The best books on railways and trains

Who am I?

Rajendra B. Aklekar (born 1974) is an Indian journalist with over 25 years of experience and author of best-selling books on India’s railway history and heritage. He is also the biographer of India’s legendary railway engineer Dr. E Sreedharan. With museology from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharasj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, Aklekar is also a Google-certified Digital Marketer. Aklekar, associated with the Indian Railway Fans’ Club Association, Indian Steam Railway Society, Rail Enthusiasts Society, has contributed significantly while setting up the Rail Heritage Gallery at the UNESCO-listed Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, formerly Victoria Terminus building, Bombay, and documentation of heritage relics of India’s first railway.

I wrote...

India’s Railway Man: A Biography of E. Sreedharan

By Rajendra B. Aklekar,

Book cover of India’s Railway Man: A Biography of E. Sreedharan

What is my book about?

This is the story of Dr. E. Sreedharan—a 21st-century icon similar to Brunel and Sir MV; a man who has changed the face of the railways, and of public transport in India. Two key railway projects helmed by him have changed the way India travels. The first is the 760-km stretch of the Konkan Railway, carved out of the extremely challenging terrain of India’s Western Ghats—a project virtually abandoned by the British as ‘not feasible’. It was completed by Sreedharan and his team within seven years, and when finished, it cut short the rail-travel distance between Ahmedabad and Mangalore by 1,218km.

While these and many more success stories abound around Sreedharan, not many know of the private battles he has fought with integrity for his principles, nor have many have heard the anecdotes behind the biggest infrastructure projects he has led. The biography has been endorsed by Dr. Sreedharan himself.

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The books I picked & why

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

Rajendra B. Aklekar Why did I love 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.

By Christian Wolmar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Railways & the Raj as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

India was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, an Empire that needed a rail network to facilitate its exploitation and reflect its ambition. But, by building India's railways, Britain radically changed the nation and unwittingly planted the seed of independence. As Indians were made to travel in poor conditions and were barred from the better paid railway jobs a stirring of resentment and nationalist sentiment grew.

The Indian Railways network remains one of the largest in the world, serving over 25 million passengers each day. In this expertly told history, Christian Wolmar reveals the full story, from…

Book cover of Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry

Rajendra B. Aklekar Why did I love 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. 

By Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha, Vidya Krishnamurthi

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Indian Railways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The fascinating story of the network that made modern India The railways brought modernity to India. Its vast network connected the far corners of the subcontinent, making travel, communication and commerce simpler than ever before. Even more importantly, the railways played a large part in the making of the nation: by connecting historically and geographically disparate regions and people, it forever changed the way Indians lived and thought, and eventually made a national identity possible. This engagingly written, anecdotally told history captures the immense power of a business behemoth as well as the romance of train travel; tracing the growth…

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

Rajendra B. Aklekar Why did I love 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.

By Hugh Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Indian Locomotives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part 1 in this series begins with a general history of the development of broad gauge railways in India, the locomotive types, and stock totals at 20 year intervals to illustrate the varying trends in motive power. The book then provides a detailed look at 14 railway systems, covering over 10,000 locomotives. For each system, there is a roster of all known locomotives, a brief history of the railway (including opening date, mergers, etc.), and a description of the main features of the locomotive stock. Railways covered include the Bengal-Nagpur, the Bombay, Baroda & Central India, the East Coast, the…

Book cover of Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850-1900

Rajendra B. Aklekar Why did I love 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.

By Ian J. Kerr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850-1900 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

25,000 miles of rail were constructed in India from 1850 to 1900, involving a considerable investment of British capital, railway technology, engineers, skilled workmen and millions of Indian labourers. This is a detailed history of the development of the Indian railroad.

Book cover of Around India in 80 Trains

Rajendra B. Aklekar Why did I love 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.

By Monisha Rajesh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Around India in 80 Trains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Crackles and sparks with life like an exploding box of Diwali fireworks' -William Dalrymple

'One can only envy Monisha Rajesh as she embarks on this epic journey' -Tim Parks

When she was a child, Monisha Rajesh's family uprooted to Madras in the hope of making India their home, but soon returned to England with a bitter taste in their mouths. Two decades on, Monisha turns to a map of the Indian Railways and takes a page out of Jules Verne's classic tale, embarking on an adventure around India in 80 trains, covering 40,000km - the circumference of the Earth.


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Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

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Interested in trains and railways, India, and the Indian Railways?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about trains and railways, India, and the Indian Railways.

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