Railway time

Railway time

Railway time was the name given to the standardised time arrangement first applied by the Great Western Railway in England in November 1840. This was the first recorded occasion when a number of different local times were synchronised and a single standard time applied. Railway time was progressively taken up by all of the other railway companies on the island of Great Britain over the following two to three years. The times schedules by which trains were organised and the times train stations clocks displayed was brought in line with the local time for London or ‘London Time’. This was also the time set at Greenwich by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich which was already widely known as Greenwich Mean Time or (GMT).

The development of railway networks in India around 1860 [Kosambi, Meera [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XU8dmAiaZSgC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22railway+time%22+%2Bmadras+-table&source=web&ots=rGuQIRfSSk&sig=3qz0OmnRCMIsGmqkEssMuZN9Nm4&hl=en#PPA176,M1 “Bombay Time in Intersections: Socio-cultural Trends in Maharashtra p161 ISBN-13: 978-8125018780 Orient Longman (2000)”] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.] , and North America in the 1850s [ Smithsonian's NMAH - Anniversary Exhibition Press Release 1999 [http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=97 "Standard Time in America"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.] as well as other countries in Europe, also prompted the introduction of standard time systems influenced by the specific, geographical, industrial development and political governance appertaining.

The key purpose behind introducing railway time was twofold. Firstly, to overcome the confusion caused by having non-uniform ’local times’ in each town and station stop along the expanding railway network and secondly, to reduce the incidence of accidents and near misses which were increasingly occurring as the number of train journeys increased.

The railway companies sometimes faced concerted resistance from groups of local people in a number of places where trains stopped, who refused to agree to adjust their public clocks to bring them into line with 'London Time'. As a consequence two different times would be displayed in the town and in use with the station clocks and published in train timetables differing by several minutes from that on other clocks. Despite this early reluctance, railway time rapidly became adopted as the default time across the island of Great Britain although it still took until 1880 for the Government to legislate on the establishment of a single Standard Time and a single time zone for the island. [Davies, Peter E [http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/info/railway.htm "History of Railway Time"] - "Reproduced from original article on http://www.carnforth-station.co.uk/ "- Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

Some commentators of the time referred to the influence of railway time on encouraging greater precision in daily tasks and the demand for punctuality. [Harrington, Ralph [http://www.greycat.org/papers/timetrav.html "Trains, Technology and Time Travel - How the Victorians Reinvented Time"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

Historical background

Until the latter part of the 18th Century, time was normally determined in each town by reference to a local sundial. Solar time is calculated with reference to the relative position of the sun. This only provided an approximation as to time due to variations in orbits and had become unsuitable for day-to-day purposes. It was replaced by local mean time which eliminated the variation due to seasonal differences and anomalies. It also took account of the specific longitude at any location and enabled a precise time correction to be applied.

Such new-found precision did not overcome a different problem which was the small differences between the local time of two neighbouring towns and over longer distances with the major cities. For example, in Britain, local times for London, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, could be as much as 16 to 20 minutes. In India and North America these differences could be sixty minutes or more. Almanacs containing tables were published and instructions attached to sundials to enable the differences between local time to be computed. [Walker, Phil - Sundial Website [http://www.sundial.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/lilleshall0.htm "Inscription attached to Sundial - Lilleshall Shropshire, England"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

Before the arrival of the railway journeys between these centres and the larger town in between would take many hours or days and as such these differences could routinely be dealt with by adjusting the hands of the watch periodically. In Britain, the coaching companies also published schedules providing details of the corrections to watches required. However, this variation in local times, not just between the east and west coasts, but between other towns and cities and London was large enough to present problems for the railway companies organising train schedules. For instance, ‘Leeds time’ was six minutes behind London, whilst Bristol was ten minutes. In contrast sunrise for towns to the east such as Norwich would occur several minutes ahead of London. It soon became apparent that even such small discrepancies in times caused confusion, disruption or even accidents.

