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Great Britain and the Development of India's Railways

  • Daniel Thorner (a1)

A Striking disparity exists between India's ranking as a railway power and its ranking by any other modern economic category, such as coal mined, iron and steel produced, power generated, value added by all manufacturing, or national income received per capita. Throughout the twentieth century India has had one of the world's five largest railway systems, but by most other modern categories India's economy has been among the world's weakest and least developed. I propose to begin by recounting the way in which India's railway system was developed under British leadership in the century after 1850; then I intend to turn to some possible connections between the special types of railway organization that Britain sponsored in India and the relative lack of development of other sectors of India's economy, particularly modern industry.

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1 In this connection it is important to distinguish between the absolute level of Indian railway rates as compared with other countries and the level at which Indian rates might have been pitched had the companies pursued a different kind of rate policy, say a policy designed to attract and develop a maximum volume of traffic. Thus when the Acworth Committee asserted: “Indian railway rates and fares have always been among the lowest, if not actually the lowest in the world,” this statement should be compared with that in the Report submitted by Thomas Robertson two decades earlier: “The Fares and Rates charged in India, judged from the standpoint of the actual money payment made, are considerably lower than those charged in England; but for a comparison to be of any value, consideration must be paid to the circumstances of the two countries. Taking the cost of construction and working in England and comparing them with the cost of construction and working in India, and in every other respect if like is compared with like, I think it will be found that the rates and fares in India should, broadly speaking, be only about one-sixth of those in England.”

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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
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