The first railway line in Madras Presidency was the product of innumerable letters and lots of lobbying

The seventh month of every year is a time to celebrate for the railways in south India. July 1 marks 158 years since the first passenger train service snaked its way across the city from Royapuram station to Wallajah Nagar (now Road) and then to Arcot, traversing a distance of around 100 kilometres.

The Madras Railway Company, founded on July 8, 1845, in London, was formed with the sole objective of constructing railroads in the Madras Presidency. In the first general meeting of the shareholders in February 1846, J.A. Arbuthnot, Chairman of the Board of Directors, sought financial assistance and approval from the powers that be. He wrote a letter dated 26th November, 1846 addressed to the Secretary of the Court of Directors of the East India Company pushing for this line.

Little did Arbuthnot know that this would be the first of many letters to be sent to the establishment over 11 years before his dream could be realised. Luckily for him, this was not a battle he had to fight alone. The people of Madras, including the company’s shareholders and promoters, were determined to see that the project took shape.

Despite growing support, the East India Company declined to comply with the request of the Madras Railway Company for pecuniary support in 1850.

Unrelenting, the Madras Railway Company fought back. After two years of persistent lobbying, the proposal to build railroads in the Presidency was finally sanctioned.

On May 28, 1856, the laying of the railway line connecting Royapuram and Wallajah road was completed. Two days later, after being inaugurated by Lord Harris, the then Governor of Madras, a train puffed out of the Royapuram station, launching the first passenger train service to ferry commuters across the Presidency.