হাওড়া রেল ইস্টিসন, হাওড়া, ১৮৫৪
Howrah railway station is the oldest and the largest railway complex in India. The station owned by the East Indian Railway (EIR) formed in January 1847 by merging the East India Railway Company and the Great Western Bengal Railway Company (GWBRC) into one. See GWBRC and Dwarkanath Tagore
On 17th August,1849, the Court of Directors of East India Company signed an agreement with EIR for construction of a short experimental line from Calcutta to Burdwan, originally proposed by the Company in 1845. The East Indian Railway Company’s Managing Director Macdonald Stephenson, George Turnbull, the company’s Chief Engineer, and the engineer Slater made on 7 May 1850 an initial survey from Howrah (across the River Hooghly from Calcutta) to Burdwan on the route to the Raniganj coalfields. Accordingly, the first train of EI Railway started its historic ‘zero mile’ journey in August 1854 from the very place where the Howrah Station stands now.
“The train flagged off full to its capacity from Howrah to Hooghly a distance of 24 miles. 3000 applications were received for the first ride, but only a few could be accommodated. The train having three first Class, two second class and three “trucks” for the third class passengers, a brake-van for the Guard all constructed in Calcutta, left Howrah at 8:30 A.M. and reached Hooghly after 91 minutes. During the first 16 weeks, the company carried 109,634 passengers: 83,118 third class, 21,005 second class and 5511 first class. See Grace’s Guide ”That day onward, the EIR ran a regular service, morning and evening, between Howrah and Hugli with stops at Bali, Serampore and Chandernagar. The fare ranged from Rs.3 by first class to 7 annas by third class.
The above photograph of first locomotive, christened “Multum in Parvo” (Latin, “much in little”), shown on the right and manufactured in England, which was used by the East Indian Railway Company in 1854 on its first line from Howrah to Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles. The locomotive on the left is the latest model of 1897, the year this picture was taken in the Jamalpur Railway Workshop, Eastern India. (Image source: Elgin Collection. British Library)
Initial plans for the first Howrah station were submitted by George Turnbull the Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway Company on 17 June 1851. The government authorities, however, were not too keen to acquire as much land as the Railway Company required, taking into account the enormous anticipated growth rate of the proposed rail station. In May 1852 Turnbull resubmitted his station plans complete with details – a major work of him and his team of engineers. In October four tenders were received varying from 190,000 to 274,526 INR against an estimate of Rs 250,000.
Before EIR took possession of the land, Portuguese Missionaries of Dominican Sect had an orphanage there and a small church by its side. The orphanage was shifted to Calcutta when the Company moved in and made a make-shift arrangement installing few tin sheds to facilitate maintenance work, and train formation yard before train running. The rest of the empty space on northern side was utilized in storage of materials. Subsequently this became the stores depot of East Indian Railway. See Vibrant Edifice
There was no landing ghat on the Howrah side. Railway passengers had to go to Armenian ghat on the eastern riverbank to buy tickets from its booking counter. They “had to jostle their way through the ‘exciting’ crowd to the ‘Booking Window’ that issued tickets to all classes of passengers”.The train tickets included the fare of crossing the river to arrive at the provisional rail platform consisting of a tin shed. The scenario prevailed till the Howrah pontoon bridge was ready to replace the ferry service to Howrah station in 1886. See : The saga of Howrah Station. See Vibrant Edifice
As we understand from IRFCA source, there was no official image available with them to suggest what was ’the shape of the station shed before it was demolished to give place to the new station building’. The only visual document on their hand was a ‘Photograph’ of Howrah station printed in ‘The Steam Engine and the East Indian Railway‘ – the first ever historical work on E.I.R. by Kalidas Moitra, published in 1855.
The indistinct print, however, leaves open a possibility of its being a hand-drawn illustration, instead of a photograph, of the model of the first Howrah Station. This view can be well supported by a recently unearthed photograph entitled ‘Railway station near Calcutta’ captured in 1895 by American photographer, William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), for the World Transportation Commission. The photograph is featured here at the top.
