India: British Rail Legacy




The British began to build the railway system in India in the 1850. Private companies including the British East India Company built the bulk of the network. It was certainly not a benevolent gesture! India was a huge source of British wealth for the century that followed. With independence in 1947 India inherited the system, but it was in a sorry state. During WWII the system was gutted to shift resources to other regions where they were needed to support the war effort.

One thing that remains intact to this day is the great railway stations. egmore-1Chennai, one of the major hubs of the British system has two beautiful examples. My favorite is Egmore - pictured in this post. Even if you aren't going to travel by train, you should walk through one of these stations just to see the amazing activity that surrounds them. 

Because of the importance of railways in India, the stations have been maintained pretty well. Many of the old buildings in Chennai have fallen on hardtimes. There has been little emphasis on historic preservation. Even the museum complex, which has great Victorian architecture has plants growing out of the cracks in the wall. It is a beautiful complex, but in addition to its dilapidated state, an elevated road was built directly in front of it, cutting off any perspective of the buildings. Of course, historic preservation is expensive, so with all of the problems to face India, such "non-essential" expenses are put on the backburner. As you walk or drive around the city, you will see many buildings with potential to shine. Here's hoping!

There are many beautiful stations in India, but the most famous is in Mumbai. It is a World Heritage site. Here's a link to an amazing photo: Victoria Terminus, Mumbai

Check my previous post about another relic from the British past in Chennai here

By Kevin O'Neill

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