1902 Encyclopedia > India > Railways, Roads, River Navigation, Canals

(Part 9)


Internal Communication - Indian Railways, Roads, River Navigation, Canals

Railways.—The existing system of railway communication in India dates from the administration of Lord Dalhousie, who brought to bear upon this question an experience gained at the Board of Trade when railway speculation in England was at its height. The first Indian line was projected in 1843 by Sir Macdonald Stephenson, who was afterwards active in forming the East India Railway Company ; but that premature scheme was blighted by the financial panic that followed soon afterwards in England. Bombay, the city that has most benefited by railway enterprise, saw the first sod turned in 1850, and the first line of 3 miles to Tháná (Tanna) opened in 1853. The elaborate minute drawn up by Lord Dalhousie in the latter year still faithfully represents the railway map of India at the present day, though modified in detail by Lord Mayo’s reform of 1869. Lord Dalhousie’s scheme consisted of a few trunk lines, traversing the length and breath of the peninsula, and connecting all the great cities and military cantonments. These trunk lines were to be constructed by private companies, to whom Government should guarantee a minimum of 5 per cent. interest on their capital expended, and from whom it should demand in return a certain measure of subordination. The system thus sketched out was promptly carried into execution, and by 1871 Bombay was put into direct railway communication with the sister presidencies of Calcutta and Madras. The task Lord Mayo had to undertake was the development of traffic by means of feeders which should tap the districts of production and thus open up the entire country. The means he determined to adopt was the construction of minor lines by the direct agency of the state, on a narrower gauge, and therefore at a cheaper rate, than the existing guaranteed railways.

The guaranteed lines, including the East India, which was transferred to Government in 1879 in accordance with terms running up the valley of the Ganges from Calcutta (Howrah) as far as Delhi, with a branch to Jabalpur; the Great Indian Peninsular, which starts from Bombay and sends one arm north-east to Jabalpur, with a branch to Nágpur, and another south east to the frontier of Madras ; the Madras line, with its terminus similarly at Madras city, and two arms running respectively to the Great Indian Peninsular junction at Ráichur and to Beypur on the opposite coast, with branches to Bangalore and Bellary ; the Oudh and Rohilkhand, connecting Lucknow and Moradábád with Cawnpur and Benares ; the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India, which runs due north from Bombay through the fertile plain of Guzerat, and is destined ultimately to be extended across Rájputána to Delhi ; the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi, consisting of three sections, one in Lower Sind, another from Delhi to Lahore, and the third from Lahore to Múltán ; the South Indian (the only one on the narrow gauge), in the extreme south, from Cape Comorin to Madras city ; and the Eastern Bengal, traversing the richest portion of the Gangetic delta. The state lines are too numerous to be described singly. They include the extension from Lahore to Pesháwar on the north-west frontier, which at present stops short at Jhelum; the "missing link," from Múltán to Hyderabad, thus bringing the Punjab into direct connexion with its natural seaport at Karáchi (opened throughout in 1878) ; the line up the valley of the Irawadi from Rangoon to Prome ; and several short lines which have been constructed entirely at the expense of native states.

Statistics of Indian Railways for 1878.


These figures show 1 mile of railway to every 109 square miles of the area of British India, or to every 179 square miles of the area of the entire peninsula. The average cost of construction per mile is almost exactly £14,000. The guaranteed railways, embracing the great trunk lines throughout India, are on the "broad gauge" of 5 feet 6 inches; the state lines follow as a rule the narrow or metre gauge of 3·281 feet.

Roads.—As the railway system of India approaches its completion, the relative importance of the roads naturally diminishes. From a military point of view, rapid communication by rail has now superseded the old marching routes as completely as in any European country. Like Portsmouth in England, Bombay in India has become the national harbour for the embarkation and debarkation of troops. On landing at Bombay, all troops proceed for a short rest to the healthy station of Deoláli on the plateau of the Deccan, whence they can reach their ultimate destinations, however remote, by easy railway stages. The Grand Trunk Road, running up the valley of the Ganges from Calcutta to the north-west frontier, which was first planned in the 16th century by the Afghán emperor Sher Sháh and was brought to completion under the administration of Lord George Bentinck, is now for the most part untrodden by troops. But though the railway system occupies the first place for military and commercial purposes, the actual mileage and economic importance of roads have greatly increased. They do not figure in the imperial balance-sheet, nor do they strike the popular imagination, but their construction and repair constitute two of the most important duties of the district official. A few lines, such as the continuation of the Grand Trunk Road in the Punjab, are still substitutes for the railways of the future. Others, which climb the passes of the Himálayas, the Western Gháts, or the Nílgiris, will probably never be superseded. The great majority, however, are works of local utility, serving to promote that ease and regularity of communication upon which the existence of civilization so largely depends. The substitution of the post-cart for the naked runner, and that of wheeled traffic for the pack-bullock, are silent revolutions effected under British rule.

