail, I hope you will have a refreshing change from the high speed glitzy locomotives and starchy airconditioned trains of today. A change of scene, while you enjoy this active blast from the past. It is quite necessary at times, at least for me. All the technology scares you at times, so its necessary to retire to a quiet corner and browse through days of yore. Its like flipping through your old family albums, a jog down memory lane.

So then, enjoy! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you will find your visit worthwhile. Due to the historic value, this site is predominantly monochrome.


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click on thumbnails to enlarge

All pictures are provided by John Lacey unless otherwise specified.


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1. Generally touted as the pic of the first train in India, this is probably a demonstration or test train. 16 April 1853 was the red letter day for India, and indeed Asia, when three locomotives, SULTAN, SAHIB & SINDH hauled a tiny seven car train between Boribunder and Tanna (now Mumbai CST and Thane). (Picture from my personal collection).
2. An XC class steam engine on the East Indian Railway. This class of engine was very popular in its time, and some hold that they closely resemble the Gresley Pacifics. (Picture courtesy Mrinal Das).

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3. Another very popular class of engine was the EM. Although this scan is very heavy on graphics and will take ages to download, it shows three stages in the evolution of this class. One of the EMs is preserved in the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.
4. An XD in a very unlikely scarlet livery heads a freight train near Rajamundhry in Andhra Pradesh. Collin Garratt, a very well known and respected photographer of India's steam era had one bad habit of having the railways paint their locomotives in bright, bizzare and at times improbable liveries, merely because he could get his shot. Stranger still,  the railways actually obliged!

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5. An unique 0-3-0 steam locomotive from the Patiala State Monorail Trainways seen here on a pedestal at the Amritsar Workshops of the NR. Another monorail is preserved in working condition in the National Rail Museum, Delhi. For more details of the Patiala State monorail, visit Don Dicken's website on the subject.(Picture from NR ASR Workshop website).
6. A 4-4-2 Atlantic locomotive used on the erstwhile BNR (Bengal Nagpur Railway).

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7. The Bengal Nagpur Railway was famous for its use of the mighty Garratt locomotives. Although a lone Garratt could be spotted for a while on the 2'0" ng Darjeeling line and on the mg in Assam, the BNR took the pride of place in operating these mighty behemoths on the bg. They came in several wheel arrangements. Two bg Garratts are preserved, one in the Kharagpur workshop, and one in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.
8. A 4-4-2 EM # 931 of the NWR (rebuilt in 1941) seen here at Meerut Cantt. station in 1946 with the Lahore-Madras Military Mail. One 4-4-2 EM is preserved in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.

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9. The Frontier Mail of yore leaving Mole Station in 1928 at the start of its very long journey to Peshawar (which is now in Pakistan). Today the train runs upto Amritsar, and has been renamed the Golden Temple Mail.
10. A 4-6-0 leaves Bombay VT with an unidentified train in 1904. Engines with this wheel arrangement were loosely referred to as 'mail engines'. A view of the Bombay-Poona Mail hauled by an identical locomotive appears at # 23 below. A cut section of a 'mail engine' is preserved in the Delhi rail museum.

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11. What type of motive power was used on the Bhor Ghats prior to electrification? Here is a 4-6-0ST used on the ghats in 1863. Note the tank overhang for extra water.
12. After the saddle tanks came this class of 2-8-4T engines. This one bears number 322. The next picture showes one of the members of this class blasting her way up the Bhore Ghats. These engines came in circa 1907.

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13. Although we are more than used to seeing electrics making short work of the arduous Bhor Ghats between Bombay and Poona, one fails to appreciate that the electrics came in much later. Here is what it was like in steam days: a steam hauled train thunders its way up the steep hill.
14. Some of the 2-8-4Ts were classed Y. Here is a line drawing of this class of locomotive. A very similar locomotive of class L2 is preserved at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.

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15. 'Gutta Pachaar' was a cartoon character mascot of a childrens' magazine way back in the 1930s. Here a child dressed like Gutta Pachaar graces the cab of the engine of the Bombay Central to Surat Flying Ranee, much to the amusement of onlookers. For more information on the Flying Ranee, visit my classic trains of india site.
16. A view of the pride of the East Indian Railway, the Imperial Indian Mail between Calcutta and Bombay, seen here behind a 4-6-0 'mail engine'.

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17. A steam hauled goods train on the Kalka Simla line.
18. Although the FM and FMA class engines are now long defunct, the last FMA was taken off the line as recently as 2000. She was working in a sugar mill at Lohat in Bihar. Picture shows the last run of the engine. Two FMAs are preserved: one at the Visweswaraya Museum in Bangalore, and the other in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi. The FMAs were derived from an earlier F-1 class, one of which is preserved in Delhi as well.(Picture from my personal collection).

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19. Poona got a brand new station in 1929. Here is a steam train at the new Poona station in 1930.
20. A rare (though unfortunately very small) shot of a mg Garratt emerging from a tunnel in Assam. Unfortunately, none of these rare specimens is preserved.

