The railways in India were subject to constant changes of ownership, amalgamations and adjustments over the years. The categorisation below is intended to be comprehensive but not exhaustive.
- For details of individual railways, tramways, railway constructions known to have operated in British India - click Railways index, 1845-1947
- For information on notable railway people who made signicant contributions in the development of the Railways in British India - click Railway People
The early railway companies were UK companies operating in India. Later the British Government of India (GOI) owned the majority and either managed them directly or leased them back to private management. From circa 1925 the GOI began to call in the leases, operating the services directly. By 1945, most railways were both owned and managed by the GOI.
- Guaranteed Railways included those railway companies, formed by 1859, to which the East India Company, later the GOI, guaranteed a fixed return on capital.
- Private Railways (those built without a guarantee) were few in number - only two were formed in the period 1850-1866 and both these were re-constituted by 1870.
- State Railways were those either built and run directly by the GOI, or those where the GOI exercised its right to assume ownership (which it did gradually with all the original guaranteed railways from 1879 until 1907), or those whose promoters chose to surrender the workings to the GOI (and, in the cse of the guaranteed companies, received their capital back). From 1907, the word State was usually dropped from the name of railways in GOI ownership.
- Assisted Railways were those whose construction was assisted by the GOI, either by guaranteed return or subsidy or in some other material way.
- Indian States Railways were those built or promoted, often on similar terms to those above, by the various Princely States.
- Foreign Railways. Three small railways were built to serve foreign enclaves. These were managed by British companies but ownership of the lines could never vest in the GOI.
For a full list of railways known to have operated in British India, follow the link below.
In 1947, the year of Independence, there were 42 operational railway systems in what had been British India but the most immediate practical consideration of partition was the division of several systems to form what then became Indian Railways and Pakistan Railways; later still, the latter was to suffer further upheaval on the formation of Bangladesh Railway.
Records and employment
It is important to bear in mind that railway staff records created in India before 1947 remain in India, as do the records of railways built, owned or operated by the Indian Princely States. The records that survive today in the collections held at the British Library (and elsewhere) do so because they were originally created in the UK.
Europeans employed on State Railways were usually on the strength of the Public Works Department
For information about the records of railway staff held at the British Library, follow this link.
Also see L/F/10 Records of Service 1702-1928
Collections of railway records are generally by railway company so it is a good idea to know which railway company an ancestor worked for. In addition, very few collections of railway records are indexed so it is also a good idea to know the trade or employment followed on the railway as occupations were often grouped together when published in staff lists and registers. Even in Thacker's, this will be found to be the case in the individual railway company entries. More information about railway occupations can be found in Fibiwiki article railway worker.
Anglo-Indians became closely identified with the running of the railways. By 1905, forming less than ½% of India's total population, they provided 2% of railway employees. Eventually more than 50% of all Anglo-Indian families came to be supported by railway employment either directly or as a dependant of a railway employee.
- An Index and Description of Employment Contracts issued to experienced UK Railwaymen who were selected to work for various Indian RailwaysFibis database
- "The Indian Railways and a Dynasty of Pearces" by Michael Feilden Pearce, FIBIS Journal Number 25 (Spring 2011) pages 13-21. "Part 2. The Viceregal Carriages" FIBIS Journal Number 27 (Spring 2012), pages 30-36
Available to FIBIS members only
- Recorded FIBIS Lectures available to members in FIBIS Social Network
- The Railways of India by Hugh Wilding. 2009 (Presentation notes included)
- Difficult Engineering and Determined Engineers' by Ian Kerr 2014. This describes the context and construction of the Bhor Ghat Railway incline, Western India c.1856 - c.1863.
- The Railways of Burma – Their Development and their Personnel” by Dr. Mike Charney 2015
- Hugh Wilding, Research sources for Indian Railways, 1845-1947, FIBIS Fact File No 4 (London: FIBIS, 2009). ISBN 978-0-9547-116-5-8. This title can be ordered directly from the FIBIS Shop
- Hyde Clarke, Colonization, Defence, and Railways in our Indian Empire (London: John Weale, 1857).
