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F W Talbot Railways of the World

The Railway Invasion of India - 2

How the Western Ghauts Were Subdued by the Engineer, and Western and Eastern India Brought into Railway Communication




THE second great engineering triumph over the rampart of the Ghauts is the Bhore Ghaut incline, which bears the southeastern division towards Madras. It is 29 miles south of Kalyan by rail, and in point of magnitude is the more impressive work, measuring 15·8625 miles in length to overcome a difference of 1,831 feet in level between Karjat at the foot and Khandala at the top of the mountain wall. At this point the barrier is equally ragged; 25 tunnels with an aggregate length of 11,985 feet - the longest 1,311 feet - had to be driven and 8 viaducts, totalling 4,017 feet, erected. Here, again, the ruling grade is 1 in 37, but the pull against the collar is shorter - 1·475 miles - while the easiest bank is 1 in 330. The minimum curvature, however, is sharper, having a radius of 990 feet. Cuttings demanded the removal of 1,623,102 cubic yards of spoil - 124,050 cubic yards of this were taken out of one excavation - and 1,849,934 cubic yards of material were required for embankments; the largest contained 364,000 cubic yards.

The total cost of these two inclines, aggregating 25·1875 miles, was approximately £1,067,000; of this sum, that up the Bhore Ghaut absorbed £700,000, and that of the Thull Ghaut £367,480. The average cost of the former, per mile, was the heavier; the figure reaching about £44,000, thus constituting one of the most costly pieces of trunk road mountain railway-building in the world. More than seven years were occupied on the works; the Bhore Ghaut incline was brought into service during May, 1863, while the Thull Ghaut incline was opened in 1865.

In the ascent of the Bhore Ghaut the engineers and contractors were harassed by many difficulties apart from those of a technical nature. Work could only be carried on for about nine months out of the twelve; it had to be almost suspended during the other three months owing to the monsoon. On the other hand, during the hot season, water was almost a priceless commodity. None was forthcoming upon the site. During the construction of the lower section it had to be drawn from Oollassa by bullock trains maintained for its transport over the intervening five miles of high road; while for the upper section it had to be moved by the selfsame means from Khandala, until pipe-lines were laid down to bring the water nearer and so reduce the haulage distance. The demand for water during the hot season reached enormous proportions, especially when the work was in full swing, because there were 42,000 workers to be kept supplied therewith for drinking and other purposes, as well as to complete constructional operations, notably the setting of the masonry.

REALIGNMENT OF THE THULL GHAUT INCLINETo minimize the water trouble one novel expedient was adopted. Upon the completion of one of the tunnels it was sealed at the ends to form a reservoir which became charged during the rainy season, and provided an adequate source of supply for the work in its vicinity during the following nine months.


On the left is seen the new bank with double track, and the old track of the ‘sixties, dismantled, on the right. The task, which occupied five years, was completed in September, 1918.

Explosives were consumed upon a stupendous scale to blast the way for the steel highway up the Ghaut. Powder vanished at the rate of 2½ tons a day in cutting and tunnelling operations during the 33 months that the work was in full swing, and more than 6,000 “shots” were fired every day. At times the daily average of “shots” soared to 20,000.

Despite the steepness of the ruling grade upon the Ghauts - 1 in 37 - the courage of the engineer has been fully vindicated. There have been mishaps on the mountain sections as upon the level reaches of the road, but for the most part these have been due to influences beyond the wit of man to escape - wash-outs and landslides through the heavy rainfall. Before the coming of the air-brake the serenity of the operating and engineering departments was disturbed now and again by a goods train running amok upon the banks, but during the half-century and more they have been in constant service the loss of life has been amazingly insignificant.

This has been due, in the main, to the method of moving traffic over the inclines. Every goods train was divided to pass up or down in two sections; the trains were split and remade up at the special base and summit stations of the heavy pull. The process took up some time, while further delay was encountered at the reversing station, but, on the axiom that it is better to be safe than sorry, the practice was faithfully maintained.

