Howrah Rail Museum: Chugging out history

Every Indian has perhaps at least one indelible childhood memory of an incredible train journey. Despite the age of plane hopping, trains evoke a certain nostalgia. Even the role of railways in developing modern India is an important part of history. At the open-air Railway Museum on Foreshore Road adjacent to Howrah Station, for an entry fee of Rs 10 and another Rs 10 for a toy train ride, you're in for a treat of historic proportions, perfect for a nostalgic afternoon and a chance to brush up your history. This museum was set up in 2006 and its Hall of Fame houses the evolution of locomotives, carriages and wagons. In the first 100 years of the Indian Railways, the moving force was steam derived from coal in an era bereft of electricity and diesel. Eastern Railway started its journey in 1854 with a steam engine of similar type as the Fairy Queen, followed by the Ramgotty engine and the more powerful WP and WG steam engines that graced the fag end of a pioneering era. James Watt invented the steam engine in 1778. In fact, early inventors were either unsuccessful or ostracized, even ridiculed. And then came Richard Trevithick, who ran the first locomotive on rails on 15th February 1814, with George Stephenson demonstrating his contribution on 25th July of the same year. On 6th October 1829, Stephenson drove his celebrated locomotive, The Rocket, to victory against four rivals, winning 500 pounds and achieving a frightening 30 mph! Depending on commercial usage and requirements, coaches and wagons also followed a pattern of development geared towards better mobility, capacity, comfort and safety. The early railway carriages were rectangular boxes affixed to wheels, with wooden planks laid horizontally, without backrests and roofs, leaving passengers to the mercy of the prevailing elements. A double decker coach was used around 1886 in Bengal. It could carry 70 on the upper deck and 50 below. A fourth class was also introduced by the East Indian Railway that had no seats! The museum's Hall of Fame is a real eye-opener and you may check out the life-sized dummy of the BG4 Wheeler 5522, a four-wheeler broad-gauge inspection carriage. Along with engine, there's a first-class bogie complete with tea sets, sofas, side and centre tables and a study table. There's also a picture of Bidhan Chandra Roy when he inaugurated the set-up. There are also models of fire tube boilers and a life-sized dummy of a narrow gauge loco, 798B. This was built by the North British Company Ltd at Glasgow in 1926 and "retired" on 15 September 1996. There is also a 19th century double decker coach and several others of integral design made in 1947 on display as part of an exhibition train called the Silver Arrow. These coaches were longer and wider and continued to be modified for comfort and safety, like the one that carried Mahatma Gandhi's ashes to the Tanya in Allahabad. Moving on to the Hall of Heritage, which is a dummy station named Howrah, there are rare photographs and prized glimpses of the rich history of the Indian Railways. There are wonderful working models, manuscripts and photos, even a photocopy of a letter written by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, rare lamps, ceiling fans, railway uniforms down the years, telephones and crests. Take a stroll till you come to an octagonal tower that houses important railway details of 16 zones inscribed on a black tile wall. To the left and right are glass kiosks wherein rare stamps, uniforms, original time and fare tables are displayed. In a nutshell, a heritage tour for a song!   Do you know?
  • History was created at Howrah as the first train in Eastern India chugged out for its 24-mile-long journey to Hooghly on August 15, 1854.
  • In the beginning, Howrah station was only a mud hut with one booking counter and one platform.
  • By 1855, a columnar structure took shape as the station building.
  • Work for the new station building began after East Indian Railway bought the land from an orphanage run by Portuguese missionary.
  • British architect Halsey Ricardo designed the building and the construction began in 1905 and continued till 1911. In the same year the southern wing was added.
  • Train operations began from the new station building on 1st December 1905 for Eastern Indian Railway.
  • New complex with Rail Yatri Niwas was built in 1993
  • Today Howrah Station is a mammoth system used by more than 9 lakh passengers each day, running a fleet of 591 trains.
Info box: Museum name: Railway Museum, Howrah Address: Foreshore Road, Howrah Location: Adjacent to Howrah Station Phone Number: +91 33 2641 3709 Timings: 10:30 am - 7:30 pm Tickets: Rs 10 per head Photography: Not allowed without formal permission Days closed: Thursday Parking area: Free for museum visitors along the museum’s boundary wall on the main road Toy train ride: Rs 10 Additional information: Souvenirs can be bought from the ticket counter. Smoking not allowed inside the premises

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