This book traces Indian Railways’ history, and the ingenious architecture of the stations

The first railway lines to be built in India were from Bori Bundar to Thane in 1853 and Howrah to Hooghly in 1854. However, the stations for these lines were simple structures. The first major station to be built in India was the Royapuram Station in Madras. Built in the classical revival design in 1856, it hosted the first railway line in South India, connecting Madras to Arcot (now Wallajah Road). The second station to come up in the same city, the Madras Central, was built 1873, in the Romanesque style. It had the distinction of having a single common roof over all its four platforms which has now grown into 12 platforms.

As Delhi had fast become a meeting point for railway lines from different parts of the country, the East Indian Railway from Calcutta, the North Western Line from Lahore, the Great Indian Peninsular line from Agra, the Oudh and Rohilkhand Railway from Moradabad besides others, the design of the Delhi Junction built in the late 1890s incorporated Gothic revival elements like towers and pointed arches. Stations built by princely states like Hyderabad, Alwar, Malerkotla, Rampur, Guna and others were smaller in scale and built mostly in the Indo-Saracenic style. During the 1920s, a few station buildings, like the Nagpur and Trichinopoly stations, adopted modern styles with its design incorporating simple geometric shapes, plain walls, clean and bold lines. As the railways expanded in the country, it not only facilitated travel by land, but also built connections like the train cum ferry connection linking India to Ceylon by building the Pamban bridge in 1913.

Also read: The 37 most beautiful train stations in the world

A train waits at Barog Station while passengers have a break for refreshments. A fine view of the building that houses the refreshment, waiting and retiring rooms, with a multiple ridge and furrow roof design. Postcard: Author’s collection

One of the most fascinating sections of the book is on the development of railway lines in the hill stations. Since the British found the heat in the plains stifling, they moved to the salubrious climes of the hill stations, taking their offices and homes with them. Making the journey in palanquins or on horseback was dangerous and time consuming necessitating a need for the development of railways. But this was not an easy task since the engineers had to figure out a way to lay railway lines through steep slopes and gradients. The mountain railway system in India built in Darjeeling, Ooty, Simla, were given due recognition as UNESCO world heritage sites for their role in opening up the path for the people of the hills and enabling development of these areas.

Also read: World Architecture Day: How Bandra’s Ranwar village holds on to the vestiges of a glorious past

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