The Great Indian Peninsula Railway was a predecessor of the Central Railway, whose headquarters was at the Boree Bunder in Mumbai (later, the Victoria Terminus and presently the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). The Great Indian Peninsula Railway was incorporated on August 1, 1849 by an act of the British Parliament. It had a share capital of 50,000 pounds.
On August 17, 1849 it entered into a formal contract with the East India Company for the construction and operation of an experimental line, 56 km long, to form part of a trunk line connecting Bombay with Khandesh and Berar and generally with the other presidencies of India. The Court of Directors of the East India Company appointed James John Berkeley as Chief Resident Engineer and C. B. Kar and R. W. Graham as his assistants. It was India's ever first railway, the original 21 mile (33.8 km) section opening in 1853, between Bombay (Mumbai) and Tannah (Thane). On July 1, 1925 its management was taken over by the Government. On November 5, 1951 it was incorporated into the Central Railway
History of Railways is well summarized by Dr Mariam Dossall in her book “Imperial designs and Indian Realities” extracts of which are as follows :
“…The rationale for the development of railways, as with every other public works project, was dual. The need for ‘political lines’, or railways which would connect politically disturbed areas with military and administrative centres was nearly as great as that for gaining access to raw materials and obtaining markets for British goods. In Britain, the railways had proved to be amongst the most lucrative areas of investment in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Taking their cue from Britain, leading merchants and financiers of Bombay formed the' Inland Railway Association' in April 1845.The railways were intended to provide an improved system of transport and communications by which the town could obtain, increasing resources and exercise greater control over its hinterland. Railways and shipping constituted the two out- stretched arms of the metropolis. While one reached deeper into the hinterland, the other linked Bombay more effectively to Britain and the rest of the world. Between 1845 and 1875 important decisions concerning the construction of the Indian railways were taken”.
Dr Dossal further describes the planning of railways and the impact on trade as:
“...As soon as surveys were undertaken, technical advisers had to decide, as in all developmental projects, whether the work could best be done by the East India Company directly, contracted out, or some third alternative devised which combined both contracting out with government supervision and control. The setting up of the railways in Western India received high priority during Lord Elphinstone's administration…. …The logic of railway building required that a comprehensive plan be worked out, which would link the main producing centres with the port cities. Trunk lines were to be supported by feeders or branch lines to develop the railway network and were to be laid in areas where they could tap the most extensive and profitable of resources. .. In 1862, with administrative reorganization and the arrival of Bartle Frere as the new governor, railway matters were once again seriously considered.
Frere's imperial vision made him view railway development in an all-India context. He advocated that the Madras Railway network extend through Mysore and meet the Sadashivgarh line. This would 'give a vast impetus to both cotton and coffee trade, and pay better than any line of equal length in South India'. To meet the great demand for cotton in England, Governor Frere proposed that branch lines be contracted out to various tramway companies to link the cotton districts. If it was made clear in the contract that the company would be paid on the completion of a section, costs could be kept in check and a railway line would prove to be no more expensive than a good metalled road.
Roads and railway were complementary and both equally necessary. Without a good connecting road the produce and people would not be able to easily reach a railway station from the surrounding countryside. For the full economic potential of the presidency and the country to be utilized, railways and a road network had to be developed simultaneously. Road building would receive considerable impetus if funds were obtained from local tolls and ferry funds instead of relying on imperial funds alone.
Frere believed that the effect of the railways on the whole country had been' marvelous', and had substantially promoted commerce and agriculture in the country. For instance, Indian merchants were able to travel 276 miles a day, reach Bombay, conduct their business transactions and return to Sholapur within two days. This increased mobility was admitted by Indian merchants to be of 'infinite value' to commerce',
On 21 April 1863 the GIP Railway over the Bhor Ghat incline was opened to traffic. Large numbers of visitors from Poona and Bombay went to witness the historic event as the railway had the longest and highest locomotive lift in the world. Due recognition was given on the occasion to the Work of Chief Engineer J. Berkeley who had designed and executed most of the works on the incline.
Incorporated as a company in 1845, with its head office in London, the Great Indian Peninsula railway was initially proposed for a length of 1300 miles, to connect Bombay with the interior of the Indian peninsula and to a major port on the east coast. It was meant for the purpose of increasing the export of cotton, silk, opium, sugar and spices. The management committee consisted of 25 British men, including officials of the East India company and banks in London, most of whom resided in Britain and some who had resided in India. The original 25 person board consisted of people such as John Stuart Wortley and W.J Hamilton (both M.P.s from Britain who became the company's chairman and Deputy chairman), Frederick Ayrton (ex-East India Company), Cavalrymen such as Major Clayton and Major-General Briggs, Bombay residents John Graham and Col. Dickenson, bankers such as John Harvey (Commercial Bank of London) and S. Jervis (Director of the London and County Bank, Lombard Street), and Directors of other railway companies such as Richard Paterson (Chairman of the Northern and Eastern Railway Company) and Melvil Wilson (Director of the Alliance Assurance Office).
It was originally meant to connect the towns of Poonah (Pune), Nassuek (Nashik), Aurungabad (Aurangabad), Ahmednuggur (Ahmednagar), Sholapoor (Solapur), Nagpur, Oomrawutty (probably Amravati), and Hyderabad.
On April 16, 1853 at 3:35 pm, the first passenger train of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway left Boree Bunder station in Bombay (present day Mumbai) for Tannah (present day Thane). The train took fifty-seven minutes to reach Tannah. It covered a distance of 21 miles (33.8 km). Three locomotives named Sultan, Sindh and Sahib pulled the 14 carriages carrying 400 passengers on board. The railway bridge over Thane creek, first in India, was completed in 1854.
The portion of the line from Tannah to Callian (present day Kalyan) was opened on May 1, 1854. the construction of this portion was difficult as it involved a two-line viaduct over the estuary and two tunnels. On May 12, 1856 the line was extended to Campoolie (present day Khopoli) via Padusdhurree (present day Palasdhari) and on June 14, 1858 Khandala-Poonah (present day Pune) section was opened to traffic. The Padusdhurree-Khandala section involved the difficult crossing of the Bhore Ghat (present day Bhor Ghat) and it took another five years for completion. During this period, the 21 km gap was covered by palanquin, pony or cart through the village of Campoolie. The Kassarah (present day Kasara) line was opened on January 1, 1861 and the steep Thull ghat (present day Thal Ghat) section up to Egutpoora (present day Igatpuri) was opened on January 1, 1865 and thus completed the crossing of the Sahyadri.