From a bogey made of wooden slats, Gandhiji is stepping out on the platform in Champaran, Bihar. The roman numeral III is clearly imprinted on the coach. Gandhiji frequently travelled third-class.

Many a freedom fighter and leader travelled the length and breadth of India, building a nation that would later call for freedom. The Railways thus played a crucial role in the Independence struggle.

A weeklong exhibition at the Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir — to celebrate the completion of 160 years for the Indian Railways and 11 years for the East Central Railway — has delicately captured the nation-building effort through a range of memorable photographs. The collection is not just a record of its achievements in its lifetime, but also a rich source that tells the story of a nation from its inception.

Photographs of Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Darbhanga, Bihar, him inaugurating the Quilon-Ernakulam line and the children’s train at Bal Bhavan in New Delhi and what is presumably the “last photograph” of Subhash Chandra Bose are also on display. A picture of a special refugee train at Ambala railway station is a poignant depiction of the plight of refugees from Pakistan. The train is overflowing with people, even its roof packed to capacity.

“The Railway was established in 1825 in the United Kingdom in 1825 and in India in 1853. It has played a very big role in establishing India as a nation,” said R.K. Singh, publicity inspector, ECR.

“Before the advent of the British, India was a collection on princely States. The British certainly had a colonial motive of building the Railway. They wanted it for the movement of the Army and raw material. But the Railway helped in the spread of Indian nationalism. Political leaders could travel and propagate the idea of exploitation. It helped in creating a national consciousness,” Mr. Singh said.

The collection also gives a rare glimpse into the lives of the erstwhile princes. There are pictures of the salon wagons of the Maharaja of Darbhanga and the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda. The special wagon would be attached to the train whenever the Maharaja of Darbhanga travelled.

Divided into several chapters, such as ‘Locomotive and Trains’, ‘Carriages and Wagons’, ‘Station Architecture’, ‘Railway Stations — Centres of Towns’, ‘Passenger Amenities’ and ‘Bridges and Tunnels’, the exhibition is a veritable joyride on the tracks of time.

The chapter on station architecture is brings you the familiar sights of railway stations with local architectural influences, such as Egmore, Guruvayur, Madras, Kachiguda, Bikaner, Byculla, Victoria Terminus (old name) and others.

The Bikaner-Jodhpur railways lines were a joint effort of the Maharajas of these two places, who built the railway to alleviate the distress of the people during famines.

On a lighter note, highlighting the plight of a passenger is the famous hilarious letter by an Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj divisional office in West Bengal, where he talks about missing his train while attending the nature’s call.

Conceived by the ECR’s public relations department, the exhibition also includes models of the tools and implements used by the Railways over the years, passenger amenities, coaches and plans of upcoming projects.

The exhibition which began on October 1 is on till October 7.