train chugged out of the station. Rachna, sitting glued to the window of the compartment,
saw factories, clusters of houses, and traffic snarls, as it crossed the bridge. Then the
city receded from view. Giving way to paddy fields dotted with mango and pipal trees.
There was a water mill and here a farmer briskly sowed seeds. The scenes changed so fast!
Night fell, and a few lights winked here and there. Except when some towns flew past, and
the blazing tubelights took over.
Around 4.00 am Rachna woke up to cries of chai
garam, garam chai! The train had stopped at a station. But even as the tea seller
pushed little earthen cups through the window bars they were moving on. As it became
brighter, a fresh new scene greeted her...hills in the horizon. She saw sal forests
with little plots of land in between, where brinjal and cabbage grew. And she knew she had
reached her destination. She got down and walked past the engine that had hauled her such
a long distance. When did these iron horses begin their journey?, she
The journey begins
It began in the early 19th century. Technology was the buzz word of that era..with
scientists springing life-changing surprises on people. The telegraph and sewing machine.
But no invention had such sweeping impact as the trains.
The first railway was built in Britain, in
1825. It was called the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
People were familiar with steam power, but the
originality of railways was in putting rails and steam power together. And then using this
power to move heavy goods and people over long distances. Railways changed the way human
beings and their goods moved. Drastically.
In 1838, railway tracks covered 805 kilometres in
Britain, but by 1855 there were over 12,875 kilometres. This expansion scaled down the
cost of travel and more people could afford to do so.
Just consider this. A round ticket from London to
Manchester would cost L3 and 10 cents by the stagecoach the most popular form of
travel till then. By 1851, the train fare for the same journey cost only 5 cents. That
meant a far quicker and more comfortable journey on the trains for only a seventh of the
Horses and ships had been the most efficient means of transport, till then. But ships
could not reach the interior and horses could not match the speed and power of this latest
invention. Now thanks to the railways businesses flourished in remote areas. Also, all
commodities became cheaper, because transport time and costs were reduced. Crops were
carried longer distances to distant markets, and businessmen could now entertain clients
from lands faraway. In England, industries such as iron, glass, and stone made large
profits because these materials were used for the rails and to build the stations.
This new technology spread rapidly to other countries
France had railroads by 1829, Germany by 1835. It arrived in Italy by 1839 and in
Spain by 1848. Like Britain, most of these countries had extensive colonies. And it did
not take the colonial administrators long to figure out that such an infrastructure in the
colonies would generate huge profits. It would provide a faster mode of transport for
government officials, and also help mobilise troops over long distances. And most
importantly, finished products ranging from tinned goods, mill cloth, boot polish and
toys, could be sold in remotest corners of the colonies.