I am born out of man’s need to take him to places on land in the fastest and most comfortable way. Just as all other inventions were borne out of man’s necessities, the growing needs of man to commute from one place to another and take his bag and baggage along with him necessitated the use of a heavier vehicle on land. I am the humble railway engine.
My precursors were born in United Kingdom in the first half of the 19th century and Richard Trevithick is universally regarded as my inventor. Robert Stephenson and Company then made the first use of us to carry passengers on a public railway system. They then launched the first public inter-city railway “the Liverpool and Manchester Railway”. These Godfathers of mine just did not stop there. They went on to build Steam Locomotives for railways stretching from United Kingdom, the United States and much of Europe.
However, all that happened gradually during the course of many years. Let me start off by telling you my birth story. The earliest railway officials made use of horses to draw carts along the railway tracks. However, the process was slow, tedious and cumbersome. William Murdoch a small time Scottish entrepreneur and inventor developed a prototype of steam locomotive engine in Birmingham which later became the basis of more developed versions.
My story unfolded in India, which at that time was a part of the East India Company and under the flag of the British Empire. The first steam engine was made use of in erstwhile Madras for the transportation of granite for road construction. Earliest instances of my use in India were also made in Roorkee in Dec, 1851 but I was not mature enough to handle the work pressure at that time and disintegrated in a boiler explosion within months.
However, these bits and pieces were evidences of my inherent utility and I was soon set to replace the humble horse cart and bullock cart with my speed, sturdiness and functionality. My power and might would remain surpassed in the next 100 years to come till I would be replaced with diesel and electric locomotive engines, which people say lead to lesser combustion and are more useful.
However, during my more than 100 years of stay in India, I along with around 30,000 more siblings of mine would toil all over the Indian sub-continent though the country built its own locomotive design around 100 years later than my first full-fledged commercial use on the Indian terrain in 1855. Almost 95% of us were imported from Great Britain before the commencement of Second World War and the remaining 5% procured from scattered parts of Europe to be assembled in India. However, post the war some of my brethren also arrived from North America and Japan which made the Indian lot of steam engines one of the most diverse ones found in the world. It is our inherent ability to acclimatize ourselves to different parameters that we catered to not one or two but four different meter gauges.
Today, we are no more brought in large scale commercial use though our vintage grandchild still continues to chug on the hills of Darjeeling, giving the visitors a taste of those golden times.