The Guaranteed Railways were the original railway companies which, from 1850, began to construct, and then work, the first railways in India.
At first, progress was slow, with the Court of Directors of the East India Company (EIC) evincing their lack of vision in authorising just three "experimental" lines, one for each of the three Presidencies, and totalling all of 192 miles of track. The three companies involved were the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, the East Indian Railway and the Madras Railway and were characterised by each being a British company, registered in London, privately owned and financed, operating under license and guarantee from the (British) Board of Control and the EIC.
In 1853, the Governor-General, Dalhousie, who had already acquired experience of railway regulation as President of the (UK) Board of Trade, recommended that a system of arterial trunk lines be rapidly proceeded with. These would connect the interior of each Presidency with its principal port, and the three Presidencies with each other. The proposed routes were:
- a line from Calcutta to Lahore;
- a line from Bombay to Hindustan or alternatively, a line from Bombay to a point mid-way on the Calcutta-Lahore line;
- a line from Bombay to Madras; and
- a line from Madras to the Malabar Coast.
These proposals were accepted by the Court of Directors which then began to contract with the three existing companies and with further companies for the delivery of Dalhousie's vision.
From 1858, authority passed to the Secretary of State for India but by 1862, the Government of India was beginning to question the generosity shown to British investors at the expense of Indian taxpayers. No new lines were promoted under the terms of the original guarantee and every encouragement was given to private investors to construct railways at their own risk and cost.