Thursday, April 16, 2020

celebrating the first passenger train in India this day - 167 years ago !


An unsuccessful but courageous contest at the general election in 1835 for one of the seats in parliament for Edinburgh, fought against such veterans as the future speaker, James Abercrombie, afterwards Lord Dunfermline, and John Campbell, future lord chancellor, was followed in 1837 by Ramsay's return to the House of Commons as member for Haddingtonshire. In the previous year he had married Lady Susan Hay, daughter of the Marquess of Tweeddale, whose companionship was his chief support in India, and whose death in 1853 left him a heartbroken man. Can you identify this Governor-General of India ?

It is not a good news to read that all staff and officers at the Vartak Nagar police station are being screened for Covid.  This has been necessitated after the  bodyguard of Maharashtra's Housing Minister and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad had  tested positive for the novel Coronavirus on Wednesday. The revelation comes days after the NCP MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa quarantined himself at his residence after coming in contact with a COVID-19 infected person.  On Tuesday, 14th April Awhad's contacts came out to be positive for the infectious virus, including five bodyguards and a cook.  Recently, NCP Thane President also tested positive for Coronavirus. He is being treated at a designated hospital in the city.

Several party workers, as well as people, have been visiting Paranjape and Awhad amid the lockdown seeking help with the problems that they are facing. It is speculated that the workers have incurred the virus from one of these people and extensive contact tracing measures have been undertaken by the civic body officials.  On Wednesday, Awhad also squashed rumors of him infected with the virus with a tweet and by sharing his Coronavirus test reports. He wrote, "Undoubtedly I was overexposed for over a month. God is kind who are kind to others (sic)." Several politicians and social workers have come up with various initiatives to help the government as well as the common man in these times of distress.

In an unrelated development, hundreds of migrant workers stuck in Mumbai since the last three weeks gathered to demand transport arrangements back to their native places.  A few hours after the PM's third address to the nation where he extended the lockdown till May 3 hundreds of migrant workers gathered at the Bandra station, Mumbai believing rumours that special trains would take them home. The rumour-mongers have now been arrested. According to a News18 report, an FIR has been registered against at least 1000 migrant workers for assembling near the railway station and defying the rules of the coronavirus lockdown thereby causing a public health scare.  Reportedly, a second FIR was registered against the self-proclaimed labour leader who had allegedly asked migrants to start walking towards their native homes. Dubey had also shared video blogs and social media posts to invite migrants in numbers with social media posts like "Chalo Ghar Ki Ore (let's head home).

This is no post on Covid  or the reactions of people but something connected to Indian Railways and this day – 167 years ago .. .. ie., 16th Apr 1853

Many of us still love the travel by train ~ not the hustle in an electric train – in olden days, the first advice from elderly was not to be seated in window and look out – for flying coal pieces could fall in eyes! – those were the days of locomotives, the engine that provided the motive power.  Locomotive  originates from the Latin loco – "from a place" + Medieval Latin motivus, "causing motion", first used in the early 19th century to distinguish between mobile and stationary steam engines. They did not have any payloads and had the sole purpose of pulling the train along the tracks.  Traditionally, locomotives pulled trains from the front.

A steam locomotive is  derived its pulling power  through a steam engine, fuelled by burning combustible material—usually coal/coke, wood, or oil—to produce steam in a boiler. The steam that was generated moved the pistons connected to the train wheels.  The first steam locomotive, made by Richard Trevithick, first operated in  1804, three years after the road locomotive he made in 1801. Steam locomotives were first developed in Great Britain during the early 19th century and used for railway transport until the middle of the 20th century. From the early 1900s they were gradually superseded by electric and diesel locomotives, with full conversions to electric and diesel power beginning from the 1930s.   In India, Indian Railways decided to eliminate steam from regular running several years ago, and has largely succeeded.

The most well known locomotives could be  the trio called ‘Sahib, Sindh and Sultan’.  These three historic locomotives hauled the inaugural passenger train on 16.4.1853 from Boribunder to Thane, a distance of 21 miles. It appears that the first locomotives used solely for construction came from Yorkshire – an experimental line was built from Kalyan and in 1853 it was decided to have a terminus at Boribunder.  The first passenger train chugged off, pulled by the 3 engines and comprised of 20 railway carriages having around 400 guests of honour. The journey lasted mere 75 minutes from 3.30 pm to 4.45 pm – heralded by salute of 21 guns.

Some people on the way side, ran out of the way shouting it to be a demon – for conceptually it was new, though it was not the first ever train to run in Indian soil.  The train service was from Bori Bunder to Thane.  Bori bunder used to be a storehouse for imported goods and those awaiting shipment.  Read that 'Bori' mean sack and 'Bandar' means  store; Bandar also means port; Built by the Great Indian Peninsular Railway,  the station had the honour – decades later, the  station was  rebuilt as the Victoria Terminus, named after the then reigning Queen Victoria,  again  renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CSTM) after  the famed 17th-century king.  It is a very important locaton – total 154 passenger trains Start/End/Pass through Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus now.

At the other end was Thane (thana !) – a place that had a fort dating back to 18th century.  It was a major port in 14th century and later came under British occupation.  A book titled Making of India reveals that the idea of railway to connect first occurred to George Clark and a meeting of prominent citizens wad held in Bombay in July 1844 – around which time, the Great Indian Peninsular Railway was formed in England.   When the first train reached its destination Thana, refreshments were served in tents.  The inaugural engines – Sultan, Sindh and Sahib had been built at Vulcan Foundry near Manchester, and were from batch of 8 contracted.  Later, Sultan was named Lord Falkland as a token of respect of the then Governor of Bombay Presidency.  Vulcan Foundry claimed in its leaflets, that they had the distinction of exporting first ever locomotives to India.


The Railway line was extended to Kalyan an year later and to Khapoli, a couple of years later. As stated those were not the first engines nor was that inaugural run, first ever in India, though it was the landmark first run of a passenger commercial train in India.   Felt happy to visit the Thane  station, walk around – people were busy, every train was so packed – there were so many shops also around the station, in the roads leading to the station. That was a day after the  demonetization and the  order had its impact - for it was a day when there were banks and people first felt the impact of higher value currencies ceasing to be a legal tender. 

If you remember the Q at the start on Governor-General – it was Dalhousie.   James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie KT PC (1812 –1860), also known as Lord Dalhousie, styled Lord Ramsay until 1838 and known as The Earl of Dalhousie between 1838 and 1849, was a Scottish statesman and colonial administrator in British India. He served as Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856. He is credited with introducing passenger trains in railways, electric telegraph and uniform postage in India.   He also founded the Public Works Department in India.   He was denounced by many in Britain on the eve of his death as having failed to notice the signs of the brewing Indian Rebellion of 1857, having aggravated the crisis by his overbearing self-confidence, centralizing activity and expansive annexations.

Though the Q customary would be when did the train first run in India and answered customarily as this day in 1853 – it was just the first commercial passenger service in India. In fact, a few other railways are known to have operated in India prior to 1853, for hauling materials. In 1835, a short experimental line was laid near Chintadripet. This appears to have been a practice run of sorts for the Red Hill Railroad line.

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
16.4.2020.

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