Thursday, December 11, 2014

Once upon a time, WR was mocked as a ‘waste of money’

Bombay Central stations in their ‘younger’ days. Bombay Central stations in its ‘younger’ days.
Written by Kalpana Verma | Mumbai | Posted: December 9, 2014
IT would surprise many in the financial capital of the country that the now severely overburdened suburban line of Western Railway (WR), which carries over 35 lakh commuters daily, was once considered a likely waste of money when it was conceived 150 years ago by the British.

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A vintage 3 coach EMU rake in the early 1940's.

In its 150th year now, the Mumbai suburban railways of WR is already saturated, with even a 15-minute shutdown of services making it to the headlines the next day. A once-doubted railway line is now a key part of Mumbai’s lifeline.
When plans for expansion of railway network of Bombay, Baroda & Central India (BB & CI) were under way, a railway line from Surat to Bombay, now Mumbai, was thought to be costly as it was proposed to be built along a valley.
Records with the Western Railway show that some officials were even of the view that rail line from Surat should be connected to rail line of Great Indian Peninsula Railway,

which had already been established in 1853 between Bombay and Thane

An  Indian train (Source -
Clicked in

the early 1920s, this photo shows Punjab Mail leaving Ballard Pier Mole Station in Bombay for Peshawar in present day Pakistan

An interesting photo of the coach for those travelling cattle class and for those born with a silver spoon in their mouth…..
The Great Indian Peninsula Railway ((G.I.P) was the predecessor of the Central Railway and was incorporated in 1849 by an Act of the British Parliament. The first railway line in India from Bombay to Kalyan and then to Thana was constructed by the GIP. This was barely a few years after the opening of the first train route between Stockholm and Darlington (England) in 1825. GIP was advertised in London as the best way to travel through India.
(present day Central Railway) and had been extended along the ghat section up to Kalyan. Officials thought it would be relatively inexpensive to simply connect Surat and Kalyan.
After all, Mumbai was then not yet commercially successful. In fact, after initial surveys were conducted and Grant Road station identified as the Bombay end of the WR line, doubts were raised on whether the proposed line would attract enough passengers and business.
It was Mount Stuart Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay,

who put forward this case as beneficial to the British Empire. He pointed out that the new line would connect Bombay with the rich Gujarat province and it was found worthwhile to ship cotton from Bombay.

Cotton bales lying at the
Bombay Terminus of the
Great Indian Peninsular Railway
ready for shipment to England


In his book Railways of India, author Edward Davidson writes: “After much discussions and protracted deliberations, it was decided that the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway should have its own direct approach to Bombay, with a station at Grant Road, not far from the Byculla Club and the Race Course, with the intention of eventually extending its line through reclaimed land in Backbay to a permanent terminus at Colaba.

colaba railway station before its demolition

colaba railway station on the left with steam engines

The station at Grant road is conveniently situated for the town of Bombay and has a short junction with the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Terminus, though it has not the advantage of direct communication with the Harbour and shipping.’’
With its close proximity to Boree Bunder station,

which was used for trading and shipping of cotton, Grant Road was selected as the Bombay terminus for the line.


Construction of the railway line started from Utran reached Grant Road in Bombay in 1864. On November 28, 1864, the first BB& CI train on what was initially referred to as the “western coastal lines” chugged from Grant Road station to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, heralding a new era of seamless and direct connectivity of Bombay with Gujarat and further northward. For the inaugural run, a bottle of wine was smashed on the engine by British officials.
The train left Grant Road station at 7 am and reached Ahmedabad at 5 pm the next day. In its return journey, the train left Ahmedabad at 7 am the following day and arrived at Grant Road station at 5.30 pm the next day.
The long journey time is attributed to the fact that the trains leaving Bombay and Ahmedabad ran on the first day only up to Surat. The train would reach Surat around 5 pm and depart for its onward journey at about 7 am the next day. There was a refreshment room and a traveller’s bungalow at Surat for passengers who wanted to travel beyond Surat.

Hemant Kumar, General Manager, Western Railway (WR), says, “These celebrations for 150 years of the Western Railway fetch us to glorious part of Railway. The Railways have made a valuable contribution in the socio-economic and overall development of Mumbai and Gujarat. To further improve the connectivity and to provide faster services to the passengers, the work on the projects of introducing semi-high speed and high-speed trains are in the pipeline. It is also planned to introduce bullet trains on this section, which will be the first in the country.’’
At present, Western Railway operates one of the largest suburban networks in the world, serving 35 stations carrying 3.5 million commuters (approx.) every day in 1305 train services in Mumbai. It is aptly called the lifeline of Mumbai Metropolis.
For the record
In times when the Narmada bridge at Surat was not yet built, a boat would ferry passengers across the river to go to destinations beyond Surat.
In April 1867, the first suburban service propelled by a steam engine ran in Mumbai. The network was extended till Churchgate by 1870. A senior railway officer says, “At that time, the number of commuters was less than 100 at Grant Road Terminus. Now WR runs 1,305 services daily.’’

