Mysore is a city which is known for many firsts. India’s first largest dam – KRS, First in Asia to generate electricity, First Kingdom in India to get electric street lights, first kingdom to offer reservation to under privileged, first kingdom to open exclusive schools for women, first kingdom to create a democratic body – “Praja Pratinidhi Sabhe” just like the upper house of our current parliament, etc.
But, many of us don’t know that Mysore Kingdom was the first princely state of British Raj to have its own railway! The person who made this possible was the then Maharaja of Mysore Kingdom, His Highness, Sri Chamaraja Wadiyar X
Long before a state owned railway operated in our country, Mysore Kingdom had its own Railways. Rulers of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom had established Mysore State Railway to focus on the development of railway infrastructure within the kingdom, at a time when the entire railway network in the country was operated by private companies.
Two years after Chamaraja Wadiyar X was proclaimed the ruler of Mysore Kingdom, Mysore State Railways was established to take up the project to lay rail line between Mysore and Bangalore, in 1870. MSR was constituted to focus on railway development on the lines of Madras Railway Company which had a rail link between Royapuram and Bangalore City.
By 1881, when Wadiyar became the king, MSR had opened 58 miles of rail lines for traffic. During his short reign of just 13 years, he added 315 miles of rail tracks investing ₹164 lakh, including Mysore- Bangalore line opened in 1881 & Mysore – Nanjangud line, opened in 1891. This has been officially recorded in The Mysore Gazetteer. However, shortly later, all the lines laid and operated by Mysore State Railway were handed over to Southern Mahratta Railway Company as maintaining the lines became a burden on the state exchequer.
After the passing of HH, Maharani Vani Vilasa Sannidhana became the Queen Regent. She continued to invest in developing railway infrastructure. The Birur-Shimoga line was constructed during her tenure by spending Rs 23 lakh. The line was opened for traffic on December 1, 1899.
When HH Sri Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar took over as Maharaja, he set up a railway construction department. The Mysore state then signed a new contract with the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway Company (SMR) for the operation of the lines constructed by the MSR in 1908. In 1907 the lease was extended. From 1912, the Maharaja began construction of railway lines within the boundaries of his kingdom. Between 1916 and 1918, Mysore opened 232 miles of railway to traffic. The state also added 105 more miles of rail lines between 1921 and 1934.
From 1 January 1938, all the leased lines were reverted back to the control of the State of Mysore, creating a homogenous division of 740 miles of railway lines. In 1950, Mysore State Railway was nationalised and in 1951 it became part of Southern Railway, one of the then newly formed zones of Indian Railways, thus ending the legacy of the royal rails, which was developed as the pride of a once Majestic Kingdom.