If you travel 187 K.M. North West of Delhi, you reach Bandikui, a dusty town with magnificent buildings, churches, bungalows of Raj era. Bandikui was essentially a British township built by the early British Railway men.
One wonders what possibly necessitated British to choose, of all the places, Bandikui as their District headquarters of Railways in this part of India. Perhaps it is the salubrious Climate and smoother terrain of Bandikui which largely influenced the decision culminating into a settlement of not less than thousand Britishers Anglo Indians & Indian families.
It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that the Railways in India was getting deep rooted when Sir John Lawrence (1864 – 69) was Viceroy of India, Survey - an essential pre-requisite for laying Railway track was undertaken of Delhi - Jaipur – Ajmer and Agra. Jaipur- Ajmer Section.
His Highness Maharaja of Alwar, one of the first few students of Mayo College, Ajmer liberally donated the land for spreading Railway network linking his State with the Railway network. In 1865, land donation agreement was reached between Maharao Alwar and with Maharaja Jaipur in 1868.
To begin with, it was known as Rajputan - Delhi Railway, turned into Rajputana State Railway, converted into Rajputana-Malva Railway. Later in 1907, it was merged with BB&CI Railway Co. (Bombay Baroda & Central India). The then Government of India took over its management with effect from 01.01.42 and the suffix (Company) was dropped.
As a result of further rationalization and regrouping it came to be known as today’s Western Railway from 5th November 1951.
Initially the plans were proposed to construct Broad Gauge - (2.67 meter wide) something which India had to resort to much later under it’s much publicized /unique Uni gauge scheme as late as in 1990s.
Construction was undertaken in the superintendence of Col. F.S. STANTON, the Supdt. Engineer.
It was in the reign of Lord Northbrook, the Viceroy that the Delhi – Bandikui line was opened in December 1874.
Bandikui has had the singular distinction witnessing and passing through its territory the royal saloons of Prince of Wales, later Kind Edward VII 1874-1875, King George V, in 1911, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII 1921-22 and the Queen Elizabeth in 1961 on her way to tiger shoot at Bharatpur.
Though the early surveyors were in favor of Rajgarh, a nearby town close to Alwar to be an appropriate junction station, but the circuitous terrain made more complicated by imposing hill compelled completed to choose Bandikui, a comparatively smoother approach place.
The idea of a railway to connect Bombay with Thane, Kalyan and with the Thal and Bhore Ghats inclines first occurred to Mr. George Clark, the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Government during a visit to Bhandup in 1843. A meeting of prominent citizens was later held at Bombay on 13th July 1844, it was presided by Sir Erskine Perry, the Chief Justice.
At the same time, though the efforts of John Chapman and M/s. White and Barnett Solicitors, Whitehall Place, London, a fresh company was formed in England called, the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Co. and its first prospectus was issued on 15th July, 1844. According to a manuscript record left by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Baronet, one of the first Indian Directors of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Co. George Stephenson, the great British Locomotive inventor 1781-1848 was among the first Directors of the Company. His son, Robert Stephenson 1803-59 was appointed Consulting Engineer. Later an influential Committee was formed in Bombay to work in conjunction with the London Committee to give effect to the Scheme. The Great Indian Peninsular Railway Co. was thereafter incorporated in England by an Act of Ist August 1849 and the contract between the Court of Directors and the Railway Company requesting the Company to raise a capital of Pounds 500,000 were made on 17th August 1849. On 14th November 1849, Mr. J.J. Berkeley was appointed Chief Resident Engineer. He arrived in India in February 1850 and devoted full twelve months to survey the line. Mumbai still has a residential colony (Berkeley place) named after him, where once his office was.
From then onwards events moved at a fast pace. On 31st October 1850, the ceremony of turning the 1st sod for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway from Bombay to Kalyan was performed by the Hon’ble Mr. J.P. WILLOUGHBY, Chief Justice of Bombay at a place near SION, in the presence of a large number of notable citizens. This was the first ceremony ever performed in India of laying a Railway line, or for that matter, in any country in the middle and far East. In 1851, a contract was entered into with M/s./ FARIELL and FOWLER, an English firm for the construction of the Railway line to Thana. The firm employed as many as 10,000 workers on construction work.
On 18th February 1852, the first locomotive was witnessed shunting near Byculla flats in Bombay. The engine made its start from a coppice, and then known as Phips O’ art’ and the scene of its daily shunting became a perfect fair for large crowds of men, women and children. The locomotive was later named Falkland after Lord Falkland 1848-53, the then Governor of Bombay. On 18th November 1852, the Company’s Directors with some of their friends traveled in the first railway train from Bombay to Thana, covering the distance of 21 miles in 45 minutes. They took their breakfast in the Kurla tunnel, the first railway tunnel to be built in India near Thana.