- J N Westwood, Railways of India (Newton Abbot: David & Charles Ltd, 1974) [out of print; a general history of the railways of India from pre 1840 to the 1970s].
- Ian J Kerr, Building the Railways of the Raj 1850-1900 (Delhi; Oxford: OUP, 1995) [out of print; a detailed, academic examination with full bibliography].
- Ian J Kerr, Engines of Change : the Railroads that made India (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2007) [links to a Google Books preview limited to the first 35 pages].
- Laura Bear, Lines of the Nation (New York: Columbia, 2007) [essential but uncomfortable reading for Anglo-Indians with railway roots]. A review by Robyn Andrews
- The Imperial Gazetteer of India : New edition . . . in Council Vol 1, 1909 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908-1931).
- "About Indian Railways " indianrailways.gov.in
- The Indian Railways Fan Club Train spotters site about Indian Railways.
- Indian/South-Asian Industrial Locos: Military Trains by Simon Darvill
- PakistanRail Train spotters site about Pakistan Railways.
- "Modern transport in India" Mike's Railway History.
- Railways of the Raj A lively site featuring titbits from railway life in British India.
- FIBIS List of Railway videos on YouTube
- ""Fire-Carriages" of the Raj: The Indian Railway and its Rapid Development in British India" by Amit K. Sharma 2010 Essays In History. Annual Journal of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia
- Imperial Indian Mail [and other trains] trains-worldexpresses.com
- "Railway Travel in the Raj" by Kenneth Hugh Staynor. indiaofthepast.org. The author travelled by trains in India from the 1930s to 1951.
Historical books online
- Railways in India, by an engineer 1847 Google Books
- Indian railways and their probable results by Sir William Patrick Andrew 1848 Google Books
- Madras: Report of the Railway Department 1853 Google Books
- Colonization, defence, and railways in our Indian empire by Hyde Clarke 1857 Google Books
- Discussion of the Question of Railways or Waterways for India 1860 Google Books
- Juland Danvers, Report to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India, compilation of three reports, viz to end of 1859; at June 1877; and for 1877-1878 [each report is separately numbered]. Online at Google Books.
- Report to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India for the year 1878-79 by Juland Danvers 1879 Archive.org
- Law of Indian Railways and Common Carriers by Walter Gordon Macpherson 1880 Archive.org
- Indian Railways by Sir William P.Andrew, C.I.E. 1884 4th Edition Archive.org
- Administration Report On The Railways In India. pub. 1898, Part. 2 (1899-1900) pub.1900, pub. 1901, 1901, pub. 1902, pub.1906, pub.1907.
- "India, Egypt and the Colonies" Bradshaw's Railway Manual, Shareholder's Guide, and Official Directory 1905 Archive.org
- Summary Of The Administration Of The Earl Of Minto Viceroy And Governor Of India In The Railway Department Nov 1905- July 1910 1910 Pdf download, Digital Library of India.
- Indian Railways: Their Historical, Financial and Administrative Aspects by Chandrika Prasada Tiwari 1921 Archive.org
- Indian Railways Rates and Regulation by N.B. Mehta 1927 Archive.org
- Universal Directory of Railway Officials and Year Book 1939-1940 has a section on India, commencing digital page 67, including names of the senior officials of the various railways. This book is available to read online on the Digital Library of India, in TIFF format, or as a pdf download.
- Railway Department History of Indian Railways 1951. Pdf download, Digital Library of India.
- Railways In Modern India by Lan (Ian?) Kerr 1957. Pdf download, Digital Library of India.
Imperial Gazetteer of India Vol 26 Atlas 1909
- Railways Sectional Map 1 (Northwest)
- Railways Sectional Map 2 (Northeast)
- Railways Sectional Map 3 (South)
- A review by Robyn Andrews The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies Volume 11, Number 1, 2011.