Q. When did the first train run in India?
The customary answer to this question is 3:35pm on April 16th, 1853, when a train with 14 railway carriages and 400 guests left Bombay’s Bori Bunder for Thane, with a 21-gun salute. It was hauled by three locomotives: Sindh, Sultan, and Sahib. The journey took an hour and fifteen minutes.
That, however, was just the first commercial passenger service in India. In fact, a steam loco, Thomason, had been used for hauling construction material in Roorkee for the Solani viaduct in 1851 (it began working there on 22nd December 1851, to be exact). The Solani viaduct construction was a part of the Ganges Canal project, started in 1845. The viaduct had 15 arches and spanned the 4km-wide Solani valley (about 145km north-east of New Delhi). Earth for the approach embankments was transported along light rail lines about 5 to 10 km long from Piran Kaliyar to Roorkee. Standard gauge wagons were used, built from parts brought over from England, and hauled by men and later horses. In late 1851, the locomotive Thomason (named for the engineer on the project) was assembled on the spot from parts transported from Calcutta. It hauled two wagons at a time, at a speed of about 6km/h. It did not last very long, and after about 9 months India’s first steam locomotive died a spectacular death with a boiler explosion, reportedly to the delight of the construction workers who had viewed it more as a hindrance than help. Hughes’ book states that this was a six-wheeled tank engine, probably a 2-2-2WT built by E. B. Wilson, and of standard gauge. Some details of the wagons and the use of the locomotive are in Sir Proby T Cautley’s “Report on the Ganges Canal Works” (3 volumes, 1860).
“[The railway is] a triumph, to which, in comparison, all our victories in the East seem tame and commonplace. The opening of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway will be remembered by the natives of India when the battlefields of Plassey, Assaye, Meanee, and Goojerat have become landmarks of history.” (The Overland Telegraph and Courier, April 1853)
The second locomotive to arrive in India was Falkland (named for a governor of Bombay), used by the contractors of the GIPR for shunting operations on the first line out of Bombay that was being built. It began work on February 23, 1852. Hughes’ book suggests that this was also built by E. B. Wilson, and was probably a four-wheeled tank engine (0-4-0T?) with dummy crankshaft. It later became GIPR loco #9. A third locomotive, Vulcan, is said to have been used by the GIPR for material hauling and shunting duties in 1852 as well.
There were also eight more locos from Vulcan Foundry imported by GIPR in 1852 and 1853.
On November 18, 1852, a locomotive hauled some coaches on a trial run from Bori Bunder to Thana. This probably counts as the first “real” train to run in India.
Q. What was the Guarantee System? What were Guaranteed Railways?
In the 1840s, when the first proposals for railways in India were being debated in Great Britain, there was intense lobbying in support of these proposals by banks, traders, shipping companies, and others who had a strong interest in seeing railways be formed in India. These supporters prevailed upon the British Parliament to create the Guarantee System, whereby any company that constructed railways in India was guaranteed a certain rate of interest on its capital investment. This guarantee was honoured by the East India Company which then controlled large parts of India. The railways that were formed with such agreements governing them were called guaranteed railways. Typically, the guarantee was for a return of 5% annually, and the right for the railway company to pull out of the venture and get compensation from the government at any time.