Military Railway Committee

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Military Railway Committee

The first evidence of formal coordination between the various railway companies and the Military was the proposal to establish ‘Military Railway Committee’ in 1875.

Towards the end of 1875, a committee was appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Napier of Magdala, of which Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Reed K.C.B., was the president, to consider how railways can be made most available for military use in India.
The composition of the Committee has not been established.
The only delegate identified has been Henry Peveril Le Mesurier, Agent of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway(GIPR)

Broad Gauge Experiments

The first two experiments took place in 1876 using rolling stock from the Scinde, Punjaub & Delhi Railway(SP&DR) and the experiments described were confined to the 5' 6” Broad Gauge (BG, as no wagons and locomotives of the Metre Gauge (MG) were available [1].

Experiment 1 Para 48

  • Preliminary experiments were made at Delhi under Sir Charles Reed's directions with the vehicles of the Sindh, Punjab, and Delhi Railway. A squadron of the 10th Hussars, and 123 horses, including officers' chargers, 68 grass-cutters ponies, with baggage, camp equipage, ammunition doolies, etc., fully equipped for field service, were embarked in high-sided wagons, and the train ready to start in 39 minutes. The unloading and fixing of horse ramps took 2½ minutes and dismantling and re-loading ramps 1½ minutes. The baggage was brought alongside covered goods wagons on 80 camels, the weight being 674 maunds. By heaping up the baggage from the line of rail to the side doors of the wagons, a ramp was thus formed, and the whole, including camp equipage, etc., was loaded in 27 minutes, with the aid of a working party of 25 infantry. Orders were then given to move the train across the Jumna. When the train was pulled up, the wagons were disconnected, ramps fixed at either end, and the horses and men were out and ranged along the railway bank in 28 minutes. Re-embarking was accomplished in 32 minutes and the dis-embarkation, on the return of the train to Delhi, in 27 minutes.

Experiment 2 Para 49

  • Another experiment was made with an Armstrong battery. The whole battery, consisting of three 40-pounder Armstrong guns, two 8-inch and two 5½ inch mortars, with seven wagons, two store carts, 134 bullocks, including camp equipage, baggage, etc., fully equipped for active service, were embarked and ready to move in 40 minutes. The train reached Ghazeeabad (about ten miles distant) safely without a single mishap, and proving satisfactorily that the floors, springs, and bolts of the Sindh, Punjab, and Delhi Railway trucks were fully equal to this severe. The guns and bullocks were disembarked, the first gun being brought into action by the side of the line in eight minutes, the second in 13 minutes, and the third in 24. These three guns were reloaded in 12 minutes, showing thereby what could be done with a little practice. The ramps and girders designed by Sir Charles Reed for the end-loading system were generally approved of. This system is strongly advocated by Sir Charles Reed, and there appears to have been a general concurrence of opinion that it is very well adapted for military purposes. The only doubt was whether wagons so constructed would be equally suitable for their ordinary commercial purposes, and the railway members of the Committee, with exception of Mr. Henry P. Le Mesurier, C.S.I., the Agent of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, made objections to the proposed alteration in the rolling stock, on ground that the vehicle would be weakened and rendered less serviceable. This difficulty, however, will probably be got over; but as the cost would be considerable, the change, if applied generally, should be gradually proceeded with.

Metre Gauge Experiments

The previous account was given of certain experiments been made on the 5 ft. 6 in. Broad Gauge (BG) railways, to ascertain how railways can be made most available for military use in India [2]

Experiment 3 Para 29

  • In January last a Committee, of which Brigadier-General H. R. Browne was President, was appointed by the Government of India to report on the military capabilities of the Metre Gauge (MG) railways. The Committee met at Agra and experiments with Metre Gauge vehicles were carried out. They found that a first class passenger carriage would convey nine officers seated or four lying; a second class, 18 officers or men seated or 12 lying down; a third class, 24 European or Native soldiers, in marching order, or 32 followers; that covered goods cattle wagons would accommodate 12 British or Native soldiers in marching with kits, or eight British with kits and one E. P. tent, or nine sepoys with kits and half-company pal; that either of these wagons would convey 80 kits of British or Native soldiers packed in suleetahs in the usual way, or eight tents E, P. pattern, kettles, and equipment complete (with the exception of the poles, which must be lashed on the roof or placed on an open truck), or 16 sepoy's pals complete. The ordinary horse-boxes or cattle wagons admitted, they found, two horses with ease and a third on emergency, if the animals are quiet and properly attended to. In the open trucks the accommodation would be the same, if the horses are placed longitudinally, but if standing transversely four may be embarked in the same wagon. This arrangement, however, is not free from risk of accident, in consequence of the heads of the animals protruding beyond the sides. A new class of wagon of increased length, suitable for four horses, is being introduced. Bullocks, they observe, are steadier and less liable to frights than horses, and may therefore be more safely conveyed in the goods wagons. Three large or four small draught bullocks may be placed in a covered goods wagon, and four to six in open wagons 13 ft. 6 in. in length, fitted with temporary side rails.

