Indian Railways

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The Indian Railways is India's state-owned railways, operating since 1845.


  • I feel assured, that in future ages the works of our English engineers on these ghats will take the place of their demigods, the Great Cave Temples of Western India, which have so long, to the simple inhabitants of these lands, been the type of superhuman strength, and of more than mortal constructive skill.
    Let us trust, Sir, that the blessing of God which has carried the work thus far may rest on the work, that it may be such a permanent monument to our rule as a thoughtful patriotic Englishman may wish to see raised by his nation, and as all who love India, whatever their race or creed, may rejoice to see completed, not merely uniting distant provinces in one bond of material prosperity, but knitting together distant peoples and races under our orderly and beneficent rule, and thereby advancing the cause of civilisation by means which may be blessed alike to India and to England.”
  • A single glance upon the map recalling to mind the vast extent of the empire we hold, the various classes and interests it includes, the wide distances which separate the several points at which hostile attack may at any time be expected; the perpetual risk of such hostility in quarters where it is least expected; the expenditure of time, of treasure and of life that are involved in even the ordinary routine of military movements over such a tract… will suffice to show how immeasurable are the political advantages to be derived from the system of internal communication, which would admit of full intelligence of every event being transmitted to the Government,… at a speed exceeding fivefold its present rate; and would enable the Government to bring the main bulk of its military strength to bring to bear on any given point in as many days as it would now require months, and to an extent which at present is physically impossible.
    The commercial and social advantages which India would derive from their establishment are, I believe, beyond all present calculation. Great tracts are teeming with produce which they cannot dispose of. Others are scantily bearing what they would carry in abundance, if only it could be conveyed whither it is needed. England is calling aloud for the cotton which India does already produce in some degree, and would produce sufficient in quality, and plentiful in quantity, if only there were provided the fitting means of conveyance to it from distant plains to the several ports adopted for its shipment. Every increase of facilities for trade has been attended… with an increased demand of European produce in the most distant markets of our Empire… ships of every part of the world crowd our ports in search of produce which we have or could obtain in the interior, but which at present we cannot possibly fetch to them, and new markets are opening to us on this side of the globe under circumstances which defy foresight of the wisest to estimate their probably value, or calculate their future extent… the first object must be, then, to lay down the great trunk lines, with a view to the broadest future ramification, and on a principle that shall ensure the most profitable permanent working of the lines generally, bearing upon the intercourse of India with Europe.
    It needs but little reflection on such facts to lead us to the conclusion that the establishment of a system of railways in India, judiciously selected and formed, would surely and rapidly give rise within this Empire to the same encouragement of enterprise, the same multiplication of produce, the same discovery of latent resource, and the same increase of national wealth, and to some similar progress of social improvement, that have marked the improved and extended communications in various kingdoms of the Western world.
    • Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General’s Minute on Indian Railways (216 mss pages) on 20 April, 1853
  • While it is gratifying to me to be thus able to state that the moral and social questions which are engaging attention in Europe have not been neglected in India during the last eight years, it is double gratifying to record, that these years have also witnessed the first introductions in the Indian Empire of the three great engines of social improvement, which the sagacity and science of recent times had previously given to Western nations — I mean Railways, uniform postage, and the Electric Telegraph.
    • Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General’s final minute to the Court of Directors, 28 February, 1856
  • It might have been supposed that the building of 30,000 miles of railways would have brought a measure of prosperity to India. But these railways were built not for India but for England; not for the benefit of the Hindu, but for the purposes of the British army and British trade.
  • They [third-class railway carriages] are discreditable-looking places where there is no order, no cleanliness but utter confusion and horrible din and noise. Passengers have no benches or not enough to sit on. They squat on dirty floors and eat dirty food. They are permitted to throw the leavings of their food and spit where they like, sit how they like and smoke everywhere. The closets attached to these places defy description. I have not the power adequately to describe them without committing a breach of the laws of decent speech.
    In neglecting the third class passengers, opportunity of giving a splendid education to millions in orderliness, sanitation, decent composite life and cultivation of simple and clean tastes is being lost. Instead of receiving an object lesson in these matters third class passengers have their sense of decency and cleanliness blunted during their travelling experience.
    Among the many suggestions that can be made for dealing with the evil here described, I would respectfully include this: let the people in high places, the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief, the Rajas, Maharajas, the Imperial Councillors and others, who generally travel in superior classes, without previous warning, go through the experiences now and then of third class travelling. We would then soon see a remarkable change in the conditions of third class travelling and the uncomplaining millions will get some return for the fares they pay under the expectation of being carried from place to place with ordinary creature comforts.