The worst accident caused through a runaway train was on the Bhore Ghaut on January 26, 1869, when the descending mail train got away. The driver strove desperately to regain control, and did succeed in bringing the speed down to about 15 miles an hour when approaching the reversing station. Had there been another two or three hundred yards’ run he would doubtless have brought the runaway to a standstill, but, as he was denied this fortunate facility, part of the train went over the steep slope at the end of the reversing station, to become a wreck; 19 natives were killed or succumbed to their injuries, while 42 natives and one European, were injured. Investigation revealed the disaster to have been due to cumulative causes - slippery rails owing to the heavy dew, the omission of the driver to sand the rails, excessive speed, and unskilful manipulation of the brakes. To prevent a recurrence of such an accident “catch points” were freely introduced upon both Ghauts.

Another accident, fortunately unattended by any casualties, which also occurred on the Bhore Ghaut during 1867, was of a different and more remarkable character. The line was carried across a ravine at one point by a masonry structure having eight arches of 50-feet span and with the rails 135 feet above the bottom of the gorge. Shortly after its completion cracks made themselves manifest in the masonry, but as they did not extend they were considered to be of a local superficial nature, and not imperilling the safety of the structure in any way. Nevertheless, those cracks disturbed the peace of mind of the villagers sorely, and they repeatedly complained to the company that the bridge was unsafe because, in accordance with native traditions - which still persist - no children had been buried in the foundations!



Khandala lies at the top of the mountain wall, and Karjat at the foot. To reach the former from the latter a difference of 1,831 feet in level had to be overcome in about 16 miles. The ruling gradient is 1 in 37, and the easiest bank is 1 in 330.

A train passed over the bridge at 6.30 on the morning of July 19, but the driver apparently did not notice any untoward vibration. An hour or so later a platelayer walked on to the bridge to carry out his routine duties. He was tightening a chair key when he felt the ground sink beneath him. Helter-skelter he ran to the end of the bridge, looked round, and to his amazement found that the whole structure had collapsed upon itself and was now an ugly pile of disintegrated masonry.

Subsequent investigation revealed that the collapse was due to bad construction. Thereupon Mr. George Berkley, the “Father of the Inclines”, then consulting engineer to the company, made a personal inspection of every bridge and culvert, and certain works were set down for reconstruction; the cost of this was defrayed from a special “Casualty Fund” created by periodical contributions from revenue. This fund was maintained for such renewals until 1881, when it had attained a sum far in excess of all requirements. It was readjusted, leaving a sufficient balance to carry out all such work as might be considered necessary up to 1900.

The fearsome Ghauts successfully scaled, the engineers pushed ahead with the two roads, the main to Calcutta proceeding north-eastwards from Igatpuri, at the top of the Thull Ghaut Pass through Jalgaon to Bhusaval. At this point, 276 miles out of Bombay, the trunk road was divided, one arm proceeding due east across the border of the Central Provinces to Nagpur, constituting what is known as the “Central Route”; the other arm bears slightly to the north-east, through Central India as distinct from the Central Provinces, to Jubbulpore, providing the “Midland Route”. The line which turns to the south-east from Kalyan over the Bhore Ghaut runs via Poona to Raichur.

As previously mentioned, the engineer-in-chief, while awaiting official sanction to build the Ghaut inclines, dispatched his surveyors through the country from the crest of the range to plot out the paths for the three arms of steel. By the time official consent was forthcoming the sites had been almost pegged out to the three objectives. The engineer, realizing that the construction of the mountain inclines would occupy several years, and that considerable inconvenience, as well as delay, would attend the opening-up of the country beyond if the advance from Igatpuri and Khandala were held in abeyance until the mountains had been breasted, decided to push on construction from the summit stations across the plains at the same time.

He was persuaded to this decision by the existence of the two excellent high roads which had been driven over the Ghauts for military purposes; these constituted excellent channels for the dispatch of material by bullock-cart trains. As the result of this enterprise, the tracks were completed for 255 miles from the top of the Thull Ghaut line before the latter was half-finished. When the latter was completed and opened for traffic on January 1, 1865, this advanced section was immediately brought into service, giving through railway communication between Bombay and Bhusaval.

On the southern section the line was pushed ahead with similar energy from Khandala at the top of the Bhore Ghaut, 44 miles from Kalyan, to Sholapur, 106 miles beyond.

Although the subjugation of the Ghauts constitutes the most spectacular achievement of railway-building upon the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, it was by no means the only serious obstacle. To carry the road from Bhusaval to Jubbulpore, the terminus of the “Midland Route”, the engineers were called upon to break down the obstinacy of Nature presented in another fearsome form. A great part of the country through which the line was staked was, at that time, almost unknown jungle and miasmic swamp. Few Europeans dared to penetrate it, except during certain periods of the year; yet the engineers and railway-builders lived and moved in the atmosphere of death for months on end.

