Indian Railways

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Railway transport

Indian Railways
Image:Indian Railways logo.png
Type Public
Founded April 16, 1853, Amalgamation on 1947
Headquarters New Delhi
Key people Union Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav
Minister of State for Railways(V) R Velu
Minister of State for Railways(R) Naranbhai J Rathwa
Managing Director J P Batra
Area served India
Industry Railways and Locomotives
Products Broad Gauge, Metre gauge & Narrow Gauge trains on a 63,140 km network
Parent Government of India

Indian Railways (IR) is the state-owned railway company of India. Indian Railways had, until very recently, a monopoly on the country's rail transport. It is one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, transporting just over six  billion passengers and almost 750 million tonnes of freight annually. IR is the world's largest commercial or utility employer, with more than 1.6 million employees.

The railways traverse through the length and width of the country; the routes cover a total length of 63,940  km (39,230  miles). As of 2005 IR owns a total of 216,717 wagons, 39,936 coaches and 7,339 locomotives and runs a total of 14,244 trains daily, including about 8,002 passenger trains .

Railways were first introduced to India in 1853. By 1947, the year of India's independence, there were forty-two rail systems. In 1951 the systems were nationalised as one unit, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. Indian Railways operates both long distance and suburban rail systems.

A schematic map of the Indian Railway network
A schematic map of the Indian Railway network


One of the earliest pictures of railways in India
One of the earliest pictures of railways in India
Extent of Great Indian Peninsular Railway network in 1870. The GIPR was one of the largest rail companies at that time.
Extent of Great Indian Peninsular Railway network in 1870. The GIPR was one of the largest rail companies at that time.

A plan for a rail system in India was first put forward in 1832, but no further steps were taken for more than a decade. In 1844, the Governor-General of India Lord Hardinge allowed private entrepreneurs to set up a rail system in India. Two new railway companies were created and the East India Company was asked to assist them. Interest from investors in the UK led to the rapid creation of a rail system over the next few years. The first train in India became operational on 1851- 12-22, and was used for the hauling of construction material in Roorkee. A year and a half later, on 1853- 04-16, the first passenger train service was inaugurated between Bori Bunder, Bombay and Thana. Covering a distance of 34 km (21 miles), it was hauled by three locomotives, Sahib, Sindh and Sultan. This was the formal birth of railways in India.

The British government encouraged new railway companies backed by private investors under a scheme that would guarantee an annual return of five percent during the initial years of operation. Once established, the company would be transferred to the government, with the original company retaining operational control. The route mileage of this network was about 14,500 km (9,000 miles) by 1880, mostly radiating inward from the three major port cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. By 1895, India had started building its own locomotives, and in 1896 sent engineers and locomotives to help build the Uganda Railway.

Soon various independent kingdoms built their own rail systems and the network spread to the regions that became the modern-day states of Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. A Railway Board was constituted in 1901, but decision-making power was retained by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. The Railway Board operated under aegis of the Department of Commerce and Industry and had three members: a government railway official serving as chairman, a railway manager from England and an agent of one of the company railways. For the first time in its history, the Railways began to make a tidy profit. In 1907, almost all the rail companies were taken over by the government.

The following year, the first electric locomotive appeared. With the arrival of the First World War, the railways were used to meet the needs of the British outside India. By the end of the First World War, the railways had suffered immensely and were in a poor state. The government took over the management of the Railways and removed the link between the financing of the Railways and other governmental revenues in 1920, a practice that continues to date with a separate railway budget.

The Second World War severely crippled the railways as trains were diverted to the Middle East, and the railway workshops were converted into munitions workshops. At the time of independence in 1947, a large portion of the railways went to the then newly formed Pakistan. A total of forty-two separate railway systems, including thirty-two lines owned by the former Indian princely states, were amalgamated as a single unit which was christened as the Indian Railways.

The existing rail networks were abandoned in favour of zones in 1951 and a total of six zones came into being in 1952. As the economy of India improved, almost all railway production units were indigenised. By 1985, steam locomotives were phased out in favour of diesel and electric locomotives. The entire railway reservation system was streamlined with computerisation in 1995.

Railway zones

IR Zones. See the numbering alongside. The red dots are the zonal headquarters.
IR Zones. See the numbering alongside. The red dots are the zonal headquarters.

For administrative purposes, Indian Railways is divided into sixteen zones.

No. Name Abbr. Headquarters Date established
1. Northern Railway NR Delhi April 14, 1952
2. North Eastern Railway NER Gorakhpur 1952
3. Northeast Frontier Railway NFR Maligaon(Guwahati) 1958
4. Eastern Railway ER Kolkata April, 1952
5. South Eastern Railway SER Kolkata 1955,
6. South Central Railway SCR Secunderabad October 2, 1966
7. Southern Railway SR Chennai April 14, 1951
8. Central Railway CR Mumbai November 5, 1951
9. Western Railway WR Mumbai November 5, 1951
10. South Western Railway SWR Hubli April 1, 2003
11. North Western Railway NWR Jaipur Oct 1, 2002
12. West Central Railway WCR Jabalpur April 1, 2003
13. North Central Railway NCR Allahabad April 1, 2003
14. South East Central Railway SECR Bilaspur, CG April 1, 2003
15. East Coast Railway ECoR Bhubaneswar April 1, 2003
16. East Central Railway ECR Hajipur Oct 1, 2002
17. Konkan Railway KR Navi Mumbai Jan 26, 1998

Konkan Railway (KR) is constituted as a separately incorporated railway, with its headquarters at Belapur CBD (Navi Mumbai). It comes under the control of the Railway Ministry and the Railway Board.

