Prior To Independence
The first proposal for a rail system was initiated in 1832 in Madras, but due to financial constraint it never saw the daylight. The East India Company then decided to assist private entrepreneurs who wished to establish a railway system in India, even if it was not commercially feasible. In 1845, two companies the East Indian Railway Company operating from Calcutta and the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) operating from Bombay were formed. The first train to be commissioned to service was on December 22, 1851 for hauling of construction material in Rourkee. But the first passenger train started operations on April 16, 1853 between Bori Bunder, Bombay and Thana covering a distance of 34 km. It marked the beginning of railways in India. The British government then inspired private entrepreneurs to set up rail link under a plan that would provide them with an assured return of 5% during the initial years of operation. But once the rail link was completed, the ownership would pass on to the government, though the concerned company could operate the rail link.
In 1901 the British constituted the Railway Board. It worked under the department of Commerce and Industry. For the first time after the railway board was constituted the railway started making profit. By 1907 all the railway company was taken over by the Government. By 1920 the network of Indian railway had increased to 61,220 km. Realizing a need for a central management, the government took over the functioning of the railways and detached the finances of the railways from other governmental revenues. Between1920 to 1929 the railways witnessed enormous growth, but were severely crippled afterwards by the great depression and Second World War. By 1946 all rail links were taken over by the government.
In the initial years after Independence, India faced a huge challenge in terms of rail network. It received a dilapidated rail network. Around 40 per cent of the rail link went to Pakistan, a large no of rail lines had to be rerouted through Indian territory. A majority of the rail line available today were laid by the British. Insufficient investment and inefficient management and maintenance have greatly restricted growth in route length. The former Indian princely states had a total of forty two separate railway systems, including thirty two lines amounting to 55,000 km. They were brought under the purview of the Indian Railways.
In 1951 the government mooted the idea of forming zones and a total of six zones were initiated. As the Indian economy developed, railway production took place within the country. By 1985 steam locomotives were phased out. In 1987, computerisation of reservation was carried out starting with Bombay.
Railways Post Reforms
Post reforms in the 1990's the progress of the railways was not satisfactory. The Rakesh Mohan Committee report suggested that the railways needed a complete overhaul if any progress had to be made. Since it was not that easy from a political point of view, it was not given due importance by the inner circle in the railways. But with the appointment of Mr. Lalu Prasad in 2004 as railway minister, things changed dramatically. In the next five years the minister and his team worked out a strategy to bring about a complete turnaround in the working of the railway.
The turnaround was possible due to