Question Para 30

  • In reply to the question, " Can a siege train be conveyed? " the Committee say, " There is no difficulty in conveying the heaviest ordnance in use in Indian siege trains on the Metre Gauge, or in loading and unloading it from ordinary station platforms, and at all places where break of Gauge occurs, heavy ordnance may be transferred from the wagons of one line to those of another with great facility, by using the travelling or fixed cranes belonging to the railway, the rate of transfer, with a single crane, averaging 15 to 20 minutes for each heavy gun, with its carriage and limber." With reference to the conveyance of a heavy field battery (40-pounder Armstrong, etc.), they are of opinion that no difficulty would occur in its transport, and that it would require 136 vehicles, consisting of 1 first class carriage, 16 third class, 78 horse or cattle trucks, 33 low-sided trucks, 7 covered goods wagons, and 1 ammunition van.

Gauge Response Para 31

  • These opinions are the result of careful experiments, which were conducted necessary in under the directions of the Committee. In order to make the rolling stock on the railways as available as possible for military purposes, certain alterations will be necessary, both in the 5 ft. 6 in. and the Metre Gauge wagons, and these can be carried out by degrees as repairs and renewals are required, without detriment to the vehicle as a conveyance for merchandise. The expense - estimated at 150,000/. would be too large to be incurred at once. The expediency of considering the suitability of the railway permanent way and stock for military stores and ordnance is exemplified by the break down which has occurred on the Roumanian railways, in consequence of the heavy pressure of the war traffic.

Military Transportant Report 1978
The next record found concerning the Military Committe and their activities was in 1978 [3]

  • The rapid and steady movement of troops and supplies in time of war and internal commotion is an important element of strength, whether in the administration of internal or external affairs, and we have seen the value of a railway system Afghan railway to during the recent advance of the army into Afghanistan. The greater the distance, the more important are railways as military communications. It has been a subject of regret with the authorities, during the late campaign, that the line did not more nearly approach the north-west frontier than Jhelum, which is 173 miles from Peshawar. As an example of what was done, I may mention that arrangements were made by the Sind, Punjab and Delhi Railway Company for the daily conveyance in 24 hours from Delhi to Lahore (a distance of 348 miles) of two batteries of Artillery, two regiments of European Infantry, 1b of Native Infantry, and one regiment of Native Cavalry, being at the rate of about 4,000 men of all arms in these proportions. Between Lahore and Mooltan, the number of trains admitted of the daily movement of about. 3,000 troops in similar proportions. The average speed was 20 miles an hour, with 35 vehicles per train. By these means 146,000 troops and followers (four-fifths probably consisting of the latter); 15,197 horses, ponies, and mules ; 6,227 bullocks; 218 camels; 138 guns and 53,780 tons of Commissariat, Ordnance, and Military stores were transported in 184 special trains.

Railway Conference

A ‘Railway Conference’ was proposed in 1876, to coordinate the activities and agree standards between the various Railway Companies. However due to the famines of 1876-77 and 1877-78 and the political issues at that time, the first ‘Railway Conference’ was finally held in February 1879 - see separate page.

This marked the end of the ‘Military Railway Committee’


  1. British Library ‘India Office Records L/PARL/2/100 “Railways in India for the year 1875-76” by Juland Danvers , Government Director of the Indian Railways’- presented to both Houses of Parliament’ by HM Command. Extract from Annual Report 1875-76; Paras 48-49
  2. British Library ‘India Office Records L/PARL/2/100 “Railways in India for the year 1876-77” by Juland Danvers , Government Director of the Indian oailways’-– presented to both Houses of Parliament’ by HM Command. Extract from Annual Report 1876-77; Para 29-30, pages 7,8
  3. British Library ‘India Office Records L/PARL/2/100 “Railways in India for the year 1878-79” by Juland Danvers , Government Director of the Indian Railways’- presented to both Houses of Parliament’ by HM Command. Extract from Annual Report 1878-79; Para 22