Today in Transportation History – 1854: The First Passenger Railway Train in Eastern India

The first passenger railway train in eastern India (at the time under the rule of the British East India Company) steamed out of the present-day city of Howrah at 8:30 a.m. for the city of Hooghly. The trip took a total of 91 minutes.

This segment of the East Indian Railway Company – ultimately known as only the East Indian Railway – covered approximately 24 miles. The segment was officially opened about 16 months after India’s first passenger train, in the service of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, had made its inaugural run between the cities of Bombay (present-day Mumbai) and Tannah (now called Thane) in the western region of the subcontinent.

The Company’s first train to run between Howrah and Hooghly included three first-class and two second-class coaches as well as three trucks for third-class passengers. All of these cars had been built there in India. This was because the ship transporting the original cars from England had sunk en route to India. The train’s locomotive was successfully imported to India, but only after undergoing its own unique set of challenges; due to a navigational error, the ship carrying the locomotive initially sailed to Australia instead and had to be redirected to India. The train was filled to capacity for the inaugural trip from Howrah to Hooghly, with more than 3,000 people having applied for the honor of riding in the first passenger train to travel in eastern India.

Scottish-born George Turnbull was the chief engineer responsible for the construction of the East Indian Railway Company line. His efforts on behalf of the Company and other railways in that part of the world earned him acclaim as the First Railway Engineer of India.

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