The former Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire, India remains, by any measure, a major economic and political actor on the world scene. Without her extensive railway networkcompleted against all odds by her British colonial mastersit is impossible to imagine what might have become of the diverse lands and peoples of the subcontinent. These railway networks brought them together as a colony; these networks fostered the nationalism that would be Britain's downfall. This rail network both remade the physical landscape and brought social-cultural cohesion to a diverse and wide-ranging populace. It would be common rail travel that Gandhi would employ to reach the masses. From its romantic mystique to its dangerous reality, it is rail travel today that keeps vital social, cultural, economic and political forces moving.
India's railroad history serves as a unique lens to her larger story of triumph over adversity. By 1905, India had the world's fourth largest railway networka position it retains in the early 21st century. The railroads were at the organizational and technological center of many of the inter-related economic, political, social, cultural, and ecological transformations that produced modern India through, and out of, its colonial past. In addition to this vast technical achievement, and (in keeping with the series focus), there is an equally important and wide-sweeping human-interest tale to be told with evocative vignettes of the triumph of the human spirit (one billion strong!) in the face of great adversity.