Influence of the electric telegraph

The electric telegraph which had been developed in the early part of the 19th century was further refined by William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone and came into operation on a short distance of the Great Western Railway in 1839. By 1852 a telegraph link had been constructed between a new electro-magnetic clock at Greenwich and initially Lewisham, and shortly after this, London Bridge stations. it also connected via the Central Telegraph Station of the Electric Time Company in the City of London which enabled the transmission of a time signal along the railway telegraphic network to other stations. By 1855 time signals from Greenwich could be sent through wires alongside the railway lines across the length and breadth of Britain. [Science Museum - Making of the Modern World [http://www.makingthemodernworld.org.uk/stories/the_age_of_the_engineer/01.ST.04/?scene=12 "Railway Time co-ordinated by the Electronic Telegraph"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.] This technology was also used in India to sychronise railway time.

Introduction of railway time

Great Britain

Before the advent of the telegraph, stationmasters would adjust their clocks using tables supplied by the railway company to convert local time to ‘London Time’. [ICONS of England -DCMS 2007 [http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/big-ben/features/mechanical-clocks "Stationmasters instructions issued by railway companies"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.] In turn train guards would set their chronometers against these clocks.

The introduction of railway time was in the end swift despite not being straightforward. The Great Western Railway Company was the first to standardise its timetable to that of Greenwich Mean Time in November 1840. One of the most vociferous proponents of standardising time on the Railways was Henry Booth, Secretary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway who had by January 1846 ordered the adjustment of clocks to Greenwich Mean Time at both Liverpool and Manchester stations.

On 22 September 1847, The Railway Clearing House, set up five years earlier to coordinate the distribution of passenger fares and charges for the transport of goods between the individual railway companies, decreed that "GMT be adopted at all stations as soon as the General Post Office permitted it". From 1 December 1847, the London and North Western and the Caledonian Railways had also switched over. By January 1848, according to Bradshaws Railway Guide, the other railway companies that had adopted London Time also included, the London and South Western, the Midland, the Chester and Birkenhead, the Lancaster and Carlisle, the East Lancashire and the York and North Midland. [Davies, Peter E [http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/info/railway.htm "History of Railway Time"] - "Reproduced from original article on http://www.carnforth-station.co.uk/ "- Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

It was reported that by 1855, 95% of Towns and Cities were said to have transferred to GMT. [Harrington, Ralph [http://www.greycat.org/papers/timetrav.html "Trains, Technology and Time Travel - How the Victorians Reinvented Time"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.] On the other hand not all railway companies convinced the local dignataries to bring their clocks on public buildings in line without stern resistance. Although by 1844 the Bristol and Exeter Railway was also running to London Time, the public clocks at both Exeter and Bristol still operated to local time but showed London Time via the addition of a second minute hand, which ran 14 and 10 minutes ahead, respectively of its companion. In Exeter this situation arose due to the reluctance amongst others of the Dean of Exeter Cathedral to concede to the demands of the railway company. The cathedral clock had a prominent position in the centre of the town. Similarly, Bristol did not solely recognise railway time until September 1852. It was not for a further eight years and the arrival of the electric telegraph that railway time was the sole time recognised in these towns as well as some others in the West Country including Bath, Devonport and Plymouth. Another town that stood its ground was Oxford where the great clock on Tom Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, were fitted with two minute hands, one for local time and one for GMT. [Prerau, David - Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement [http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/d.html "Standard Time Begins in Britain - Toms Tower Christ Church College, Oxford"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

It took until 1880 when in August that year the Statutes (Definition of time) Act received the Royal Assent and a unified standard time for the island of Great Britain was finally given legal status. This was swiftly followed in 1884 by the establishment of GMT as the universal reference for setting time around the globe. [Giles, Bill - BBC Weather A-Z [http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/az/alphabet76.shtml - "Zulu Time - The Definition of Time Act is enacted"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]


The Indian railway companies had similariy to contend with a number of different local times as the rapidly expanding routes extended out from Bombay (today Mumbai), Culcutta (today Kolkata), Lahore and Madras (today Chennai). Towards the end of the 1860s the situation became even more confused as the networks linked up. In 1870 to overcome the problems occurring, it was decided that Madras time would be used on all railways. Madras was chosen for two reasons. Firstly as it was located roughly halfway between Calcutta and Bombay and on a similar longitude to Lahore, and secondly, the Observatory based there already ran the telegraphic service which could be utilised to synchronise station times via the same time-signal system first used in Britain in 1852 to regulate railway time. Use of 'Madras Time' was popularised further by its use in Newman's Indian Bradshaw Timetables. [Greenwich2000 Limited [http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.co.uk/time-zone/asia/india/time/indian-time-zones.htm "Indian Railway Time"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