The price paid for the railway victory, however, was heavy. Smallpox, cholera and other dread maladies indigenous to such pestilential country, and famine, struck down Europeans and natives alike, the death-roll during 1869 and 1870 reaching most alarming proportions. The greatest difficulties were presented by the Nerbudda River and its tributaries. Teasing problems were encountered in the discovery of stable foundations for the bridges, while, as the country did not yield any stone for the masonry, this material had to be brought over long distances by most primitive transport, which rendered progress slow. The Nerbudda Valley is of sinister memory in the construction of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, but the line brought complete conquest. The countryside, which formerly spread death on every hand, has been wrested from primevalism to become as productive as the prairies of Canada.

The going on the other two divisions, the “Central Route” to Nagpur and the southern line to Raichur, was less eventful; the first-named terminus - 520 miles from Bombay - was reached on February 20, 1867. Here, connexion is made with the eastern railway, continuing the route due east to Calcutta 1,300 miles from Bombay, the shortest and most direct steel highway across the peninsula. Jubbulpore, 616 miles from the western seaboard terminus, was gained on March 8, 1870, and by junction with the East Indian Railway the “Midland Route” to Calcutta was connected. The following year recorded the arrival of the line at Raichur, where is met the system which provides communication with Madras and southern India.



The weight of the truck is 46 tons 14 cwt 2 qrs, and it is designed to support a load of 40 tons, distributed 30 tons at the centre.

The opening of the 340 miles from Bhusaval to Jubbulpore was the occasion for great jubilation; H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh and his Excellency the Viceroy participated in the inaugural ceremonies. As a matter of fact, through communication was not possible until many months later, because the heaviest bridges and viaducts, particularly the Towa Viaduct, had not been completed.

Bridging on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, as upon all the other trunk roads of the country, is heavy, owing to the enormous width of the waterways. The Ivistna Bridge, with its thirty-six 100-feet spans, over the Kistna or Krishna River, is 3,855 feet from end to end. That crossing the Jumna River on the Cawnpore-Banda section is of 3,156 feet. It is a single-track structure of twelve 250-feet spans (which cost £167,000), and 4,968 tons of steel were worked into the girders. At Kalpi the Jumna is spanned by another bridge, which, with its ten spans, each of 250 feet, has a total length of 2,626 feet. The abutments are built for a double track, but only a single line has been laid at present with a road on the same level, so that the crossing of the waterway provides for both railway and highway traffic.

The completion of the three steel arteries across the country gave a wonderful stimulus to railway expansion, but it was realized that the adoption of the 5 feet 6 inches gauge was somewhat prejudicial to the opening up of vast rural territories. Consequently, for “feeder” lines, a narrower gauge was authorized on the theory that such “light” railways permitted cheaper construction. The first of these roads to be opened and linked up with the Great Indian Peninsula main line at Jalamb was the Khamgaon State Railway, opened for service on March 4, 1870. Since then thousands of miles of “light ” or “feeder” lines have been laid down, ranging from 2 feet to 3 feet 3⅜ inches gauge.

So far as the Great Indian Peninsula system is concerned, the most notable railway of this character - commenced in 1901 - is that running from Itarsi to Nagpur and Pandhurna, 238 miles in length. This road, though described as “light”, involved some heavy engineering, notably a Ghaut section with five tunnels. Construction, however, offered distinct relief to the district traversed in 1908 by affording employment to the famine-stricken population; 7,000 natives were engaged upon the grade; towards the expenditure the Railway Board made a grant of £33,000, followed by one of twice that amount.

Bombay being the great entrepôt on the eastern seaboard of India, with enormous rivers of traffic incessantly flowing in and out, it is scarcely surprising that, in time, the carrying capacity of the steel highway, though liberally endowed, should be found to be approaching its limits. The territory served by the system is of immense area, with the innumerable “feeders”, radiating like twigs from the three main stems, springing from the trunk which extends for 34 miles from the seaboard terminal to Kalyan. All outgoing business had to be swung along the single “up” line to this point before diverging to various parts of the country; similarly all incoming traffic was converged upon this junction to reach the coast. Pressure due to traffic density was rapidly approaching the danger point, while the outlook was rendered additionally ominous from the discovery that the original lines were becoming tired from some fifty years’ service, necessitating the reduction of speed limits to a maximum of 40 miles an hour. Another outlet was impracticable; the solution lay in the increase of the carrying capacity of the existing artery, with the removal of such obstructions as experience had proved to be reacting against efficient economical working.