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21. Another tiny shot, this time of one of the MLR class articulated steam locomotives of the Neral to Matheran line on the CR. The MLRs were built by the German firm of Orenstein and Koppel. The line is now diesel worked. Two MLRs are preserved: on at Matheran station, and one in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi. In addition, one MLR is used at the Leighton Buzzard preserved railway in the UK. (Picture from the history page of the old CR website).
22. Orenstein and Koppel also supplied a couple of vertical boilered ng locomotives to India. Here is a picture of one of them. Further information not available.

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23. A 4-6-0 'mail engine' on the North Western Railway (most of it now in Pakistan). This engine is seen at a shed in Pakistan. (Picture from the Hal V.O. Water's collection courtesy Terry Case).
24. A painting of the Bombay - Poona Mail on its run to Poona. The train was later replaced by the super slow Sahyadri Express.

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25. BB & CI's Royal Mail leaving Bombay in 1907. I do not have information on the destinations of this train, and whether it still runs at present, and if so, as which train.
26. A 1450 tonne freight train descends the 1 in 37 Thull Ghats on its way from Bhusaval to Bombay VT. Although the train is vacuum braked throughout, three specially weighted brake cars have been coupled directly behind the locomotive.

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27. Though it looks historic, this is actually a comparatively recent photograph. A mighty WT class 2-8-4T heavy suburban tank locomotive is seen here in 1972 at Gummudipundi, between Gudur and Madras. These engines are derived from an earlier WM class. None are preserved.
28. An XC on the BB&CI Railway hauls the Frontier Mail on the Darrah viaduct between Bombay and Delhi. At 175 tonnes, the XCs were considered among the heaviest locomotives in use at that time.

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29. A mighty XD 2-8-2 built for the Nizam's State Railway is seen just out of the works. Built by North British Loco Co, the locomotive has been fitted with a booster, feed-water heater and pump.
30. An X class rack and pinion steam locomotive being built in the SLM works in Switzerland. Two batches of locomotives were built, one in 1925 and another in 1952. These ancient machines still rule the roost on the line. Two of the Xs are preserved, one in the National Rail Museum in New Delhi, and one at Coonoor station.

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31. The 1855 built 2-2-2 'Fairy Queen' is considered the oldest locomotive in India still in working order, and still earning revenue from commercial operations. The engine runs with a tourist train between Delhi and Alway between Oct and Feb. each year. Here is a poster advertising the event.
32. The old matriarch in steam near Delhi. Note additions of modern fittings in keeping with current safety requirements. When not running, the engine is parked in an enclosure in the National Rail Museum,where she was originally preserved. Fairy Queen's twin sister 'Express' is preserved in the Jamalpur workshops on the ER. (Photo by Harsh Vardhan).

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33. A light train leaving Bhimgoda Lall near Haridwar on the East Indian Railway.
34. The old and the new: to the right is an old (1869) 0-6-2 XC class locomotive, while to the left is her modern (1929) successor, also classed XC, but with a Pacific 4-6-2 wheel arrangement, and more powerful. Both are on the North Western Railway (NWR), most of which is now in Pakistan.

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35. A rail omnibus (predecesor to the modern railbus?) on the Jhirrira branch near Dhanbad on the East Indian Railway. (EIR).
36. XC class 4-6-2 (left) and SPS class 4-4-0 on the North Western Railway (NWR). Some of the SPS 4-4-0s were converted to oil firing and were in use on the Pakistan Railways till as recently as 2000.

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37. The first train on the Eastern Railway. A caption on Mrinal Das's site reads: "The first train of EIR flagged off full to its capacity on 15th. of August 1854 ,from Howrah to Hooghly a distance of  24  miles. 3000 applications were received for the first ride, but only a few could be accommodated. The train having three first Class, two second class and three "trucks" for the third class passengers, a brakevan for the Guard all constructed in Calcutta,  left Howrah at 8:30 A.M. and reached Hooghly after 91 minutes." (Picture courtesy Mrinal Das).


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38. A prehistoric tram on Calcutta's New Bazaar Street circa 1907. Though hardly discernible, the tram is very much there.
39. A double decker tram in Bombay in 1944. Bombay's trams were taken off in 1956.

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40. An old tram in Calcutta along with a trailer car.
41. A main line wooden bodied e.m.u. (electrical multiple unit) wades through flooded tracks in Bombay. (Picture courtesy super railnut Sundar Krishnamurthy).

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42. A Hitachi built e.m.u. prepares to ascend the Bhor Ghats. Emu trains used to run all the way to Poona in the olden days before a rule was introduced on the IR making it mandatory for toilets to be provided on all runs exceeding 150 kmph. (Picture from the history page of the old CR website).
43. The first electric train in India. It ran between Bombay VT and Coorla (now Mumbai CST and Kurla) in 1925. Pic. on the left shows the then governor of Bombay Sir Leslie Wilson addressing the crowd. Pic.on right shows the inaugural train. The wires were later extended across the ghats right upto Poona in Nov. 1929.

