Railroads in India and Mexico By Nick Cannon
The social and economic conditions in Mexico and India changed significantly in the mid nineteenth century. During this period, the construction of railroads impacted millions of people. The rural culture of these countries changed drastically. The development of the railway systems in Mexico and India is historically controversial. Railroad development caused political instability in both countries but also was responsible for economic growth, and temporal standardization.
As early as 1856, the government of Mexico had the right to acquire private or public land when needed to be used for public utility, including construction of a railroad. However, in May of 1882, the Mexican government enacted a new law establishing a judicial procedure that would expedite the transfer of ownership of land from the proprietor to the railroad, eliminating many provisions and regulations that had previously restricted development. The expropriation of land provided the Mexican government with an agenda of building an extensive railway system and would encourage foreign investors. The government targeted the land in rural areas, where many people had failed to pay their taxes for many years, paid very little taxes that were basically insignificant to the government, or held improper titles to the land they occupied. The government concurred that it would be more economically beneficial for the land to be used for the construction of railroads. (Van Hoy p.34) ) In Mexico there was no river system that was suitable for transportation. Although traveling by train was more expensive than walking, it saved people a lot of time. (Coatsworth p.945) Prior to the construction of railroads, people would have to either walk, travel by horseback, wagon, mules, or stagecoach. Stagecoaches ￼traveled at approximately fifteen kilometer per hour while trains traveled at forty kilometers per hour. (Coatsworth p. 947)
Porfirio Diaz was the ruler during the height of the railroad construction in Mexico, from 1876 to 1911. He is credited for the transformation of Mexico and building a robust economy. During his reign, known as the Porfiriato period, Diaz promoted and procured substantial investments by foreign businesses. The building of the railroads helped Diaz to consolidate and centralize his power. The railways expanded to over 19,000 kilometers of track during this time. (Van Hoy p.35) Telegraph lines were also set up in Mexico, allowing for easier communication between people that were far away, modernizing the country and promoting trade expansion. The country’s economy grew by two hundred percent. The construction and extension of the railway system allowed for increased exports of agricultural products, a revival of the mining industry and the development of other businesses including petroleum manufacturing. (Van Hoy p.35)
Porfirio Diaz was also considered a criminal by many people. The peak of railroad construction in Mexico came in 1910. Wealthy landowners, railroad companies and foreign businesses profited immensely. However, Diaz’s economic policies established a larger working class population and increased poverty. There was a huge division between the elite and the poor. People were not able to support themselves because of fewer jobs and low wages. Government repression of the people directly led to the Mexican Revolution (191020). People grew weary and restless with Diaz’s leadership and lack of assistance. The dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz ended in 1911, when the revolutionaries overthrew him and his regime because of his economic policies. The revolutionaries then ended the construction of railroads and damaged the tracks. The Mexican economy would not recover until the 1920’s; however, at this point in time cars and buses became the main form of transportation. (Coatsworth p.943)
￼An interesting aspect of the development of railways during this time was the role that women played in decisionmaking in Mexican railroad construction. Women were involved in many aspects of land ownership and development of the railway system. About twenty to thirty percent of cases had women listed as the owners of properties that were being sold and obtained by the government for railways. In addition, women acted as traders and litigants of their own land. The properties that women owned were large and quite valuable. Involvement of women in business related issues, particularly proprietorship and negotiations were not common during this era. (Van Hoy p.5253)
The following two photographs are pictures taken of Mexican railways during the nineteenth century. As you can see in the photos, the surrounding land areas are vast and desolate. In the first photo, there are men on horseback who are most likely working for the government in order to oversee the construction. This can be interpreted as possibly one of the rural areas of the land that was acquired by the government under the expropriation law of 1882. In the second photo, the railway runs directly through the countryside which appears to be woodlands or forest. Construction of the railway structure disrupted natural animal and plant ￼habitats and destroyed small farming communities.
￼This next photograph is of a map of the railways in Mexico in 1910. You can see the different stops the railways would take, connecting various cities. Although there seems to be an abundance of train routes, if you look at the distance between lines across the country, you can see how far away they are from each other. What is also noticeable are the large areas of land in which there are no railway tracks going through them at all. These barren areas are an example of how railways in the 1920’s were becoming a less utilized form of transportation.