The necessary sanction for revitalizing the 34 miles of the trunk of the system was given in 1912. The first section to be reconstructed was between Bombay and Thana. Two new tracks were added, and as the task had to be completed “under traffic”, it presented the engineers with some pretty problems. Stations had to be remodelled or rebuilt, while all sidings had to be replanned. Nevertheless, the undertaking was successfully completed and brought into service in 1915. The improvement in the working of the traffic was immediate, but it only served to emphasize the necessity for overhauling the remaining 10 miles to Kalyan with all speed.



It has ten spans each of 250 feet, and a total length of 2,626 feet. The abutments are built for a double track, but only a single track has been laid with a road on the same level, thus providing for railway and highway traffic.

This second section was not so straightforward inasmuch as the additional tracks were not laid beside the original lines. The opportunity was taken to relocate the road between Thana and Kalyan to give more economical running and to effect a saving in distance. The original route followed the line of least resistance and so abounded with twists and turns. The new alignment not only avoids the first tunnel upon the old line, but drives direct through the obstruction of the Parsik height with a tunnel 4,300 feet in length - the second longest in India. It took seventeen months to complete. The end of 1916 saw the remodelled trunk road with its four tracks from Bombay to Kalyan ready for service - the old line between Thana and Kalyan is still used - after an expenditure of approximately £1,000,000.

While this improvement eased the situation very noticeably, it only served to throw into strong relief another weak link in the system; its existence had been appreciated for years, but had not been able to exert its restraining influence to the full owing to the throttling effect of the Bombay-Kalyan section. The stranglehold was now removed to the Thull Ghaut incline. The traffic pouring over the two arms of the north-east division, with the junction at Bhusaval, had to pass through this bottle-neck with its distinctive system of working the goods trains. The time lost in breaking and making up the trains at the lower and upper stations, and also in moving engines at the reversing station, had now become acutely critical. The sustained practice of dividing the trains was not due to inadequate locomotives, but to the insufficient length of the reversing station for the reception of a complete train. It was designed for the train lengths of the late ‘sixties.

The only way out of the difficulty was to redesign the incline; but as this was certain to involve a huge expenditure, the task was deferred until every feasible expedient and possible measure of relief had been introduced and exhausted. The inevitable had then to be faced, and in October, 1913, the realignment of the Thull Ghaut incline was taken in hand. The task occupied five years, and the new road was brought into operation in September, 1918.

The new incline is just as remarkable a piece of work as its predecessor. It is of double-track, and although the ruling grade of 1 in 37 remains, curves were kept more open, while expensive tunnelling was avoided. As a matter of fact, it was only necessary to drive one tunnel 1,525 feet in length. Furthermore, 1·5 miles in distance were cut out. But possibly the greatest achievement was the abolition of the breaking and making-up, as well as the reversing stations; the freight trains now run through intact, thus almost doubling the carrying capacity of the new road. Upon its completion, at a cost of £118,000, the original line was abandoned and the road torn up.

Railway operation in India presents many problems without parallel in any other part of the world; conversely, it has also many factors reacting against the steady, rhythmic and uneventful movement of the diversity of traffic incidental to such a huge, thickly populated country. The most disturbing single influence is the recurrence of famine and plague due to the indifferent means of communication, other than the railway, for the prompt movement of grain from those districts in which it is abundant to those where a scarcity exists.

The Great Indian Peninsula Railway was brought full tilt against the significance of famine and its influence upon operation three years after the opening of the line to Raichur. The grim spectre was stalking through the Madras Presidency, and yet, at that very moment, the stations on the other divisions were bowed down with the yield from bounteous harvests. The railways strove desperately to mitigate the plight of the unhappy people, turning every wagon to this humane service, but the congestion which ensued became so acute as to slow down the movement to an exasperating degree.

