Portuguese colonial railways: agents and subjects of railway imperialism (1880-1915)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Railway imperialism has been a recurrent topic in the field of railway history. Defined as the use of railways (and the business and industrial production linked with its construction and manoeuvring) to control foreign lands and its resources, particularly, but not solely, in the colonial setting, it is usually associated with the imperial dominance European core nations exerted over its overseas colonies. Frequently related with the civilising mission of Western countries in Africa and Asia and touted as an essential instrument of economic expansion and progress, it benefitted most of the times the imperial state, with little to no benefits to local populations and economies. Recently developments underscored the imperialistic practices of core nations over independent countries of the European and South American periphery regarding railway enterprise (economic satellite imperialism). In this paper, I analyse how Portugal, a country of the European periphery, used railways to exert imperial dominance over its overseas territories but, lacking the financial and industrial means to do so, it too became a victim of British railway imperialism. The paper encompasses Portuguese railway enterprise in its former colonial empire but focuses on the case of the Mormugão railway in Goa (India). In part, this paper is a literature review of Portuguese colonial history under the concept of railway imperialism, but I also add unpublished sources, namely operational statistics, to highlight the financial and economic outcomes of the investment, and how they fell short of the expectations touted by its Portuguese and British promoters. I aim to add to the renewed interest and academic debate about railway imperialism and its role on the colonial projects of peripheral European nations that sought to play in the big league of imperial dominance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRailway Transportation in South Asia
EditorsSaptarshi Mitra, Sumana Bandyopadhyay, Stabak Roy, Tomaz Ponce Dentinho
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-76878-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-76877-5
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Aug 2021

Publication series

NameContemporary South Asian Studies


  • Colonialism
  • Finance
  • History of technology
  • Globalisation


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