History of Tinsukia Division:
The British, on arriving in Assam, selected Dibrugarh as an administrative and commercial center in Upper Assam, making it a hub of activity in this region of north-eastern India. In 1880, Dibrugarh Railway station was constructed.
In 1881 Dibrugarh Railway Workshop was established. The first loco superintendent was W.Holker.
When the First Train in India ran from Bombay to Thane on 16th April, 1853, nobody envisaged that a self-propelled rolling stock system would become the lifeline of a nation. Indian Railways, a social welfare organization has woven the sub-continent together and brought to life the concept of a united India resulting into the social, cultural, geographical and economic development of the country. Surprisingly railways, in the remotest northeastern part of the country arrived within 30 year of starting of the first train which was commenced in one of the most developed sections of the country. It is also noteworthy that the railways in Brahmaputra valley of upper Assam was literally airdropped (or rather water dropped), as an island railway known as Dibru-Sadiya Railway. One of the Boards in the divisional Control office is still known as DS Board.
In 1834 the Governor General set up a Committee to explore the possibility of tea growing in India. It was found that the tea plant was indigenous to Assam, a discovery followed by the importation of tea makers from China, leading, eventually to the great tea industry of Assam.
The Brahmaputra, navigable over a distance of a thousand miles from the sea, made the establishment of the tea industry possible in Assam half a century before the advent of long-distance railway communications.
By 1885 the railways in the Assam Valley were already established as the Dibru Sadiya Railway (metre gauge) constructed by the Assam Railways and Trading Company and the Jorhat Provincial Railway (two feet gauge). Both these were at the eastern end of the Valley, connecting the distant tea gardens with the Brahmaputra. The river services were still the only means of communication with the outside world. It took almost a fortnight to reach Kolkata from Dibrugarh.
Work on the Assam Bengal Railway was begun in 1891-92. The hill section from Lumding to Badarpur took eleven years to build the 37 tunnels, aggregating 15,569 feet in length. In 1904 through communication by rail was established between Chittagong and Dibrugarh. In 1890 the journey from Calcutta to Dibrugarh took at least a fortnight: in 1904 it took over three days: in 1940 only thirty hours by rail. The 2nd Board in the divisional Control office is known as AB Board.
Although, one of the earliest discoveries of coal near Safrai was as early as 1828. However, even as late as 1880, there was no organized source of motive power in Assam to maintain its many tea factories at work. For example, in the year 1880 the Doom Dooma factory imported three thousand maunds of coal from Raniganj, which, arriving at Dibrugarh by river steamer, had to be transhipped and brought in small boats at least fifty miles up the Dibru River, and landed, after a total journey of a thousand miles, within a range of twenty-five miles of the Makum coalfield. The freight from Raniganj to Upper Assam raised the cost of the coal to more than ten times its value at the pit-head.
The existence of oil deposits, another precious commodity, also had been known for many years. One of the earliest references to petroleum in Assam was by CA Bruce in 1828 when he was prospecting for coal. Oil was struck in 1867 in the Makum area, south of the Dehing River.
The main road to the Steamer Ghat at Dibrugarh sixty miles of unmetalled cart-track built in 1865 and known as the Sadiya Road was in such a pathetic and awful condition in the rainy season that the estimated cost of putting the road into a serviceable condition was greater than the Public Works Budget for the Province for a whole year.
Thus came the proposals for the construction of a metre-gauge railway from Dibrugarh along the Sadiya Road, on the express condition that Government would guarantee an annual subsidy for a number of years.
The lack of a railway was, of course, the main reason why the Makum coalfield had not been developed. The coalfield was separated from the Sadiya Road tea estates not only by the Dehing River but by a twenty-five mile belt of dense forest as well.
Eventually, Government having agreed to a conditional subvention of Rs. 100,000, a prospectus was issued on December 4th 1879 in London by Dr Berry White and his friends, inviting applications for shares in the Assam Railways Company Limited. Unfortunately applications for shares in the Assam Railways Company from the public were not sufficient to warrant the Directors in proceeding to allotment. Towards the end of 1880, the project was brought to the notice of Benjamin Piercy, an engineer who had been responsible for the construction of railways in England and other parts of the world. Piercy agreed to support the scheme, which was widened on his advice to include the opening of the Makum coalfield in addition to timber and petroleum right.
On the July 30th, 1881 the Assam Railways and Trading Company Limited was incorporated. The prospectus was duly published and within a few hours’ applications were received amounting to 28% in excess of the required capital. The inclusion of the coal had been the sole means of attracting the shareholders. The old company had to abandon the scheme because they put forward the railways unassociated with the coal, timber and petroleum. The proposal had however now been modified and the main attraction was shifted to connect coalfield to Dibrugarh and connection to Doom Dooma tea estate from Makum was considered as a branch line.
The immediate task was threefold, namely, the construction of the railway, the development of the coalfield, and the establishment of a steamer service. Steamers and barges were required during the construction of the railway and collieries and later for the distribution of the coal. The railway required coal not only as a fuel for locomotives and workshops but as traffic.
The traffic to and from the gardens on the Sadiya Road had been insufficient to attract capital for the railway without the collieries; whilst the collieries could not be operated without adequate rail and river transport. Thus, all three objects and aims were interdependent.
On October 22nd 1881, Robert Piercy and two Paganinis arrived in Calcutta. Paganini senior meanwhile travelled to Karachi to inspect a number of river steamers and barges, available for immediate disposal, which might prove suitable for the construction work in Assam. Roberto Paganini having overtaken his colleagues three weeks later the four men left Calcutta for Dibrugarh, where they arrived on 1st December, 1881. Several weeks were spent in surveying the line from the Steamer-Ghat to the town of Dibrugarh.
Possession had to be obtained of the required land and a labour force had to be enlisted. As a result, it was not possible to begin construction until January 1882, when a considerable period of the working season had expired.
The first consignment of rails, locomotives, etc, shipped from the United Kingdom arrived at Dibrugarh. They had been brought a thousand miles up the Brahmaputra from. With sleepers cut locally, the first few miles of track were promptly laid. On May 1st 1882, the first metre-gauge locomotive in Assam passed over that section of the line extending from the Steamer-Ghat to the Jaipur Road.