The formal inauguration ceremony was performed on 16th April 1853, when 14 Railway carriages carrying about 400 guests left Bori Bunder at 3.30 pm amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and to the salute of 21 guns. The Governor’s band was present but not His Excellency, the Governor according to the Bombay Times.
The Governor Lord Falkland and the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Fredrick Fitz Clarence, with their respective attendants accompanied by the Bishop, the Reverend John Harding, left for the hills the evening previous in disregard of the memorable occasion.
The day was observed as a public holiday by all Government offices and Banks etc.
The party reached Thana at about 04.45 pm where refreshments were served in tents and Major Swanson wished success to the new Company and its Chief Engineer Mr. Berkeley. The guests returned to Bombay at 7 pm. Next day on 17th April 1853, Sir Jamsatjee Jeejeebhoy, second Baronet reserved the whole train and traveled from Bombay to Thana and back along with the members of his family.
The first Indian Railway rolled on its tracks just 28 years after the World’s first train had made its initial successful run. This was in England. The first train consisting of 38 carriages laden with passengers and goods ran between Stockton and Darlington in 1825. The railway line was actually commenced in 1821 by the famous inventor of the Steam locomotive, George Stephenson, but it took four years to complete the construction.
In France, railways started in 1829, in Germany in 1835, in Holland and Italy in 1839 and in Spain in 1848. The construction of the first railway from St. Peters burg now Leningrad to the suburbs of Pavlovask was completed by a private company in 1837. The first railway in the United States was opened on a section of 15 miles of the Baltimore – Ohio line in May 1830. Initially, it was operated by horses and later locomotives were employed.
Like any other inventions in the early stages, the Railways had to overcome a great deal of prejudices opposition and popular criticism. It was difficult to convince common people that a journey by rail was safer than by stage coach. There is this story of a German doctor, who declared that it would be impossible for people to watch the train pass along without going mad and unless hoardings were erected the cow’s milk would turn sour.
It was not till 13th June 1842, seventeen years after the opening of the first railway line in England that Queen Victoria, advised by her Ministers, deemed it ‘safe’ to take a journey from London to SLOUGH. Even at this time the hazardous adventure of Her Majesty was looked upon with apprehension and critical disapproval by some of her ‘loyal subjects’. The ATLAS while complimenting the Queen for her courage, apprehended that
‘A long Regency in this country would be so fearful and tremendous an evil that we cannot but desire, in common with many others that these Royal excursions should be, if possible, either wholly abandoned or only occasionally resorted to. Concluding, it said ‘There is danger by the railway; and therefore, the Queen should be occasionally exposed to it’.
Louis Phillip of France as late as 1848 was practically forbidden to ‘endanger’ his life on the Railway. LE COMMERCE tells the story:
‘When the King was intending to go with the royal family to his chateau at Bizy be proposed to be conveyed by a special train on the railways as far as Rouen and orders were given to this effect. But the council of Ministers on being acquainted with His Majesty’s project held a sitting and came to the resolution that this mode of traveling by railway was not sufficiently secure to admit of its being used by the King and consequently His Majesty went to Bizy by post-horses’.
In England as late as 1835, John Bull denounced the railways as a menace.
‘If they succeed’ wrote the paper, ‘they will give an unnatural impetus to society, destroy all the relations which exist between man and man, overthrow all mercantile regulations, overturn the metropolitan markets, drain the provinces of all their resources, and create at the peril of life, all sorts of confusion and distress. If they fail, nothing will be left but the hideous memorials of public folly.
It further remarked: ‘Does anybody mean to say that decent people ... would consent to be hurried along through the air upon a rail road, from which, had a small school boy left a marble, or wicked one a stone, they would be pitched off their perilous track into the valley beneath... being at the mercy of a tin pipe or copper boiler, or the accidental dropping of a pebble on the line of way?.... We denounce the mania as destructive of the country in a thousand particulars..., the whole face of the Kingdom is to be tattooed with these odious deformities – huge mounds are to intersect our beautiful valleys; the noise and stench of locomotive steam engines are to disturb the quietude of the peasant the farmer and the gentleman; and the roaring of the bullocks, the bleating of sheep and the grunting of pigs to keep up one continual uproar of these most dangerous and disfiguring abominations’.
If this was the reaction outside India, it is not surprising that people in India in the early stages have also opposed the introduction of railways as a ‘hazardous and dangerous venture’ or at best a ‘premature and expensive undertaking’. There were many among British in England and in India who felt that even if the railways could be started it would be difficult for them to get any passengers. Doubt was expressed, ‘whether people would be attracted from the bullock cart to the rail and whether religious mendicants , fakirs, agricultural laborers and other more or less destitute folk who did not “possess an anna” could be persuaded to pay a train fare rather than prefer to meander without any sense of time.