Train culture in Calcutta goes a long way back- and yes, there is a deliberate usage of the word ‘culture’ right after the word ‘train’ because that is the way it is, in a megapolis like Calcutta, much like any other city which has a close connect with locomotives, tracks, engines and pantographs.
So what is the connection between the Railways and Calcutta? Here are some real interesting facts:
• Did you know the formidable Lord Dalhousie was responsible for bringing the railways to India? Of course, the necessity for administering a vast colony was at its core, but the story of one of the world’s largest railway networks began right here in Calcutta.
• The first railway company set up in Bengal and the most famous family of Calcutta, the Tagore family- what is the common connection?
Well, the private East India Carr-Tagore and Company was set up way back in the 1840s, after Dwarkanath Tagore returned from a trip to England. He envisioned the role the railways could play in transporting goods and passengers alike back home.
• The East India Carr Tagore Company was however not permitted to set up a private line, and Dwarkanath Tagore died before he saw his dream realized.
• However, 2 years after his death, the famous East Indian Railway company and his Great Western Bengal Railway Company merged into one and the East Indian Railway or E.I.R. was born in 1847.
• There is an interesting story about how Calcutta missed launching the first rail journey in India- now credited to the first run between Bombay and Thane in 1853.
The locomotives shipped from England, lost their way and reached Australia, while the carriages sank in the sandheads at the mouth of the Hoogly. By the time, the coaches were built and the engines re-routed to Calcutta, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway had already launched the first railway journey in India.
• Services in Calcutta by railway began on 15th August 1854; steam engines ran from Howrah to Hoogly, with halts at Bally, Serampore and Chandannagore.
• Calcutta today has the largest suburban network in the country.
• The Howrah Station is the largest terminus in India, in terms of number of platforms. But it began modestly as a tin shed with 2 platforms in 1854.
• There is another interesting legend about the origins of the Howrah station. Apparently, the area around the station was a swampland. The land was owned by a Portuguese mission which owned a small church and an orphanage. The East India Railway bought this land and built the station. Evidently, Howrah was chosen as the location because the company did not possess the money or the clearance from the government of the day, to cross the river and set up the station.
• Sadly, the famous Zero Mile stone which had been placed at Howrah in the 1850s has been lost during the construction of the new terminus.
• The “FAIRY QUEEN”, recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working locomotive, was used in 1895 for hauling mail trains between Howrah and Raniganj.
• Some more trivia- the East India Railway serviced the western side of the Hoogly, while the Eastern Bengal Railway worked the eastern side of the Hoogly.
• Sealdah was Calcutta’s first terminal station. Set up in 1862, it had the world’s longest covered railway platform of 1000 feet.
Acknowledgements: Souroshankha Maji ,Samit Roychoudhury, Sarthak Chatterjee and the IRFCA.