Skip to main content

Indian Railways

"The best way to see India is through the Indian Railways", is an oft repeated advice and very rightly so because a trip across the country on a train can bring you in contact with India in its mesmerizing diversity. From the windows of a train one is served a varied platter of changing topography to changing crops, vegetation, people and their ways of life. It is like the lilting but ever changing rhythm of a song well composed and yet incorporating varied essences and influences. Something like the music of Rehman, one of India's most celebrated musician of modern times, who has just stepped on to the world stage.

GENESIS OF INDIAN RAILWAYS


The story of the Indian Railways (IR) is not just a saga of mundane statistics and miles of rolling stock. It is the glorious tale of a pioneering institution that has blazed a trail for nearly a century and a half, making inroads into far-flung territory and providing a means of communication.

Indian Railway is one of India's most effective networks that keep together the social, economical, political and cultural fabric of the country intact.

Be it cold, mountainous terrain or the long stretches through the Rajasthan desert, Indian Railways cover the vast expanse of the country from north to south, east to west and all in between.

More than a hundred years ago, on the 16 April 1853, a red-letter day appeared in the glorious history of the Indian Railways. On the day, the very first railway train in India ran over a stretch of 21 miles from Bombay to Thane. This pioneer railway train consisting of 14 railway carriages carrying about 400 guests, steamed off at 3:30 pm amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and to the salute of 21 guns. It reached Thane at about 4.45 pm. The guests returned to Bombay at 7 pm on the next day, that is, April 17. On April 18, 1853, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Second Baronet, reserved the whole train and traveled from Bombay to Thane and back along with some members of his family and friends.

This was the humble beginning of the modern Indian Railway system known today for its extraordinary integration of high administrative efficiency, technical skill, commercial enterprise and resourcefulness. Today the Indian Railway (IR) is one of the most specialized industries of the world.

OTHER MILESTONES
Under the British East India Company's auspices, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company (GIPRC) was formed on July 15, 1844. Events moved at a fast pace. On October 31, 1850, the ceremony of turning the first sod for the GIPRC from Bombay to Kalyan was performed. The opening ceremony of the extension to Kalyan took place on May 1, 1854. The railway line from Kalyan to Khopoli was opened on May 12, 1856. It was further extended to Poona on June 14, 1858 when the traffic was opened for public use.

In the eastern part of India, the first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station for Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles, on August 15, 1854. This marked the formation of the East Indian Railway.

This was followed by the emergence for the Central Bengal Railway Company. These small beginnings multiplied and by 1880, the IR system had a route mileage of 9,000 miles in India.

The Northeastern Railway also developed rapidly. On October 19, 1875, the train between Hathras Road and Mathura Cantonment was started. By the winter of 1880-81, the Kanpur-Farukhabad line became operational and further east, the Dibrugarh-Dinjan line became operational on August 15, 1882.

In South India, the Madras Railway Company opened the first railway line between Veyasarpaudy and the Walajah Road (Arcot) on July 1, 1856. This 63-mile line was the first section, which eventually joined Madras and the west coast. On March 3, 1859, a length of 119 miles was laid from Allahabad to Kanpur.

In 1862, the railway line between Amritsar and Attari was constructed on the Amritsar-Lahore route.

Some of the trains started by the British are still in existence. The Frontier Mail is one such train. It was started on September 1, 1928 as a replacement for the Mumbai-Peshawar mail. It became one of the fastest trains in India at that time and its reputation in London was very high.

The Kalka Mail from Howrah to Kalka was introduced with the specific goal of facilitating the annual migration of British officials, their families and their retinue of servants and clerks from the imperial capital at Calcutta to the summer capital in Shimla. From Kalka, there was the remarkable toy train service to Shimla. Plans for this narrow-gauge train had started as early as 1847, but it was at the intervention of the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, that work actually began. Hence this train service was also known as the Viceroy's Toy Train. In order to prevent any head-on collisions on the single-track sections of this railway service, the Neals Token System has been used ever since the train was inaugurated. The train guards exchange pouches containing small brass discs with staff on the stations en route. The train driver then puts these discs into special machines, which alert the signals ahead of their approach. The Darjeeling toy train, the Matheran toy train from Neral to Matheran, the Nilgiri Blue Mountain Railway are other engineering marvels running on routes designed and built by the British. Trains like the Deccan Queen from Bombay to Secunderabad and the Grand Trunk Express from Delhi to Madras are some other prominent trains initiated by the British.

