Monuments of Modern India: Railways architecture in the early 20th Century

Railway architecture from the 1920s to Post-Independence

The European Institute at JamalpurHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The contribution of the Indian Railways in the rich architectural heritage of the country has been significant.

The different styles of these railway buildings can be divided into four major time periods and categories. Read more about the other styles of Indian Railway architecture here :


Monuments of Modern India: The first half century of railways architecture

Monuments of Modern India: When European and Indian influences merged at railway stations

The charm of mountain railways and their picture-perfect buildings

The new Nagpur StationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Around 1920, the architectural designs moved into the modern era. There was again a return to simplicity, little or no ornamentation, bare walls and the approach appeared to be a move towards a more functional design. The new station at Nagpur was also opened in the early 1920’s. With its plain stone finish, no ornamentation, a majestic arcade of rounded Roman arches on both floors on the platform side, a small covered shed as an integral part of the building and wide verandas on both sides on the first floor with generous provision for amenities, this was a great example of the modern era architecture.

Mumbai CentralHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Bombay Central Station was constructed between the years 1930-32 as a replacement to Colaba station. Large in scale, simple in design, with an elevated roof, large windows providing for a well lit circulating hall, are some of its feature, which also include an open garden in front.

Jammu Tawi StationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Jammu Tawi Station was also built to a 'Modern' design when the final link from Kathua to Jammu was completed in 1972. The design has some very interesting and attractive geometrical shapes including the tower like structure at the entry.

New Delhi StationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Post Independence, the railway's focus was primarily on catering to the demands of the new industries being set up. Moreover, in view of financial constraints, investment in new buildings was limited. There were, however, some developments. A new station was urgently required for New Delhi, befitting the capital
of a newly independent nation. The foundation stone for New Delhi was laid in
1951 and the station opened on 16th April 1956 by Rashtrapati Rajendra Prasad.

The Indian Railway Magazine at the time gave details: “The design of the building is on modern lines and provides all modern amenities for the passengers ..... The main entrance and the hall are common to all classes of passengers. It is perhaps for the first time that a common entrance has been provided for such a station, eliminating discrimination between the upper and lower class of passengers...”

Head Office of East Coast RailwayHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

In the last decade there has been a revival of interest in architecture and aesthetics. Each zone has endeavoured to create an architecturally aesthetic and functionally convenient Head Office complex.

This has resulted in a few fine new buildings being built in contemporary modern international styles with ‘green’ features incorporated in some of them.

The Office complex at Bhubhaneshwar, consisting of ground plus three floors, comprises of North and South Blocks, is environment friendly and is naturally lit.

Elements of local architectural tradition have also been incorporated, as a result of which Rail Sadan merges seamlessly into the skyline of Bhubaneswar city.

Cuttack StationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

There has been a fair amount of experimentation as well. For example, the facade of Cuttack station replicates the ramparts of an ancient fort in the city and the new station at Agartala is modelled on the Palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Tripura.

Agartala StationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Railway architecture has been monumental in scale and has evolved over time, taking in changes in architectural design, construction technology and changing organisational needs.

Each company in the old days and Zonal Railways in recent times have adopted their own styles while planning and designing large and small stations and various other service buildings.

There is interest in new architecture also because of the mission of the Railways to develop fifty ‘World Class’ stations at selected locations in a “Public-Private-Partnership” framework.

It is hoped that this endeavour will give a fillip to railway architecture and we shall see buildings that have an aesthetic appeal, provide a high level of convenience to both users of the railway and its employees, are practical and economic to maintain, and dovetail seamlessly into not only the working of the railway but also the city’s environment.

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