Howrah oldest railroad station built by East Indian Railway - 1854

present view of Howrah station. see the Howrah bridge built by the British. Kolkata .

 earliest train in India, Indian Imperial Mail( Calcutta- Bombay).(credit:John Lacey.
EIR emblem, British India
India's first railway was introduced by the East India company in 1853 primarily for two reasons: to transport their troops  from one place to another place for military operations in case of wars and to  procure cotton  from the cotton plantations to the nearest places from where they could  transport the produce in bulk  to the nearest harbors for export to the mills in the UK. The cotton supply from the USA and  other countries were not dependable, besides, markup was low. The best way to solve the transport  problem was to construct railroads connecting many commercial centers in India.   Prior to 1850, there were no railway tracks whatsoever in this country. This changed  the scenario with the introduction of first railway in 1853. Railways  grew gradually under the East India company and later by the British Government. Under the colonial rule, little attention was paid to transport of Indian passengers.  Only after freedom in August, 1947 from the British, the passenger sector got special priority to move the Indian masses  across the country. Indian railway has  one of the largest network of tracks and the largest employer  in the world under the control of central government,
Howrah railway station, 1895.
  Among the Indian railroad stations, Howrah Junction railway station is considered as the oldest station and the largest railway complex in India. It was actually owned by EIR (East Indian Railway) which was  founded in January, 1847 by merging the East India Railway Company and the Great Western Bengal Railway Company (GWBRC) into one. An initial survey was undertaken on 7 May, 1850  from Howrah (across the River Hooghly from Calcutta) to Burdwan on the route to the Raniganj coalfields by the EIR under its MD Macdonald Stephenson, George Turnbull, the company’s Chief Engineer, and the engineer Slater. The first train of EIR  was flagged off in August, 1854 to its full capacity from Howrah railway station to Hooghly a distance of 24 miles. It was an historic event. The train had first, second and third class compartments with break van. The first classes on the trains in those days were meant for the Europeans and so were the Deluxe waiting rooms at the railway stations.
Howrah after the construction a new building.
Before EIR took possession of the land for the railways,  Portuguese Missionaries of Dominican Sect -Roman Catholics  owned the land and had an orphanage  and a small church by its side. The orphanage, etc were shifted to Calcutta
Howrah in 1930.Credit: John Lacey.
and the land was used by the railways for maintenance work, train yards, etc.

As there was no landing ghat on the Howrah side, passengers had to go to Armenian ghat on the eastern riverbank to buy train  tickets from its booking counter. The EIR steamer had to take the passengers back and forth from Howrah station. The ticket counter used to issue tickets to all classes of passengers”. The train  fare  included the fare of crossing the river by the ferry to arrive at the provisional rail platform consisting of just a tin shed over the head. This  hardship continued till 1886. To go to Bombay in those days, passengers had to take the train  run by Bengal Nagpur Railway from here to Nagpur  and from there to Bombay by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.

The city of Kolkata has four railway stations. Howrah is one of the four intercity railway stations serving the city of Kolkata, the others being Sealdah Station, Shalimar Station and Kolkata railway station.  Located on the west bank of the Hooghly River, it is linked to Kolkata by Howrah Bridge. It has  23 platforms, to handle incoming and out going trains and is credited with the highest train-handling capacity of any railway station in India. As for passenger volume per day, it is one of the busiest railway stations in India, the others being Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai Central.

Credit goes to one George Turnbull, the Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway Company who submitted the Initial plans for the first Howrah railway station on 17 June 1851. It is of interest to know that George Turnbull wanted a large land with enough waterfront for future growth. As he anticipated rapid future growth and development, he insisted on getting a big chunk of land for the railway operations -  for maintenance, train yards, shunting, extra lines for parking additional bogies, parcel terminals, etc.Though approval came late because of insufficient funds, the work began after October, 1852. To handle increase  in  unexpected  traffic,  another  building  (proposed in 1901) came up  redesigned by one Halsey Ricardo and the  service began on 1 December, 1905. This building later came to be called 'Howrah Station' with 15  functional platforms only.

The station was expanded in 1980s with the construction of additional 8 platforms to handle more passenger and freight traffic, urban trains, etc. The area to the south of the station had parcel services and terminals. Later it included transit passenger facility as well.

There are currently 23 platforms in Howrah Station. Terminal-1: Platforms 1-15 are located in the old complex; serves the local and long-distance trains of Eastern Railway as well as local trains of South Eastern Railway. Terminal-II:  platforms  17-23 are in the new complex (Terminal-2) serves the long distance trains of South Eastern Railway.

By 1929, the railways had  66,000 km (41,000 mi) of tracks covering  most of the districts in the country and had a passenger volume of  whopping 628 million people  and 90 million tons of goods a year. Then the railways capital value was worth roughly  £687 million. The important fact is it was not controlled by the British Government, rather the railways were privately owned by companies with British Board of directors and share holders. Consequently the profits went to their coffers in England. 

The early Indian railways owe their growth and development to the military engineers of the East India Company.  Later their responsibility was handed over to the  civilian technocrats and engineers. Credit goes to British army engineers for the development of, construction and operation of rail transportation in the North West Frontier Province,  a difficult terrain now in Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan - an unstable region presently.


Early locos, EIR.(Image source: Elgin Collection. British Library)
First locomotive, named “Multum in Parvo” ( In Latin, “much in little”), made in England, was used by the East Indian Railway Company in 1854 on its first line from Howrah to Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles. 
The other locomotive (back) made in 1897 was widely used by the EIR and the locomotives used to undergo overhauling in the  Jamalpur Railway Workshop, Eastern India. (see the image above).

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