With the advancement in the railway system, electrifying railway lines began side by side, and it was in 1925, that the first electric train ran over a distance of 16 km from Victoria Terminus to Kurala.

THE NEED FOR A RAILWAY NETWORK
The British rule in India was governed by three principal considerations to expand the IR system. These were the commercial advantages, the political aspect and even more importantly, the inexorable imperial defense of India against the possible military attacks from certain powerful countries showing signs of extending their orbit of influence into Central Asia.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Now, to further improve upon its services, the Indian Railways have embarked upon various schemes, which are immensely ambitious. The railway has changed from meter gauge to broad gauge and the people have given it a warm welcome. Now, there are the impressive-looking locomotives that haul the 21st-century harbingers-the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis-at speeds of 145 kmph with all amenities and comfort. With these, the inconvenience of changing to a different gauge en route to a destination will no longer be felt.

The Research, Designing, and Standardizing Organization at Lucknow-the largest railway research organization in the world-was constituted in 1957. It is constantly devising improvements in the signaling systems, track design and layout, coach interiors for better riding comfort and capacity, etc., along with improvements in locomotives. Improvements are being planned by engineers. The workshops of the railways too have been given new equipment to create sophisticated coaches at Perambur and Kapurthala and diesel engine parts at Patiala. Locomotives are being made at Chittaranjan and Varanasi. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier British conviction that only minor repairs would be possible in India, so all spare parts including nuts and bolts for locomotives would have to be imported from England.

More trains and routes are constantly being added to the railway network and services. The British legacy lives on in our railway system, transformed but never forgotten. Long live the Romance of the Rails!

The network of lines has grown to about 62,000 kilometers. But, the variety of Indian Railways is infinite. It still has the romantic toy trains on narrow gauge hill sections, meter gauge beauties on other and broad gauge bonanzas as one visits places of tourist interest courtesy Indian Railways! They are an acknowledgement of the Railways that tourism as an industry has to be promoted and that India is full of unsurpassed beauty.

The Calcutta Metro is a fine example of highly complex engineering techniques being adopted to lay an underground railway in the densely built-up areas of Calcutta city. It is a treat to be seen. The Calcuttans keep it so clean and tidy that not a paper is thrown around! It only proves the belief that a man grows worthy of his superior possessions. Calcutta is also the only city where the Metro Railway started operating from September 27, 1995 over a length of 16.45 km. There is also a Circular Railway from Dum Dum to Princep Ghats covering 13.50 km to provide commuter trains.

RAIL MUSEUM
A number of the private saloons of erstwhile princes along with other rare railways relics can be viewed today at the Rail Transport Museum in New Delhi, which was set up in the year 1977 to display the glorious heritage of IR tracing its development from its beginning.

The museum has a collection of 75 real exhibits, including vintage steam, diesel and electric locomotives, coaches and wagons dating back to 1855. The collection also includes the steam locomotive called Fairy Queen of 1855, the saloons of the erstwhile maharajas such as the unique Patiala State Monorail Trainway of 1907. Railway staff is available at the site to conduct the visitors, provide written material, and there are special facilities for the handicapped and the blind. The museum is located in the setting of a spruce garden of flowers, shrubs, trees, and lawns. The museum attracts 300,000 visitors each year from abroad and from various parts of India.

HELPLINES
In time of war and natural disasters, the railways play a major role. Whether it was the earthquake of 1935 in Quetta (now in Pakistan) or more recently in Latur in Maharashtra, it is the railways that muster their strength to carry the sick and wounded to hospitals in nearby towns and to the people of the affected areas. In rehabilitation and reconstruction, too, their role is vital.

During the Japanese war, the Indian Railways added further laurels to their record as they extended the railway line right up to Ledo in the extreme northeastern part of Assam and thus enabled the Allied forces under General Stillwell to combat the Japanese menace. In fact, several townships in Assam like Margherita and Digboi owe their origin to the endeavors of the Indian Railways. It was the Assam Railway and Trading Company that opened up the isolated regions of Assam with the laying of the railway lines and thus providing the lifeline to carry coal, tea, and timber out of the area and bring other necessary commodities to Assam and the adjoining countryside.

Now, the Indian Railways system is divided into 9 zonal railways, a metro railway, Calcutta, the production units, construction organizations, and other railway establishments. Usually, a general manager heads each division presented in the table below.

Click here to See Map of Indian Rail Network

Transportation in India