In operation for over 160 years, Indian Railways boasts of a rich rail heritage and legacy. It traverses the length and breadth of the vast country through scenic routes, heritage stretches and villages.
In a recent initiative to showcase its cultural heritage, stations, tourist places digitally, Railways has partnered with the US-based technology giant Google and launched a project titled ‘The Railways – Lifeline of a Nation’ on September 29th 2018.
This had started a pilot project last December at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Station (CSTM) in Mumbai wherein six video screens exhibited Indian Railway’s rich history and heritage.
The two-year digitization project is accessible online for viewers at the Google Arts and Culture website and comprises of an exhaustive collection of digital documents including photographs, documentaries, texts, virtual tours, 360-degree videos, online exhibits and maps pertaining to the Indian Railways.
In a statement, Google said: “We are bringing Indian Railways’ heritage and sights to the entire world. Anyone can now explore India’s railways in detail with over 100 exhibitions that bring together more than 3000 images, 150 videos and 150 iconic locations across India.”
The present Indian Railway system is the legacy of the British rule and has been functioning since the 1850s; ferrying goods across regions with the first passenger train operated on April 16, 1853 between Bombay (now Mumbai) and Thane and carrying 400 passengers.
Since then, the Indian Railways has significantly expanded to become one of the largest and the busiest rail networks of the world covering over 1,20,000 km of tracks with more than 7,000 stations spread across the length and breadth of the country.
The Indian Railways thus possess an extensive list of heritage assets including museums, heritage parks, heritage galleries, bridges, buildings, artefacts, steam locomotives and vintage coaches.
It also has UNESCO-accorded sites such as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Kalka-Shimla Railway and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Station. Talking about the project, Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways, said that it is an experience for the 1.3 billion people of India to know what the 1.3 million railway employees are doing for serving them.
“From the Nilgiri Mountain to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station, let the people of India relive their childhood through the train journey to Madhira and through the Darjeeling toy train. Let us show the Kangra valley, the Kalka-Shimla experience so that it can be enjoyed by someone in Coimbatore or Ooty,” Goyal said.
The project is divided into ‘Journeys’, ‘People’, ‘Heritage’ and ‘Engineering’ sections with each section containing visual and textual narrations.
In addition to featuring the scenic railway routes and historic events, the project will also document the lesser-known stories of 32 railway employees including engineers, trackmen, ticket checkers and station in-charges; all of who contribute to the smooth functioning of the railways.
The inherent linkage to art and culture will be laid out in other sections such as street art, literature, music, Bollywood and sports.
Explaining the project, Amit Sood, Director of Google Cultural Institute, said that the initiative was all about iconic monuments, the heritage and making of Indian Railways, which today is the backbone of the country in many ways and that it was truly fascinating and a treat for both the young and the old.
He said that there is probably no other country with whom we have done a project what most people consider public utility service like the railways.
Lifeline of the country
“But converting that to what it means for the lifeline of the country; there is no narrative like that in any of the markets as of yet”, he said. Sood hoped that the project might inspire other countries to do something similar.
Google Arts and Culture, which was launched in 2011, has already tied up with various other ministries and institutes of the Indian government to bring digital exhibits that epitomizes India’s rich culture.
It has partnered internationally with more than 1,800 institutions in 80 countries globally and has 50 million people using its platform every month. The Indian Railways online project aims to reach out to wider audiences to display its rich rail heritage.
There will be digital exhibits at 22 different railway stations in India including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Guwahati. At the launch event in the National Rail Museum, a permanent exhibition of these online sources was also inaugurated.