|Saturday, April 20, 2002||
Bombay and Calcutta were competing for the run in British India. In fact, introduction of the Railways in India was to help movement of freight, particularly cotton, from the interiors to the coastal cities like Bombay. The failure of the American cotton crop in the early 1850s affected the booming British textile industry and it was decided to tap the Indian cotton market. Bombay had a stronger cotton ‘lobby’ and won the race for the first train. The services in Calcutta began the following year.
The Great Indian Peninsular Railway had been incorporated in London in 1849 and was sanctioned five million pounds for its operations. Construction on the Bombay-Thane line began in 1851 and the first shunting of locomotives, held the following year. Thousands of workers were employed in clearing the area and laying the tracks. In view of the conditions of the soil, it was a tough job and hundreds of men died because of malaria and other illnesses. For the British engineers and technicians, the job was a real challenge and it was completed on time.
Unexpected thundershowers postponed the first run from April 1 to April 16. Boree Bunder then was not the majestic VT of today, an architect’s delight. It was an old shack with a single pair of tracks. There was not even a platform and upper class British passengers boarded the train from the more ‘fashionable’ Byculla. Horse-drawn carriages were in vogue and waves from the Arabian Sea often lashed the spot chosen as the terminus. Construction on VT began in 1878; the work was completed in 1888, at a cost of Rs 18 lakh.
The April 16 event was keenly awaited. By 3 pm, all the VIP guests had arrived.
The artillery from the nearby Fort George boomed, the Governor’s band struck up the National Anthem. The huge crowds which had assembled at the starting point and along the tracks gasped as the locomotives belched smoke and roared along. The train, which had 14 coaches, was drawn by three steam locomotives, named Sahib, Sindhu and Sultan. It halted at Byculla, Sion (for watering) and Bhandup before reaching Thane. The fares for the first, second and third class coaches were Rs two and 10 annas, Re 1 and one anna, and five annas, respectively.
After Saturday’s inaugural run, regular services began from Monday. The first train started at 7.20 am, the second and last at 3.45 pm. These two services have now expanded to 1160, carrying 3.4 million suburban passengers daily, to and from Karjat, Kasara, Panvel and Andheri. The Central Railway, on its suburban and main line services, carries a staggering 12 million passengers daily.
The re-enactment of the historic run was slightly different. The train had 11 coaches (a mixture of vintage and modern), and was pulled by two locomotives. The locos were different from the three which were used in the inaugural run. Out of these, the ‘Faulkland’ type had been scrapped. The other two, which belonged to the ‘Fairy Queen’ and ‘Rangotty’ categories, are still in existence but could not make the long trip from the North to Mumbai. The two locos seen in action were made in the USA (Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia), with each weighing 104.2 tonnes. More than 50 years old, these WP class locomotives were in use till 1987 and had been brought to the city from the National Railway Museum. They were repaired and spruced up at the Parel Railway Workshop.
Along with the usual list of VVIP passengers (Chief Minister, Governor, Railway Minister ), the guest list included some interesting personalities. Eightytwo-year old Marquis, a resident of Bhusaval, and 80-year-old George Lestergeon, both from the GIP and Central Railway, had spent long years handling steam locomotives and had requested to be present for the celebrations. "We were delighted to have them, they are our honoured guests," said Mukul Marwah, Chief Public Relations Officer, Central Railway. Among the other invitees were Surekha Yadav, the first woman loco driver in the country, and 75-year-old Fakhiran, the oldest living GIP employee. The great grandsons of two Indian directors of the GIP, Nana Shankar Shet and Jamshedji Jeejibhoy, were also invited.
Railway enthusiasts were delighted at the extent of the 150th anniversary celebrations. Many of them are fond of collecting toy trains and other memorabilia. They recalled the introduction of the restaurant car in 1905 and the elaborate fare it offered. Two years later, the Railways started carrying mail. The Central Railway ran Race Specials between Bombay and Pune during racing weekends. The locomotives and the rear of the last carriage carried the logo of a racing horse. Railway watchers recollected how a number of Indians, in their token defiance of the British, courted arrest by travelling without tickets.
What has been the progress of the Indian Railways during the last 150 years? Today, its route length is around 63028 km, it has 7566 locomotives, 42570 passenger coaches, 222417 freight wagons and 6853 railway stations. Every day, the Indian Railways carries 13.24 million passengers and 1.38 m tonnes of freight. It employs 1,54,5300 people and owns 4.23 lakh hectares of land. It earned Rs 1071.23 crore last year. Besides, the Railways is in charge of nearly 1.20 lakh bridges and 38561 level crossings out of which 16424 are manned. The Indian Railways had 464 accidents in 2001.
Beginning with the 21-mile (34 km) journey
from Boree Bunder to Thane, the Indian Railways has covered quite a