  • Thailand has railways and the British never colonised the country,... In 1885, when the British invaded Burma, the Burmese king was already building railways and telegraphs. These are things Indians could have done themselves.
  • ...but even after Dalhousie had put his hand to the work, and the Company had responded to his efforts, it was the more general belief that railway communication in India would be rather a concern of Government, useful in the extreme for military purposes, than a popular institution supplying a national want. It was thought that Indolence, Avarice, and Superstition would keep the natives of the country from flocking to the Railway station. But with a keener appreciation of the inherent power of so demonstrable a benefit to make its own way, even against these moral obstructions, Dalhousie had full faith in the result. He was right. The people now learnt to estimate at its full worth the great truth that Time is Money; and having so learned, they were not to be deterred from profiting by it by any tenderness of respect for the feelings of their spiritual guides.
    That the fire-carriage on the iron road was a heavy blow to the Brahmanical Priesthood is not to be doubted.
    • Sir John Kaye, The History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8, Vol 1. 1863
  • The most powerful teacher was the Indian railway, which despite some gloomy prophecies, had attained immediate popularity and necessarily tended to break down the barriers of ages, to stimulate movement, and exchange of thought. In railway carriages Brahmans and Sudras, Muslims and Sikhs, peasants and townspeople sat side by side. As early even as 1867-8 the total number of railway passengers was 13,746,000, of whom 95% travelled third class. Reflection, observation, interest in the outside world were stimulated; journeys from villages to towns; emigration from India itself became more common; life and prosperity grew more secure; new impulses were given to commerce, to industry and to agriculture. It should not be forgotten that to English capital India owes the sinews of her railway development.
    • Sir Henry Lovett, The Cambridge History of India, Vol. VI, Ch. XIX, p.344 The Growth of Educational Policy 1858 - 1918.
  • "Though the initial proposal for building railways in India was mooted in 1844 by East Indian Railway and subsequently by GIPR the actual nod from rulers in Britain came many years later. By 1840s the East India Company was fast losing its grip over control of India and many more agents had already started operating in India with governmental support. The dominant group was determined to hold on to remaining power of appointments in India as long as they could. The directors of East India company were more than properly cautious and British government consulted any matter relating to India with the group. The proposals were pushed aside in the beginning but by the time they realised and were eager to do business with the railway companies, the 1847-49 depression had hit England and it was very difficult to raise funds. It was at this juncture that the promoters insisted that the government must put the new railway companies in a position to guarantee the railway stockholders an annual return. The promoters were able to mobilise London merchants aspiring exports and imports to and from large Indian market and finally in 1849, East India Company signed contract and gave the railway companies better term than they had originally asked in 1844. The contract provided in essence that , private companies would raise the funds for the railways and manage their operations, while the Government of India would exercise high-level supervision of railway policy and guarantee the private companies against risk of loss"
    • Daniel Thorner's article in Railways in Modern India edited by Ian J. Kerr.
  • In the second half of the nineteenth century, railway fever had infected Russia, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In India, the first lines connecting Bombay, Calcutta and Madras opened in the early 1850s. Ten years later, the sub-continent had a railway network of 2,500 miles, nearly 4,800 in the 1870s, and 16,000 miles in 1890. For Marx, the development of Indian railways was a powerful illustration of his vision of traditional and archaic social forms shattered by the advent of modern, conquering industries. ‘Indian society’, he wrote in 1853 in the New York Daily Tribune, ‘has no history at all, at least no known history.’ Its providential destiny was to be ruled and, from this point of view, the British Empire, as violent and brutal as it was, would undoubtedly have more fruitful consequences than its competitors, the Russian and the Ottoman empires. In India the British colonizers had two missions, ‘one destructive, the other regenerating: the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia.’ Steam had severed the sub-continent from ‘the prime law of its stagnation’ by connecting it with the advanced world. Very soon, he predicted, this joining with the West through ‘a combination of railways and steam-vessels’ would demolish the bases of Oriental despotism. Railroads were destroying the archaic social system of the country, which was grounded on the ‘self-sufficient inertia of the villages’. The article’s conclusion swept away any doubts: ‘The railway-system will therefore become, in India, truly the forerunner of modern industry.
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