￼Railways were one of the biggest economic factors in India from 1850 to 1947. These railways connected the Indian society and increased trade while integrating the trade markets. Prior to railways, it was very difficult for people to travel in India due to poor roadways. Water transportation could only be accessed on the coasts, or by the two river systems, making water transportation limited as well. Railways led to the circulation of people and cargo throughout India. In 1905, the yearly number of passengers was 256 million. (Prasad p.1255) Railways also shaped the finances of the colonial governments and the Princely States in India. Railways became a force for independence and democracy in India. (Chaudhary) In 1846, a British imperial officer in India wrote that the railroad was a “Might engine of improvement,” which would “Cause the slumbering Spirit of India to awake from the sleep of ages, the sleep of apathy, superstition, and prejudice.” (Prasad p. 1253)
The purpose of the railways in India was to make trade and travel easy and cheap. The initial and biggest advocates for this new rail system in India were the British. The British believed that by creating this rail system, it would open up an easier trading market for them to buy and sell cotton products. What the British didn’t realize was, in addition to cargo travel, there was a need for easy passenger travel in India. Providing an accessible travel mode would lead to major revenues in the latter half of the 18th century. (Chaudhary).
The first passenger train in India was constructed in 1855 and measured twenty miles long. (Prasad p.1254) This railway connected the port of Bombay to Thana. By the 1900s, India’s railways system was the fourth largest in the world; however, this was not adequate in relation to the amount of people that lived in India during this time. The Government of India (GOP) was in charge of placing the routes, despite the fact that private companies were the ones constructing the rail lines. One main reason for the specific placement of the rail lines was the ￼military presence in India. Strategy and military concerns influenced where the lines would be placed and which cities would receive railway stations.
In the map below depicting the railroad system in India in 1909, you can see the vast majority of rail lines running throughout the country.(Chaudhary p.17)
Railroads had an extremely large impact on India. Historians have found that the railroads became a superior way for people to travel in India during the nineteenth century due to the fact that the other means of travel were extremely poor in quality and difficult to use. It was more economical for the nation as a whole to use the trains due to faster travel time as well as more efficient transfer of goods. (Chaudhary p.6)
Although the use of the railways was initially slow, it quickly became a common method of transportation because of the convenience it provided people for work and trade. The building of the railways increased market integration, price convergence and income (all economical factors in India). When compared to parts of India that did not have railways, the areas that did were able to price goods at a lower rate. Research showed that the goods did vary, however for the most part the lower prices stayed consistent with the placement of the railways. (Chaudhary p.34)
Another interesting factor about the railway system in India was the safety it had during this time. Accidents and deaths continually decreased throughout the nineteenth century using India’s railway system. As compared to other country’s rail lines during this time, India had an average safety rating. As the twentieth century approached, injuries did increase, but some of these injuries were due to deliberate arson attacks, which had nothing to do with how well the rail system operated. (Chaudhary p.10)
Another important impact of the railway in India was standardized time. In 1905, the British imperial government standardized railway time. This provided a uniform time, which made India more modern and rational. (Prasad p.12541255) First standardized rail time replaced local time with the province that served a specific railway system. Than the province was replaced with an allIndian time. The early railway times were based on a twelvehour system, which used a.m. and p.m. (Prasad p.1271-1272) This enabled the people in India to
￼relate time in a standard fashion. Each community was able to officially coordinate with each other.
The following chart shows the numbers of injuries and deaths in relation to the amount of accidents that had occurred during that time. As seen in the chart, safety continually increased as the years went on and train productivity increased. The numbers of accidents, deaths, and injuries due to railway accidents were typical for countries during this time period. (Chaudhary p.25).
Figure 5: Railway Safety
￼The following photo illustrates the construction of the railway in India. As seen in the photo, there are many people working on the railway. The building of the railway provided an excellent job opportunity for many people and was a main factor for economic growth in India. (Chaudhary) The working conditions seem to be very grueling. During the 1920’s, out of India’s four million industrial workers, 900,000 of them worked for the railroad in either administration, manual labor, or mechanical engineering. (Arnold p.236)
￼Construction of the railway system in both India and Mexico created social conditions that divided the country with the elite prospering and the lower class suffering. However, the development of the railroad modernized and enhanced the economies of both countries immensely by enabling efficient trading methods with foreign markets. The significant changes that occurred in Mexico and India, socially, economically and politically, were a direct result of railroad expansion in the mid nineteenth century.
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*No page numbers*
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