There has been another vintage photograph that provides a clear view of the old station building. Unfortunately no date and relative details of the photograph are available for further investigation. Courtesy: National Rail Museum Archive:
So far we know that the old Howrah Station building was a spacious columnar structure, which was demolished later during the construction of the new station building. Initially it was a modest structure of red brick with corrugated Iron sheet roof and one platform. Another platform was added in 1865 for arrival departure of trains separately. The third platform was provided in 1895. These were not very long as sometimes as many as 5 coaches extended beyond platform. The coaches were only four wheelers. 8 wheeler coaches were introduced only in 1903. From this description provided in EIR source it appears that the first station building had been constructed not at one go but gradually by phases, and that is why specific dates of foundation, inauguration, or demolition of the old and new buildings have been found so rarely and often overlapping in historical records. See Vibrant Edifice
Due to a great increase of traffic, a new station building was proposed in 1901. The new station was designed by the British architect Halsey Ricardo. Construction begins in 1905 on a new, larger Howrah Terminus station with six platforms and provision for four more, to replace the older Howrah station in use from 1854, and inaugurated in 1906. See: Chronology of railways in India
The following lines picked up from a recent review of Calcutta’s past may neatly recap the story told here.
“Calcutta’s growth as a major railway junction continued. The East India Railway ran from Howrah all the way to the outskirts of Delhi in the North. The Bengal Nagpur Railway ran from Howrah to Nagpur in Central India, from where the Great Indian Peninsula Railway continued to Bombay. The East Bengal Railway’s line ran from Sealdah, then in the outskirts of Calcutta to the tea gardens of Assam and Northern Bengal. The Grand Trunk Road was built to replace the road built by Sultan Sher Shah Suri of Delhi in the sixteenth century, and now ran from Howrah to Peshawar in the Hindukush mountains. As it had been true for Rome in an earlier age, all roads now led to Calcutta”. See Rule Britannia
8 thoughts on “Howrah Railway Junction Station, Howrah, 1854 –”
Once again many thanks for your useful article which I referenced when researching my family history and the sad death of a cousin an a railway accident at Howrah https://anneyoungau.wordpress.com/2023/04/21/r-is-for-railway-accident/
I am indeed very glad that the article served your research purpose. I thank you Anne once again
Howrah is not the oldest station in India in terms of running the first locomotive, neither is it the oldest surviving station building. The heritage part of the current Howrah station building came up only in 1905. Even VT or CST was completed much before that. As your article itself says, the first station building of Howrah was demolished.
Before EIR was formed in 1849, the Madras Railway Company came up in 1845. But their first service started only in 1856, two years after Howrah, from Royapuram in present day Chennai. This was the first railway service in South India. Although Royapuram ceases to be the most important station in Chennai after Egmore and Chennai Central came up, the station building in Royapuram continues to be the oldest functioning original railway station building in the entire subcontinent, as none of the original structures of Boribandar, Thane or Howrah exist any more. Royapuram station was falling into a dilapidated state. It is listed as a Grade I heritage structure by the TN State Govt. and it has been restored since. If you want references you’ll have to probably look into Railway archives. I am quoting an easier source. Read the book ‘Tamarind City’ by renowned journalist and author Biswanath Ghosh. It is from this book that I got the inspiration of visiting this station.
Thank you Debarati for your interesting comments. Wishes
Just nitpicking here. The Royapuram station in Chennai can be considered the oldest station in India. The station was opened in 1856 and is still operational. Unlike the Howrah station, which was torn down and a new station constructed in 1905, the Royapuram station has remained unchanged since 1856, except for renovations and repairs.
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Thanks so much, Suriya, for your interesting update. It is good to know that the heritage Station building of Royapuram is being nicely maintained since 1856. Very best wishes
I doubt the claim of Howrah being the oldest railway station as I recollect that railway service was first introduced in Western India
You are right, Mr Ray, in regard to railway services. The Great Indian Peninsula Railway, a predecessor of the Central Railway, was India’s ever first railway, the original 21 mile section opening in 1853, between Bombay and Tannah (Thane). I have no knowledge, however, of any train station in India older than Howrah. The historic railway station in Mumbai that serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways was built three years later in 1887. I shall be grateful if any reader may provide authentic documents to show otherwise.