Within two months every terminal station of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, from Jubbulpore to Raichur, was crowded with trains of wagons laden with grain, but they could not be sent forward, because the only available rails were those of the Great Indian Peninsula via Kalyan. The Madras Railway, which connects with the Great Indian Peninsula at Raichur, at that time could not handle more than too wagons a day, whereas the capacity of the Great Indian Peninsula system was practically unlimited. The congestion became so acute that the “down” line between Kalyan and Neral had to be converted into a siding, presenting the remarkable spectacle of 21 miles of grain-laden wagons waiting to go forward.

Four years later the company had another spirited wrestle with famine conditions, and the exacting concomitant effects upon general traffic. Again a powerful demonstration of the indispensability of the railway, and the effective manner in which it can mitigate the terrible consequences of such an affliction by rapid transport were brought home to the community. The volume of grain moved as the result of the railway’s concentration of the whole of its available resources to the consummation of the great end was colossal, not only astonishing the authorities, but revealing the possible carrying capacity of the system to be far greater than had ever been anticipated.



Flood carried away about 300 feet of the embankment and left the rails, with the greater number of sleepers intact, depending in a graceful festoon across the breach.

In addition to transporting grain upon a gigantic scale, the railway, at the instigation of the Government, embarked upon elaborate new constructional work to provide employment for the stricken people. The cross-country line, 146 miles in length, was carried from Dhond, 42 miles east of Poona on the south-eastern division, almost due north, via Ahmednagar and Puntamba to Manmad, on the north-eastern division, 77 miles beyond Igatpuri. This is a cut-off for traffic between the southern and north-eastern territories served by the Great Indian Peninsula, avoiding the Bhore Ghaut, Kalyan and Thull Ghaut, and saving about 116 miles.

The steel highway is exposed to many menaces, but in India it is assailed by one which, at times, asserts itself in the most devastating form - flood. The Great Indian Peninsula Railway has had its share of this trouble occasionally expressed in an almost freakish form. On August 22, 1916, there was a rapid heavy rise of the Kalisindh River on the Bina-Kotah section of the system. The water broke loose to strike the line fairly and squarely, and carried away about 300 feet of the embankment. The rails, with the greater number of the sleepers still intact, were found draping across the breach in a graceful festoon. Upon wrecking the road at this point the frolicsome surging waters turned to attack the rear of the Bina end abutment of the Kalisindh Bridge, washing away the earthworks diagonally for about 200 feet, while the guide bank upstream was breached and almost entirely swept away. To restore traffic temporarily the engineers ran up a trestle bridge with five 60-feet spans, but this expedient took 77 days to complete. The permanent restoration of the demolished line was then taken in hand. The playfulness of the river on this occasion cost the railway a round £29,000.

During August, 1917, heavy rains fell in the state of Gwalior, charging the reservoir on Tigrah Lake, belonging to H.H. the Maharaja Scindia, to such a level that the masonry dam was subjected to an abnormal pressure. The wall gave way, and the released water rushed madly over the countryside, flooding an area of more than 40 square miles. Unfortunately the Great Indian Peninsula Railway was exposed to the full brunt of the water’s wild sweep. The embankment was breached at several places and the rails submerged at many points to a depth of 10 feet. When the flood subsided the engineers, by working night and day, succeeded in restoring the traffic after a suspension of three weeks.

By 1900 the mileage of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway had grown to 1,567½ miles, and the dawn of the new century ushered in the second era of its history. In the original charter of the railway there was one important clause. This was to the effect that the East India Company might, if it felt so disposed, purchase the whole network as it stood in 1900, in which year the original contract expired, by paying the value of the capital stock, according to its mean value upon the London Stock Exchange during the three previous years, either in a lump sum or by means of annuity.

The Secretary of State for India, to whom all the interests in the East India Company were transferred upon its extinction, exercised his option. The share capital of the undertaking was £20,000,000, with debenture capital to the approximate value of £6,000,000. The latter was taken over by the Secretary of State, while the former was valued at £34,859,217 17s. 6d. That is to say, every £100 in the original investment had appreciated to £174 5s. 11d. - testimony to the efficient progressive management - and it was decided to extinguish the debt by an annuity spread over 48 years 48 days.



It went into service in 1864 and was originally a saddle-tank of the 0-6-0 type. Subsequently it was remodelled and converted to the 0-4-2 type.

[From Railways of the World by Frederick A. Talbot, published 1923]

You can read more on “Electrification Overseas”, “Modern Transport in India” and “The Railway Invasion of India 1” on this website.