“Inevitably, the railways had social consequences. Without them, the three great cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras would have remained small colonial trading ports” - Mark Tully
The Heritage Gallery at Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus is a separate section inside the main building where one can find information about the history of railways, especially the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. It houses miniatures of the station, trains and engines as they evolved from steam, diesel to electric. The gallery tells the story of the development of the railways and the city of Mumbai itself.
An important train that had a huge effect on the society in Mumbai and its neighboring city was the Deccan Queen. Way back in 1928, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway started the Deccan Queen as an inter-city train between Bombay (now Mumbai) and Poona (now Pune). This is perhaps the most iconic train to be run by the Indian Railways. It continues till today, 87 years later.
The Deccan Queen is not a train but an institution. Generations of people from Pune have used it to travel to Mumbai to work and return in the evening.
Owing to the amount of time people spend in the train, friendships are forged, marriages are arranged and business deals sealed during the journey. Infact, such trains are more like social networks!
Another significant and vital social impact of the Indian Railways is witnessed in the hill railways.The most famous is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which winds up from Siliguri at the foot of the Himalayas to Darjeeling.
Even 30 years ago, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the predominant form of transport in the Darjeeling hills. More than 3 trains used to operate out of New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling and the same number back and at least two trains operated out of Kurseong towards Darjeeling.
For the school children around Kurseong, this small train was a trusted friend that took them to the doorstep of their schools. The amazing steam locomotive made its way through the market of Kurseong. Though the first hill railway in India to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it now runs only as a tourist railway with scaled down operations.
Apart from influencing society in general, the Indian Railways brought in another social stratum into the country – the Railway Society.
In general, a society is divided into two parts, namely, civil and defence. In India, there is this third strata. Railways have their own housing, clubs, institutes, cinema halls, etc; even their own hospitals. The British built several railway towns in India based on railway towns in England. Many of these towns thrive to this day.