Early Railway Experiments and Proposals

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Early Railway Experiments and Proposals - Summary

Research has been undertaken and verified by consulting original documents, the exact references can be found on each individual page. The research is ongoing and new information will be added in due course. Should any reader be able to add to the information on early railways in India we would be delighted to hear from you. Please e-mail the Fibis Membership Secretary at [email protected] asking your enquiry to be forwarded to Michael Pearce PEA-2292 who is co-ordinating the Railway Project and Steve Moore MOO-4472 undertaking the research at the British Library.

See individual pages for References and full details.


The first record that has been found for a proposal of a railway in India is the Cauvery-Pattam to Caroor Railway proposal in 1831. This was followed by a series of experiments and proposals as can be seen in the listing below. The first railway to be in service was the Red Hill Railway(Railroad) in 1837.

The first commercial public railway opened in 1853 with the Great Indian Peninsula Railway(GIPR) from Bombay; followed by the East Indian Railway(EIR) a year later from Howrah serving Calcutta. Madras was the first Presidency to propose various lines and conduct experiment and trials but it was only in 1856 that Madras Railway(MR) opened its first section of line.

Certain railways that opened after the start of the main railways are included in this list where they are of particular interest .

Early Experiments and Proposals in Chronological Order

Cauvery-Pattam to Caroor Railway Proposal, 1831-32 - see separate page for details

The first proposal for railways in India was in the Madras Presidency in 1831-32 with a proposal to construct a line of 150 miles(240km) along the embankment of the river Cauvery from Cauvery-Pattam to Caroor. The scheme was for laying flat parallel rails on a portion of improved road, and evidently the vehicles were to be drawn by animals alone. However the proposal was not adopted.

Integrated Transport System Proposal, 1836 - see separate page for details

In 1836 Captain Arthur Thomas Cotton of the Madras Engineers advocated in a report the desirability of railways in India and the superiority over other means of communication including canals. He conceived for the first time a line connecting Madras with Bombay by a route of about 862 miles(1380km) via Wallajahnagore (now known as Walajapet on the left bank of the Palar River, facing Arcot ), Nellore, Bangalore, Bellary and Poona. It is noted that after a very long delay and prolonged discussion the alignment then proposed was ultimately approved. Nearly quarter of a century elapsed between 1831 and 1856 when the first section of line opened in the Madras Presidency.

Porto Novo Locomotive Experiments, 1836-8 - see separate page for details

Captain Arthur Thomas Cotton of the Madras Engineers started experiments with steam engines in the middle of the 1830’s. He first took measurements from a static steam engine which was used to break rocks at the anicut (irrigation weir) being built across the Coleroon River about 35 miles down river from Trichinopoly. With this information they arranged further experiments at the Port Novo Iron Works. On the 5th May 1838 they started and by 31st May they had the workings of a locomotive. This unit never ran on rails but was used to power a lathe. It was calculated that a locomotive would run up to 22.5 mph (35Km/h). These experiments were important in the developing the Red Hill Railway(Railroad) - see below.

St Thomas Mount Tramway Proposal, 1836 - see separate page for details

In 1936 a submission was made from the Government in Madras to the Directors of East India Company in London concerning two projects. One was the project to build a tramway for carrying road materials from Mount St Thomas. No costing was submitted and the Madras Gazette of the 4th May 1836 had enquired why this project was taking place. The reply dated 19th September 1838 dismissed the proposal as a quotation was not attached and as there was no savings to be made. The scheme was discounted out of hand.

Red Hill Railway (Railroad) 1836-7 - see separate page for details

In 1835, a short railway line intended to carry road building materials was suggested. An experimental track was laid near the Chintadrapettah bridge under the guidance of Captain Cotton of the Madras Engineers. Construction on this line began in 1836, was opened in 1837 using horses and became to known as Red Hill Railway. Despite a few initial troubles, the line became operational in the same year. Trials with steam locomotion were undertaken and also experiments using sails to provide power. A proposal to utilise the railway for passenger traffic was turned down. The project was abandoned in 1841.

Madras-Walajapet Railroad Proposal, 1837 - see separate page for details

As a result of the developments taking place concerning the Red Hill Railway(Railroad) mentioned above, the Department of Public Works of the Government of Madras considered the construction of a railway from Madras to Walajapet. It was proposed that a small sum be allocated for experiments previous to ‘construction at great expense on the railroad from Madras to Wallijaingger’ (Walajapet). It is not known if any experiments occurred. In the event the Madras Railway Company opened the line from Veyasarpaudy (2.1 miles/3.4km from Madras City) to Walajah Road (Arcot) on 1 July 1856.

Adyar River Tramway Proposal, 1842-43 - see separate page for details

In 1842 a proposal was put forward to provide a stone tramway to connect south Madras to the outlying districts of Santhome and Mylapore. A bridge carrying over the Adyar River named the Elphinstone Bridge had been constructed about 1840 during the time of Lord Elphinstone, who was governor of Madras from 1837 to 1842. The proposal was to construct a stone tramway on the existing bridge, presumably to convey carts pulled by bullock and extended over existing roads. A short length was constructed but in 1843 the experiment was abandoned.

