When railway trains became popular in England and their potential to cut down travelling time was understood, more ideas were put forward to reduce the voyage time between London and Calcutta. At a time when average sailing time was around 100 days, an engineer made a daring proposal for inter-modal transport ( a mix of travel by sea and travel over land by train) which he promised would make possible, communication between London and Calcutta in- believe it or not- 7 days.
Allen’s Indian Mail and Register of Intelligence for British and Foreign India, China and all parts of the East- Volume IX, published in the year 1851, carries this report (page 562), which must have left its readers awestruck.
COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LONDON AND CALCUTTA IN SEVEN DAYS.
Such is the announcement which lies now before us. To be sure, the information is termed a prophecy, but, unlike most prophecies, it fixes the exact period of its own fulfillment, and that period is only fourteen years distant. Moreover, the consummation is to be gradual, and every five years will not only contribute its own realized portion of the work, but give a pledge for the completion of the rest. In sober truth, the scheme exhibits not the first visionary ideas of a projector, but the revised designs of an engineer who has been for some time engaged in maturing the means of the undertaking. About two years ago, we surprised our readers with the original prospectus of the "Direct Calais and Mooltan," and some doubts were, perhaps, entertained as to the seriousness of such an extraordinary suggestion. Since that time, however, the scheme has been actually extended in its scope, discussed in its details, approved in much of its purport, and so fur advanced, that of the four great divisions of the route, two have been positively decided on, and are in present course of completion.
To form a proper judgment on the character of this enterprise, the reader should open some general map including the continents of Europe and Africa, with so much of Asia as would comprise the mouths of the Ganges, and then follow our remarks, pencil in hand, upon the sheet before him. The ancient route from England to India was round the Cape of Good Hope, —a passage which was performed wholly by sea, and which generally occupied of late years about 100 days. In 1840, the first step of a new system had been taken, by turning the course straight to the East at the Gut of Gibraltar, carrying it along the Mediterranean Sea, across the Isthmus of Suez, down the Red Sea, and so over the Indian Ocean to Bombay, or round Ceylon to Calcutta. Nor was this all, for, by traversing France from Calais to Marseilles, the detour round Cape St. Vincent was altogether escaped, and the route assumed the appearance of a tolerably straight line from Calais to Aden. It will be observed that this gain had been effected partly by the division of the voyage into stages, whereby steam power became available, but more notably, by the substitution of overland cuts for long sea circuits. Thus, the cut from Calais to Marseilles saved the circuit round Spam, and that across Egypt the vast circuit round the Cape. Now, this substitution of land carriage for water carriage is the one simple principle of the scheme before us, and the problem is nothing more than this,—how to eliminate from the route between Marseilles and Calcutta those portions which au: still performed by sea, and substitute, instead thereof, some means of transport by land. Curiously enough, this is the exact reversal of that invention which changed the face of history four centuries ago.
At that time, the communication with the East was by land, but land journeys were then so painful and adventurous, that the discovery of a sea passage round the Cape at once diverted the course of traffic to a route which it still steadily maintains. At present, by the introduction of railroads, land travel has become to sea voyages what sea voyages were to mediaeval caravans, and the consequence is, that Vaseo di Gama's invention will be superseded in its turn, and the traffic of the East will once more be conducted through Constantinople, Augsburg, and Cologne.
The sea stages of the present route to India, exclusive of the trip across the Channel, are two; one from Marseilles or Trieste to Alexandria, and the other from Suez to Bombay or Calcutta. These stages constitute by far the longest part of the journey, being 5,075 miles, performed by steamers, from which an average speed of some ten miles an hour is all that can be expected. The longer, again, of these two stages is that from Suez to Hindostan, as it includes a circuit round two sides of the triangular territory of Arabia. The first object, therefore, is to treat the detour by Aden as the detours by Cape St Vincent and the Cape of Good Hope have been treated already, by carrying the passengers to the mouths of the Orontes instead of the mouths of the Nile, and forwarding them across the Turkish territory to Bussoruh, at the head of the Persian Gulf. The railroad required for this purpose would run along the Euphrates Valley, and its length would not exceed 900 miles,—barely two-thirds of the extent just executed in the little commonwealth of Massachusetts,—whereas its completion would reduce the distance from London to Calcutta by more than one-half,—by twenty days, in fact, out of thirty-nine! This project, it is conceived, could be accomplished in five years' time, and the route would then lie through Ostend, Trieste, by the Mediterranean Sea, to the Orontes, thence to Bussorah, and by the Persian Gulf to Bombay, where it would meet the Indian railroads now actually commenced, and by that time completed to Calcutta.
We have thus got rid of the Red Sea circuit, andl substituted a land route for 900 miles of the distance. There remain now the straight run from Bussorah to Bombay, and the circuitous reach, from Trieste to the Orontes, to be commuted for the facilities of direct railway transit by land. Of these, the latter is the first to be taken in hand, and its difficulties are the less, as a continuous line of railway from Ostend to Orsova, on the frontiers of the Turkish empire, is already decided on. From Orsova to Constantinople is only 315 miles; from Constantinople to Bussoruh is about 1,355, of which 900 would be already covered. The distances, in our English eyes, are undoubtedly great, but Americans have accomplished greater feats of railroad mechanism in countries where the natural obstacles were at least equal to those likely to be encountered in Asia Minor. It is suggested that the line should run round the coast of the Asiatic Peninsula, and an estimate is given that this communication between Constantinople and the Orontes, completing that between the same city and Bussorah, might be established by the year 1860. On that assumption, the total mileage of the route would give 4200 to railways and only 1,600 to steamers, and the journey from London to Calcutta would occupy twelve days.
Here, perhaps, we might pause, for it is no mean exploit to have brought Calcutta as near as New York; and Beloochistan, we must needs think, would be a strange country for even Irish "navigators." The projector, however, is not yet content, and he allows five years more for eliminating the Persian Gulf and continuing the railway from Bussorah by "the coast line of Persia and Beloochistan" to the old capital of the Ameers— Hyderabad on the Indus, whence the several branches of the Indian lines would soon whisk the passenger to Bombay, Lahore, or Calcutta, according to his wants, the latter station being exactly 5,600 miles, or seven days' journey, from the booking office of the company in Grace Church-street- This is the scheme. Its accomplishment involves the completion, altogether, of some 5,600 miles of railway; but of these, some 2,600 are actually decided on, and in course of construction already; and, if we look to what has been done elsewhere, we may perhaps think this Anglo-Saxon prophecy by no means so impossible of fulfilment as it seemed at first.