However, unlike in Britain, where railway time was rapidly adopted countrywide and evolved not long after into standard time, in India the much larger size of the country and the autonomy enjoyed by Bombay and Calcutta resulted in both Presidencies continuing to retain and largely operate their own respective local times in one form or other well into the 20th century. Meanwhile for the remaining part of the 19th century ‘Madras time’ continued to be used solely by all railways [IRFC - Indian Railways Fan Club [http://www.irfca.org/faq/faq-misc.html "Timekeeping and Indian Standard Time"] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

Proposals had been put forward for at least one meridian–based time zone for India as early as 1884. However, no consensus could be reached until 1906 when a single time zone, based on Allahabad was established and a standard time was introduced which the railways came in line with. Despite this, Culcutta still kept its own time until 1945 and to a lesser extent Bombay continued to unofficially use its time until 1955. [Kosambi, Meera [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XU8dmAiaZSgC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22railway+time%22+%2Bmadras+-table&source=web&ots=rGuQIRfSSk&sig=3qz0OmnRCMIsGmqkEssMuZN9Nm4&hl=en#PPA176,M1 “Bombay Time in Intersections: Socio-cultural Trends in Maharashtra p161 ISBN-13: 978-8125018780 Orient Longman (2000)”] - Retrieved March 4, 2008.]

North America

One of the first reported incidents which brought about a change in how time was organised on railways in the United States arose in New England in August 1853. Two trains on the same track and heading towards each other collided as each of the train guards had different times set on their watches, resulting in the death of 14 passengers. Railway schedules were co-ordinated in New England shortly after this incident [Smithsonian's NMAH - Anniversary Exhibition Press Release 1999 [http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=97 "Railway Accident and Standard Time in America"] - Retrieved March 4] Numerous other collisions led to the setting up of the General Time Convention, a committee of railway companies to agree on train scheduling. [White Matthew, W - Wharton Business School, Univ of Pennsylvania - March 2005 [http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/mawhite/Papers/TimeZones.pdf "The Economics of Time Zones"] - Retrieved March 7]

In 1870 Charles F. Dowd, who was unconnected with the railway movement or civil authorities, proposed "A System of National Times for Railroads" which involved a single time for railways but the keeping of local times for towns. Although this did not find favour with railway managers, in 1881 they eventually agreed for the idea to be investigated by William Frederick Allen Secretary of the General Time Convention and Managing Editor of the "Travellers' Official Guide to the Railways". He proposed a modified solution by replacing the 50 different railway times by five time zones. He eventually persuaded the railway managers and the politicians running the cities that had several railway termini, that it was in their interests to speedily adopt his simpler proposals which aligned the zones with cities railroad stations. In doing so they would pre-empt the imposition of more costly and cumbersome arrangements by different state legislators and the naval authorities both of whom favoured retention of local times. [White Matthew, W - Wharton Business School, Univ of Pennsylvania - March 2005 [http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/mawhite/Papers/TimeZones.pdf "The Economics of Time Zones"] - Retrieved March 7]

Right to the end there was opposition expressed by many smaller towns and cities, to the imposition of railway time. For example, in Indianapolis the report in the daily Sentinel for November 17 1883 protested that people would have to… "“eat sleep work… and marry by railroad time”". [Ralph R. Hamerla, 2006. [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=GJcGbpQJHnwC&pg=PT21&lpg=PT21&dq=an+american+scientist+on+the+research+frontier+edward+morley+community+and+radical+ideas+in+%22nineteenth+century%22+science&source=web&ots=99CAtKSpoq&sig=VJ0htLObm4GYEHo8aVDfguhrPWM&hl=en#PPT73,M1 "An American Scientist on the Research Frontier pp 96-7"] - Retrieved March 4] However, with the support of nearly all railway companies, most cities and influential observatories such as Yale and Harvard this collaborative approach led to standard railway time being introduced at noon on November 18 1883. This consensus held and was only incorporated into federal law in 1918. [NY Times Archive - October 10 1883 [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C06E4DF103BE033A25753C1A9669D94629FD7CF "Railway Time Belt William (Frederick) Allen"] - Retrieved March 4] [Smithsonian's NMAH - Anniversary Exhibition Press Release 1999 [http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=97 "North American Standard Time introduced 1883"] - Retrieved March 4] [White Matthew, W - Wharton Business School, Univ of Pennsylvania - March 2005 [http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/mawhite/Papers/TimeZones.pdf "The Economics of Time Zones"] - Retrieved March 7]