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44. The first electrics to run on Indian soil were the freight EA/1 (later WCG/1), which was based on the famed Swiss Crocodile design,and the EF/1 (later WCP/1) for passenger operations. Here are the line drawings of each of these locomotives. For pics of the EF/1 and EA/1, please refer to my dc mania site. An EF/1 and an EA/1 are preserved in the Delhi Rail Museum, while another EF/1 is at the Nehru Science Center, Bombay.
45. Electrification of the Bombay-Poona line allowed the Great Indian Peninsula (GIP) Railway to start Indian's first superfast train, the Deccan Queen on June 1, 1930. Here is a poster advertising the train. The Queen used to cover the distance in 2 hr 45 min. with seven cars. Today's Queen takes 3 hr 25 min. for the same journey, though with double the load.

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46. A Hitachi built d.c. emu leaves Bombay VT circa 1966. Note the Bombay Municipal Corporaton bulding tower in the background. (Picture from my personal collection).
47. A view of a motor coach (power car) of a dc emu unit from the BB & CI Railway. Note pantograph at each end, and basic driving controls provided. A similar motor coach is preserved in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi, though without the driving cab.

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48. The first mg emu trains to run in India were on the Madras suburban section, between Madras Beach and Tambaran. Handsome 3-car rigid trainsets built by Metro Cammel were pressed into service in 1931.  The trains featured a common bogie between the cars. Here is an old poster from the SIR advertising the service. None of these emu units is preserved. The face portion of one of them graced the entrance wall at the Tambaram car shed. This was removed at the time of remodeling of the shed, and was never put back.
49. Although the mg main line from Madras Beach to Villupuram continued on steam traction till as recently as 1968, these cute dc switchers were used for yard duties upto Tambaram. With the attachment of battery trailers, they could also work on unelectrified yard lines, though at reduced speed and power. Classed YCG/1 these were the first mg electrics to run in India. Here is one such unit at Madras with battery trailer attached. Two YCG/1s are preserved, one in the Delhi Rail Museum,and one at the emu car shed at Tambaram in Madras.

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50. An old view of Sandhurst Road soon after electrification. This pic dates circa 1929, but regulars will find the scene quite familiar nonetheless. Note the unusual catenary masts. These masts are no more in existance.
51. A rare gem: seen here is a 50 ton battery locomotive in the Canrac Bunder Yard in Bombay, on the BB & CI Ralway. I had another picture of the engine in the shed getting her batteries charged: I am unable to find that pic now. The battery locomotives were used largely for shunting, and none of them are preserved. Battery locomotives were reintroduced in the early 1990s on the 2'0" Gwalior lines.

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Here are some more historical electric sites to whet your appetite further:

history page of my emu enigma site my dc mania site


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52. A railmotor emerges out of a tunnel on the Kalka Shimla Railway. Some of these cars are still in existance. The headlight on the nose swivels according to the curvature of the track for added safety. Three railbuses are preserved: a small one similar to this and a flat nosed one from the Kalka- Simla Railway, and a similar one from the 2' 0" Neral Matheran Railway: all at the Delhi Rail Museum. (Picture by Hal Hughes, courtesy Terry Case).
53. An interesting jog down memory lane: the railways came to the estates of the Gaekwar of Baroda long before the locomotives did. Before the advent of steam engines, the Gaekwar had his trains hauled by pairs of bullocks. Lovingly referred to by some historians as 'bullockomotives', pic shows one of these bullockomotive hauled trains. (circa 1854-55). This pic is in the collection of the National Rail Museum Delhi as well, but is no longer on display in the indoor galleries. (Picture courtesy Mrinal Das).

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54. A small Bagnall built diesel locomotive for the railways in India. Further information not available. The caption says that this engine has 16" dia. wheels, and is 10'2" in length. Tiny diesel locomotives identical to this one were in use on the Betty Tramways at Rajkot. One of the Betty Tramways diesels is preserved in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.
55. An Ingersoll-Rand built diesel shunting locomotive built for the Tata Iron and Steel works (TISCO) at Jamshedpur. The accompanying caption gives more information. Just expand the thumbnail.

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56. A diesel railcar once used on the 2'0" Gwalior Railway. Built by Wickham, UK, in 1947, the car bears works number 4550. Wickham designated it as a 10 seater railcar. There are four rows of seats visible in the photograph which would mean that the middle two rows were designed for 3 passengers each and the end two for a single passenger and the driver. In all probability, the seats are of the tip up variety so that the direction of them can be reversed. The car has a driving position at each end as the far windscreen seems to have wipers and a sun visor on it. This railcar is preserved in the grounds of the Maharaja's palace in Gwalior. (Picture placed by Simon Darvill in the irfca shared files section).


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Page spun by S. Shankar with MS FrontPage2000. Dtd: 29/09/2002