The best books on railways and trains

Rajendra B. Aklekar Author Of India’s Railway Man: A Biography of E. Sreedharan
By Rajendra B. Aklekar

The Books I Picked & Why

Railways & the Raj: How the Age of Steam Transformed India

By Christian Wolmar

Railways & the Raj: How the Age of Steam Transformed India

Why this book?

I am personally recommending the book because it covers the essence of India’s railway history in an English context. The English context is particularly important because the railways have been an English creation in India. Despite the English context, the book in a way accepts and humbly admits how the railways were built for the colonial power to govern the huge country and is purely based on facts and records. India joined the railway age late: the first line was not completed until 1853 but, by 1929, 41,000 miles of track served the country. The book accelerates history in a crisp manner.

I love and personally connect with this book for the national context it has and not just one zone of the railway. Also showing the city around to the author during his research was an absolute honour. What value did you get from this book? The inputs and explanation add to more value simply because the author has taken the trouble of actually visiting the key places before writing which adds a connection between history and the contemporary.


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Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry

By Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha, Vidya Krishnamurthi

Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry

Why this book?

This is another book on the same subject written by an eminent historian and economist. I am recommending this book because of the clear and categorical historical decade-wise demarcations since the inception of railways in India since the 1830s. The 20th century is summarised in one entire chapter, bringing a contemporary context. One of the best parts of the book is a timeline of the government policies and committees on Indian Railways in a tabular form that gives a quick summary of how the organization progressed in its different forms, including the seamless transfer from old colonial railways to national railways adding the current reforms and policies. Another key feature of the book is that it gives a timeline of the various railway companies and railway lines spread across India.

I am also proud to mention that the book liberally quotes my first book when it mentions India’s railway lines. Overall I also recommend the book to one and all because of its simple explanations for an average layman. 


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Indian Locomotives: Broad Gauge, 1851-1940 Pt. 1

By Hugh Hughes

Indian Locomotives: Broad Gauge, 1851-1940 Pt. 1

Why this book?

The Indian Locomotive Series of four books by Hugh Hughes is a must-have for all rail fans, learners, academics, and researchers. Even if you are not a serious historian and would just want to know more about locomotives in India, this is the key book. Hugh C. Hughes was a teacher by profession, who was a prominent statistician and railway historian of the Indian Railways. He has documented and listed every possible locomotive from the by-gone era that ever worked on rail lines here and has managed to acquire some very rare pictures of those locomotives. I personally recommend the book because it adds to value because the old images of stations and locations along with those old workhorse engines are today really valuable to get a context of how the old station was historically as it is seldom that such photographs are taken by the official machinery of the railways.

The book had details of the life history of all such engines from where they were acquired, to which railway were they transferred on the lines, and how they ended or continued their lives. It is especially very interesting to know the life and history of steam locomotives, most of which were made in Britain and sent to India in ships in the early days. A definite must-have book for all rail buffs.


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Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850-1900

By Ian J. Kerr

Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850-1900

Why this book?

This is a key book on the mountain railways of India. While all other history books look at the overall context of Indian Railways, this one, in particular, focuses on the “Ghat sections” of Indian Railways that were built as early as the 1860s with primitive technology, labour and sheer hard work. I personally recommend this work because it explores a not-so-popular yet very important part of the construction of the first railway lines in India. The book has minute details of the labour numbers, the various communities involved, and how work went ahead in the difficult most terrain and tropical weather. I am also proud to be associated with late Kerr during his research visits to India and assist him in his work.


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Around India in 80 Trains

By Monisha Rajesh

Around India in 80 Trains

Why this book?

This out-of-the-box book that takes you on a very Indian train trip on the lines of the iconic work of eminent Jules Verne has been my instant favourite right from the title and idea. The author, the Indian British Tourist went on a trip to the sub-continent on trains and has covered everything from commuter trains to hospital trains. I personally love this book for the various narratives and the “people stories” that reflect as the author goes on trips across the country in trains. The small stories capture the essence of India and bring out the magnitude of railways and how deeply it is connected to Indian social life. As one of my favorite rail authors Ian J. Kerr once told me in a historical context, “No railways, no India.” on how the iron web of railways brought together a nation.


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