Church Gate Street of bombay fort , --(and Times of India office).Photographer: Unknown Medium: Photographic print Date: 1860

church gate of Bombay fort before demolition

old Bombay fort and 'church gate'
This gate faces the st Thomas church built in 1718 so the name 'church gate'
The church can be seen in the back ground
Later a railway station was made near by and was named church gate station ,now the terminal of western railway
click on picture to see bigger

In 1870, Churchgate station was built

1878 - vehicles on Bombay street - Buggy; Reckla ;Shigram Horse

and the railway line was further extended towards Colaba by 1872. A goods shed was built at Colaba. By 1896, a new station was established at Colaba to serve as a Terminus for both long-distance passengers and suburban commuters.
By 1900, 45 trains were employed in both directions to carry more than 1 million passengers every year.

However, by the 1920s, the government’s plan to reclaim land for what would be later known as Backbay Reclamation

meant that the railway line between Churchgate and Colaba would be an obstruction and so the Government of Bombay ordered the Railways to hand over the section between Churchgate and Colaba.
It took the BB&CI company 10 years to create a new terminus at Belassis Road, which is known as Bombay Central now.
Before the curtains drew at Colaba Terminus, the BB&CI ran its last service on the night of December 31, 1930. After the last train left for the northern end of the city, the line between Colaba and Churchgate was sealed and handed back to the Secretary of India.
With Metro planned from Colaba now, many in the railways still wonder whether the administrators then were short-sighted about the way the city would develop in the years to come.
As the BB& CI made progress, the first electric train between Churchgate and Borivali was launched in 1928.
November 5, 1951, was a golden day in the history of Western Railway. It was formed by merging numerous state-owned railways together with the BB&CI and the Saurashtra, Rajputana & Jaipur Railways.
There still are several things of the British era that continue to be a part of the railway system in Mumbai. One of them is the bell tower on top of Bandra station.

Before the Railways came into existence, all vehicles were driven by animal

A bell tower was set up at the railway station which was used to signal horse-drawn Victorias or tongas to come and pick up the British officers who arrived at the station.
Mumbaikars may also not remember why Dadar railway station is referred to as Dadar BB or Dadar TT among railway authorities. The Western Railway side of Dadar station is referred to as Dadar BB (Bombay, Baroda) while the Central Railway side is referred to as Dadar TT (Tram Terminus).
Map of Western Railway
Ratlam-Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad-Vadodara and Palanpur-Ahmedabad are some of the main railway lines that come under the jurisdiction of Western Railway. WR covers the state of Gujarat, the eastern segment of Rajasthan, a fraction of Western Madhya Pradesh and coast of Maharashtra. It also serves a number of ports on the west coast of India.

It is generally believed that the railways were first introduced to India on April 16th, 1853. The Bori Bunder to Thane line is customarily seen as the birth of the world’s largest railway systems, but the plan for the first rail system was drawn in 1832. The laying of an experimental track began in 1836 near Chintadripet, in Madras (now Chennai). When the experiment proved successful, a 3.5 mile (5.6 km) rail track was laid between Red Hills and St. Thomas Mount in Chennai.
On December 22, 1851, the first steam locomotive in India was used during the construction of the Solani canal near Roorkee, a city in Haridwar district, Uttarakhand. Bengal Sappers of the Indian Army built the railway line to carry soil for the construction of the canal from Piran Kaliyar, 6.2 miles (10 km) from the city.
It is commonly believed that the two-wagon train was hauled by a Jenny Lind class locomotive built by E.B. Wilson and Company at their Railway Foundry in Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England or something very similar in design, by the name of “Thomason“. However, surviving work records do not substantiate this fact.
The engine had a short life. A boiler explosion destroyed it a few months after it started operating. It might have been a secondhand engine. Nonetheless, it pioneered a new era in the transportation history of India.
The locomotive rail paths are still intact.
Replica of Jenny Lind in Roorkee (Courtesy of Kota Shivaranjan/Flickr gallery of travel photos)
Replica of Jenny Lind in Roorkee (Courtesy of Kota Shivaranjan/Flickr gallery of travel photos)

Vintage images: 160 years of India's first passenger train journey

April 16, 2013 marks the 160th anniversary of India's first passenger train journey in which 400 invited passengers travelled in 14 carriages on a 57 minute journey from Bori Bunder in Bombay (now Mumbai) to Thane.
Since that first journey in 1853, railways have have become one of the most important modes of transportation in the country. Here's a look back at the early days of Indian railways in a series of photographs from the 19th century.

ALSO SEE Google doodles 160 years of India's first passenger train journey

A train carying livestock passes Rohtas Fort, India, circa 1851. The area is now part of Pakistan. Original Publication: Illustrated London News, pub. 7th June 1851 (Photo by Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

12th March 1864: Two storied, third class carriage on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India railway. Original Publication: Illustrated London News - pub. 1864 (Photo by HultonArchive/Illustrated London News/Getty Images)

circa 1867: An Indian station near Calcutta. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A railway crash on a bridge in India. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)