In Germany the standardisation of time had started to be discussed in the 1870s. North German railways were already regulated to 'Berlin Time' in 1874. However, it was not until 1 April 1893 that the a law was established by the German Reich “concerning the introduction of uniform time reckoning” by which all railways would operate and also all aspects of social, industrial and civil activity would, henceforth became strictly regulated. [ Procter, Greg [http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~procter/GERMDATE.HTM] "German Railway History"- Retrieved March 17, 2008.]


Italy was only newly unified as a single country when on 12 December 1866 and at the start of the winter season the railway timetables centred on Turin, Verona, Florence, Rome, Naples and Palermo were synchronised on the time in Rome, which although it would remain notionally at least under French military control until 1870, was still seen as being at the heart of the Italian nation.In addition to the adoption of a single railway time there was a progressive standardisation of time for civil and commercial purposes. Milan came in line straight away, Turin and Bologna on 1 January 1867, Venice on 1 May 1880 and Cagliari in 1886. [Parmeggiani, Gianluigi - Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna [http://www.iav.it/planetario/didastro/didastro/english.htm "The origin of time zones"] - Retrieved March 17, 2008.]


Unlike elsewhere in Europe, France chose not to go on to adopt the time already used on railways on a national basis. Instead it decided in 1891 to make all clocks in France run to ‘Paris Time’. This was a political decision, the consequence of the French failing to persuade other countries to adopt the meridian based on Paris as the prime meridian. Instead it had been established by international agreement following the Prime Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 to recognise Greenwich as the prime meridian. Railways continued to run 5 minutes behind the time in Paris until France eventually fell into line with the rest of the international community and adopted the UTC system in 1911. [Parmeggiani, Gianluigi - Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna [http://www.iav.it/planetario/didastro/didastro/english.htm "The origin of time zones"] - Retrieved March 17, 2008.]


In The Netherlands Railway time was based on GMT until 1909 when the country adopted 'Amsterdam time' as the standard time for the country which was 19 minutes ahead of GMT. This persisted until 1940 when the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands required a shift to German time, which has continued to be the standard since then. [ van Kampenl, Henk - [http://dutch-roots.blogspot.com/search/label/Dates%20and%20times "Timezones"] - Retrieved March 17, 2008.]


Sweden introduced a railway time after the main national railway between Stockholm and Gothenburg was opened in 1862. The time in Gothenburg, the westernmost end, was used, so passengers following local time would not go to the station too late. There were many private railways that followed local time or their own railway time. In year 1879 a standard time was introduced all over Sweden, one hour more than Greenwich time.

Railway time and society

The introduction of railway time was not without controversy expressed in other ways by the artists of the day.

William Wordsworth in his protest against the building of the Kendal and Windermere Railway in 1844 wrote "Is then no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?" He was concerned about the loss of timeless isolation and individuality through the impact on his quiet rural idyll of the hordes from the industrial towns [Tate online [http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue4/mindfields.htm "William Wordsworth Protest on Railway expansion in the lake District] - Retrieved March 4]

Charles Dickens also expressed concerns several times as in Dombey and Son were he wrote "There was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in". [Dickens, Charles [http://www.campusbookstore.com/digital/Charles_Dickens/Dombey_And_Son.pdf "Dombey and Son" p217] - Retrieved March 4]

Thomas Hardy in A Pair of Blue Eyes makes specific reference to railway time and its effect on seemingly contracting human time. [Gilmartin, Sophie [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=k-aaX2lOJZYC&pg=PA224&lpg=PA224&dq=%22railway+time%22&source=web&ots=-pq_TPyqbD&sig=BL1W3tILPqhzK_DZucdyd49e4qI&hl=en#PPA226,M1 "Ancestry and Narrative in Nineteenth-Century British Literature: Blood Relations from Edgeworth to Hardy p224] - Retrieved March 4]


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