The more important roads are all carefully metalled, the material employed in most provinces being kankar or calcareous limestone. In Lower Bengal and other deltaic tracts, where no kind of stone exists, bricks are roughly brunt and then broken up to supply metal for the roads. The minor streams are crossed by permanent bridges, with foundations of stone, and not unfrequently iron girders. The larger rivers have temporary bridges of boats thrown across them during the dry season, which give place to ferries in time of flood. Avenues of trees afford shade and material for timber. Most of these main lines are under the charge of the Public Works Department. The burden of maintaining the roads has, by a recent administrative reform, been thrown upon the local authorities, who depend for their pecuniary resources upon district committees and are often compelled to act as their own engineers. No statistics are available to show the total mileage of roads in British India, or the total sum expended on their maintenance.

Inland navigation is almost confined to the four great rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, and the Irawadi. These all flow through broad valleys, and from time immemorial have been the chief means of conveying the produce of the interior to the sea. South of the Gangetic basin there is not a single river that can be called navigable. Most of the streams in that tract, though mighty torrents in the rainy season, dwindle away to mere threads of water and stagnant pools during the rest of the year. The Godávari and the Narbadá, whose volume of water is ample, are both obstructed by rocky rapids which engineering skill has hitherto been unable to overcome. A total sum of 1 _ millions sterling has been in vain expended upon the former river. Indeed, it may be doubted whether water carriage is able to compete, as regards the more valuable staples, with communication by rail. After the East Indian Railway was opened, steamers ceased to ply upon the Ganges ; and the steam flotilla on the Indus similarly shrank to insignificance when though communication by rail became possible between Múltán and Karáchi.

On the Brahmaputra and its tributary the Bárak, and on the Irawadi, steamers still run secure from competition. But it is in the Gangetic delta that river navigation attains its highest development. There the population may be regarded as half amphibious. Every village can be reached by water in the rainy season, and every family keeps its boat. The main channels of the Ganges and Brahmaputra and their larger tributaries are navigable all the year through. During the rainy months road-carriage is altogether superseded. All the minor streams are swollen by the rainfall on the hills, and the local downpour ;while fleets of boats sail down with the produce that has accumulated in warehouses on the river banks. The statistics of this subject belong rather to the department of internal trade, but it may mentioned here that the number of laden boats registered at certain of the river-stations in Bengal in the year 1877-78 was 401,729.

The great majority of the Bengal rivers requires no attention from Government, but the system known as the three Nadiyá rivers is only kept open for traffic by close supervision. A staff of engineers is constantly employed to watch the shifting bed, to assist the scouring action of the current, and to advertize the trading community of the depth of water from time to time. In the year 1877-78 a total sum of £9522 was expended on this account, while an income of £32,494 was derived from toils.

artificial water channels of India may be divided into two classes—(1) those confined to navigation, and (2) those primarily constructed for purposes of irrigation. Of the former class the most important examples are to be found in the south of the peninsula. On both the Malabar and the Coromandel coasts the strip of lowland lying between the mountains and the sea affords natural facilities for the construction of an inland canal running parallel to the shore. In Malabar the salt-water lagoons or lakes, which form such a prominent feature in the local geography, merely required to be supplemented by a few cuttings to supply continuous water communication from the port of Calicut to Cape Comorin. On the east coast, the Buckingham canal, running north from Madras city as far as the delta of the Kistna, has been completed without any great engineering difficulties. In Bengal there are a few artificial canals of old date, but of no great magnitude, in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. The principal of these form the system known as the Calcutta and Eastern canals, which consist for the most part of natural channels, artificially deepened in order to afford a safe boat route through the Sundarbans. Up to the close of the year 1877-78 a capital sum of £360,332 had been expended by Government on these canals, and the gross income in that year was £44,120 ; after deducting cost of repairs, &c., changed to revenue account, and interest at the rate of 4 _ per cent., a net profit was left amounting to £8748. The Hijílí tidal canal in Midnapur district, which cuts off a difficult corner of the Húglí (Hooghly) river, yielded a net revenue of £3171 in the same year.

Most of the great irrigation works, both in northern and southern India, have been so constructed as to be available also for navigation. The general features of these works have been already described. The work of the Madras Irrigation Company on the Tungabhadra were not made available for navigation until 1879. A scheme is now under the consideration of the Bengal Government for joining the Midnapur and Orissa canal systems,a and extending the line of water communication farther southward through the Chiká Lake as far as Ganjám, 400 miles from Calcutta.

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