Rail trail

The battle of broad and narrow gauge lines in India
The first agreement of the Government of India with the East Indian Railway Company and the Great Indian Peninsula Company in 1849 stipulated that railways in India would be built on a four feet, eight and half inches gauge. However, soon there were disagreements with Lord Dalhousie favouring a six-feet gauge and Simms, the consulting engineer favouring five-feet and six-inches gauge. Gauge is the distance between two rails. The debate was finally settled in favour of the five and half feet gauge, called the broad gauge in the 1850s, and the first train that ran from Bombay to Thane ran on broad gauge.

During the time of Lord Mayo, need was felt for a narrower gauge to help railway expansion. After considering various options, in January 1871, the government settled for a gauge of three feet, three inches or a metre. The first metre gauge line opened for traffic between Delhi and Rewari and a short branch line from Garhi Harsaru to Farukhnagar on February 14, 1873. This line has recently been regauged to broad gauge.

In 1836, Khanderao had successfully built a twenty mile line from Dabhoi, an important trading centre in his kingdom, to Miyagam on BB&CI main line on a two feet and six inches gauge. Narrow gauge trains still run on this line. With the success of Dabhoi railway and later of Morbi railway, Bengal Nagpur railway took lead in building lines with two and half feet gauge.

Between 1873 and 1890, all lines with gauge lower than broad gauge were called narrow gauge. It was only after 1890 that all lines with two or two and half feet gauge came to be known as narrow gauge lines.

In the centenary year of Indian Railways in 1953, total length of narrow gauge was 3,600 miles. In 1992, the railways took a decision to stick to just broad gauge. Under this uni-gauge policy, all metre and narrow gauge lines were to be converted to broad gauge. This policy sounded the death knell for metre and narrow gauge railways. Since then, a number of narrow and broad gauge lines have been converted to broad gauge. In next few weeks we will take you through the fascinating world of narrow gauge railways as they exist today. After all, two of these have been declared world heritage sites.

Courtesy National Rail Museum

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