The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)
“Chiefly have Britain's engineers graven the mark of British rule upon the face of India. Their works stand forth imperishable monuments to accomplishment. No matter what changes the march of time may produce, the achievements of the railways, irrigation and trunk road systems, will stand forth pre-eminently; and of these three the place of honour must be accorded the railway system,” writes Mr. H. Collett in the following article descriptive of the State Railway System of India and of the quaint customs characteristic of the people of our great sister Dominion.
Following upon the suppression of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the establishment of peace, Britain became directly interested in the economic welfare of a people newly come under her jurisdiction. As a consequence, many new activities sprang into existence: some—under the prevailing conditions of that period—being considered, not only extravagant, but open to ridicule as bordering upon the too paternal. These activities were developed mainly along technical channels entirely apart from the ramifications of the Indian Civil Service. So pronounced was their immediate success, so rapid their development and growth, that, in a very short time indeed, the employment of Europeans and natives by the Technical Department greatly exceeded that of the Civil Service.
Chiefly have Britain's engineers graven the mark of British rule upon the face of India. Their works stand forth imperishable monuments to accomplishment. No matter what changes the march of time may produce, the achievements of the railways, irrigation and trunk roads systems, will stand out preeminently; and of these three the place of honour must be accorded the railway system. The exigencies of wider travel greatly improved and ameliorated the lot of the poorer classes. Remote villages came into touch with an outer world and were no longer compelled to remain self-supporting; were enabled to enter into avenues of commerce hitherto closed to them. Moral changes, too, resulted; caste prejudices were forced to relax giving place to a wider and broader outlook.
As the railways advanced, stupendous difficulties were met with that had to be overcome. Great bridges—some “three decker” as at Cawnpore—had to be thrown across wide rivers such as the Ganges—the Holy Brahminic stream—the Jumna, the fiercely flowing Sone. Calculations had to be made to meet the emergencies against monsoonal flood waters. In bridging the Ganges moral obstacles also had to be diplomatically countered, to conform with a policy of non-interference with religious matters. The suspension bridge across the Sone is an engineering marvel. Slowly, immutably, irresistibly, the “iron ribbands” crept over treacherous swamps and quagmires, across the ever-shifting soil of the Gangetic delta on embankments of wonderful enterprise; negotiated the steep Ghat Ranges by means of spidery aqueducts and tortuous zigzags.
To-day India has a greater network of railways than any other portion of the British Empire; in fact, if a world comparison were made, she is third on the list, behind only Germany and Russia. On a “population basis” the teeming millions of India rank her low indeed. In round figures she has over 40,000 miles of railroad. Over this system about four hundred million of passengers are transported yearly; and about one hundred million tons is freighted. Cost of travel is remarkably low, and that of freightage correspondingly moderate. Travelling by “third class” costs about a shilling for sixty miles; yet, in spite of these charges, the Indian Railways, as a whole, produce enormous surplus profits.