1953: The Man Who Reformed India’s Railways Passes Away

February 10, 1953

Narisimha Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who played a pivotal role in modernizing and improving India’s railway network, died in the city of Madras (present-day Chennai) in southern India at the age of 70. Ayyangar had been born in the region in 1882. His longtime public service career started in 1905; the first of those jobs involved revenue administration.

Over the next four decades, Ayyangar moved on to government positions with ever-increasing responsibilities. After India achieved independence from British rule in 1947, Ayyangar was named a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. Ayyangar’s role changed in 1948 when he was appointed minister of railways and transport. He served in the position until 1952, and it was in this capacity that he made some of his most significant and broad-based contributions to his native country.

By 1947, there were 42 different railway systems throughout India. As part of his efforts to make railways as efficient and accessible as possible in newly independent India, Ayyangar focused on better coordinating those disparate systems scattered across the nation. Under his leadership, the systems were combined in 1951 to form a single unit named Indian Railways – one of the world’s largest transportation networks. Ayyangar also regrouped the nation’s railway infrastructure, personnel, and vehicles into the following zones: central, eastern, northern, northeastern, southern, and western.

Ayyangar’s other innovations included the first-ever use of prestressed reinforced concrete for railway construction in India. He also invested considerable time and funds in securing more modern equipment and rolling stock for service in India. In 1950, for example, he ordered more than 200 steam locomotives from manufacturers in Scotland and West Germany.

Ayyangar helped make his nation’s trains and tracks not only better organized and more efficient but also profitable. “Surplus is Indicated for India’s Railways,” read the headline in a 1952 New York Times article. After serving for four years as minister of railways and transport, Ayyangar became Nehru’s minister of defense. Ayyangar served in that position until his death.

For more information on Narisimha Gopalaswami Ayyangar, please check out https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constituent_assembly_members/n_gopalswami_ayyangar​.

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