Godavri Dam Construction Railway, 1845 - see separate page for details

The railway was built for transporting materials for the construction of the Dowlaisweram Anicut at Rajahmundry (which is now located in Andhra Pradesh). This was a dam was built over the Godavari River as part of the scheme to irrigate the Godavari delta around 1845.Work on the project was started in 1845 under the direction of Captain A Cotton and as far as can be ascertained the railway was in use from the start of the project. The project was completed in 1852 and the railway was closed down.

East India Company - Early Proposals for Railways, 1845 - see separate page for details

In May 1845 the East India Company(EIC) authorised the experiment of two sections of railway.East Indian Railway Company and the Great Western Bengal Railway Company had amalgamated and were awarded the contract for the experimental lines from Calcutta to Delhi via Mirzapore(Mirzapur).

Great Trunk Railway from Calcutta, 1845-46 - see separate page for details

During 1845 and 1846 significant discussions, reports and papers were being prepared and circulated as proposed in the minutes of the Honourable the Court of Directors of the East India Company(EIC), of the 7th May, 1845. A Report was made from a personal examination of the country, upon the direction of a line to be recommended for a railroad from Calcutta to Mirzapore(Mirzapur) and the North West Provinces. This comprehensive Report with other papers, letters and observations has been transcribed in full by Fibis - as it contains significant details and analysis - see separate page for details. The Report also contains comments on the 'Experimental Line', i845, mentioned above - see separate page for details

Solani River Aquaduct Construction Railway, 1846 - see separate page for details

One of India's first railways opened in 1846 between Roorkee and to Mahewar. It was constructed to convey materials for a major irrrigation project construction of the Solani River Aquaduct crossing the River Ganges and between Roorkee and to Mahewar. Iinitially the ballast trucks were moved by animal/human power; the first reference to the use of a steam locomotive is 1852.

Agra Tramway, <1846 - see separate page for details

This was an experimental stone paved tramway constructed before 1846 in Agra, using animals pulling carts that ran on the stone sets and operating over a distance of 6250 feet (1.9 km) from near the eastern gate of Government House.

Dowlaiswaram Anicut Railroad, Rajahmundry, 1846- see separate page for details

A railroad constructed to transport dam building materials over the Godavry River. Constructed 1846 as part of Captain Arthur Thomas Cotton’s irrigation scheme. Wagons hauled by ponies or men. Project completed 1852 and assumed railway dismantled.

Masulipatam and Hyderabad Tramway/Light Railway/Tramway Proposal 1854-55 - see separate page for details

There was a proposal in 1854-55 to provide a light railway or tramway between Masulipatam and Hyderabad, a distance of 115 miles (185km). Experiments were carried out and the result of them is unclear, but the result was that Tramway/Light Railway was not built. The construction was not sanctioned.

Cuddalore and Salem Tramway/Light Railway Proposal, 1854-55 - see separate page for details

There was a proposal in 1854-55 to provide a light railway or tramway between Cuddalore and Salem, a distance of 124 miles (200km). Experiments were carried out and the result of them is unclear, but the result was that Tramway/Light Railway was not built. The construction was not sanctioned.

Oude Province Tramway and Railway Proposal, 1855-57- see separate page for details

The India Office Records IOR/E/4/844 p.859 gives proposals for tramways and railways in Oude Province. There is no evidence these proposals were specifically acxted upon.

Madras Tramway Proposals, 1857 - see separate page for details

The India Office Records IOR/E/4/843 p1239 in a letter dated 29th April 1857 it was suggested that experiments for using tramways instead of common roads were being carried out in the Madras Territories and may be used in the Punjab. There is no evidence that this proposal were adopted.

Dharwar Light Railway/River link to Karwar Proposal, 1858 - see separate page for details

This proposal was put forward by Colonel Cotton of the Madras Engineers in 1858 as a means of transporting the large volumes of cotton from Dharwar, about 75 miles(120km) inland to a port at Karwar at the mouth of the River Kali, from where the cotton would be pressed and shipped directly to England. The trains would be gravity driven with 2 brakemen; the trucks would be returned to the top using bullocks. An experiment was conducted with ¾ inch bars welded throughout with no joins and worked with wagons with double flanges with the tyres sloped to allow the wagon to running round a very sharp curve freely. The proposal was not adopted.

Beitkal Harbour to Hyderabad Railway Proposal, 1858 - see separate page for details

A proposal to construct a railway from the Harbour of Beitkul, to create Karwar Port in Sedashighur Bay to Hyderabad, a distance of 400 miles(640km) was put to Colonel Cotton in 1858. His conclusion was that this investment was unjustified and that this would place financial restrictions on the Madras Presidency. The end result was that the proposal was dropped and Karwar was not connected by rail to the interior, although a small port was constructed.