The Calcutta Metro is owned and operated by Indian Railways, but is not a part of any of the zones. It is administratively considered to have the status of a zonal railway.

Map showing the Indian rail network and headquarters of each zone
Map showing the Indian rail network and headquarters of each zone

Each zonal railway is made up of a certain number of divisions, each having a divisional headquarters. There are a total of sixty-seven divisions.

Zonal Railway Divisions
Northern Railway Delhi, Ambala, Firozpur, Lucknow, Moradabad
North Eastern Railway Izzatnagar, Lucknow, Varanasi
Northeast Frontier Railway Alipurduar, Katihar, Lumding, Rangia, Tinsukia
Eastern Railway Howrah, Sealdah, Asansol, Malda
South Eastern Railway Adra, Chakradharpur, Kharagpur, Ranchi
South Central Railway Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Guntakal, Guntur, Nanded, Vijayawada
Southern Railway Chennai, Madurai, Palghat, Tiruchchirapalli, Trivandrum
Central Railway Mumbai, Bhusawal, Pune, Solapur
Western Railway Mumbai, Baroda, Ratlam, Indore, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Bhavnagar
South Western Railway Hubli, Bangalore, Mysore
North Western Railway Jaipur, Ajmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur
West Central Railway Jabalpur, Bhopal, Kota
North Central Railway Allahabad, Agra, Jhansi
South East Central Railway Bilaspur, Raipur, Nagpur
East Coast Railway Khurda Road, Sambalpur, Visakhapatnam
East Central Railway Danapur, Dhanbad, Mughalsarai, Samastipur, Sonpur

Passenger services

A long distance express train
A long distance express train

Indian Railways operates 8,702 passenger trains and transports around five billion annually across twenty-seven states and three union territories (Delhi, Pondicherry and Chandigarh). Sikkim is the only state not connected.

The passenger division is the most preferred form of long distance transport in most of the country. In South India and North-East India however, buses are the preferred mode of transport for medium to long distance transport.

A standard passenger train consists of eighteen coaches, but some popular trains can have up to 24 coaches. Coaches are designed to accommodate anywhere from 18 to 72 passengers, but may actually accommodate many more during the holiday seasons and on busy routes. The coaches in use are vestibules, but some of these may be dummied on some trains for operational reasons. Freight trains use a large variety of wagons.

Each coach has different accommodation class; the most popular being the sleeper class. Up to nine of these type coaches are usually coupled. Air conditioned coaches are also attached, and a standard train may have between three and five air-conditioned coaches.

Overcrowding is the most widely faced problem with Indian Railways. In the holiday seasons or on long weekends, trains are usually packed more than their prescribed limit. Ticket-less travel, which results in large losses for the IR, is also an additional problem faced.

Production Services

The Indian Railways manufactures a lot of its rolling stock and heavy engineering components. This is largely due to historical reasons. As with most developing economies, the main reason is import substitution of expensive technology related products. This was relevant when the general state of the national engineering industry was immature.

Production Units, the manufacturing plants of the Indian Railways, are managed directly by the ministry. The General Managers of the PUs report to the Railway Board. The Production Units are

  • Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi
    • Responsible for manufacturing all the mainline diesel-electrics used for passenger and freight traffic. The plant also produces diesel-electric shunters. Currently the factory is also producing locomotives in collaboration with General Motors, USA.
  • Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Chittaranjan
    • Chittaranjan manufactures Electric Locomotives. Traditionally, the locomotives made by CLW use DC traction. In recent times, CLW has manufactures locomotives with AC-AC transmission
  • Diesel-Loco Modernisation Works, Patiala
    • Earlier called Diesel Component Works, DMW makes key sub-assemblies for Diesel Locomotives. It also does heavy repair and overhaul of engines and locomotives.
  • Integral Coach Factory, Chennai
    • The first factory to make coaches for the Indian Railways. The coaches were monocoque structures.
  • Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala
    • The second coach factory is a more modern plant and has a much more flexible automation
  • Wheel & Axle Plant, Bangalore
    • Makes the cast wheels for wagons and other rolling stock. Axles are forged and machined in the same plant. Most output is sent out as finished and pressed wheel & axle sets
  • Rail Spring Karkhana, Gwalior


The performance of Production Units during 2004-05, was as under:

  • Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Chittaranjan manufactured 90 BG electric locomotives including 22 state-of-the-art 3-phase 6000 HP electric locos.
  • Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi produced 121 BG diesel locomotives including 15 indigenous high power 4000 HP GM locomotives. In addition, 4 diesel locomotives were supplied to Non Railway Customers.
  • Integral Coach Factory, Chennai manufactured 1,119 coaches including 112 Electric Multiple Units (EMUs).
  • Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala manufactured 1,201 coaches including 77 light weight LHB coaches with higher passenger comfort and amenities.
  • Rail Wheel Factory, Bangalore produced 32,732 wheel-sets. It also manufactured 95,125 wheels and 49,502 axles. It sold products to the tune of Rs.18.39 crore to NCRs thus earning a profit of approx. Rs.173.69 lakh.
  • Diesel Loco Modernisation Workshop, Patiala successfully upgraded 74 nos. 2600 HP WDM-2 diesel electric locomotives to 3100 HP thus increasing the hauling capacity to the extent of 3 to 4 additional coaches. DMW exported spares worth Rs.130.27 lakh to various countries.

Import content in the Railway Production Units expressed as percentage of total production cost is roughly 2%. Import substitution is one of the main objectives of the production units.

Suburban rail

The New Delhi Metro railway
The New Delhi Metro railway

Many cities have their own dedicated suburban networks to cater to commuters. Currently, suburban networks operate in Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras), Kolkata (Calcutta), Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad and Pune. Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune do not have dedicated suburban tracks but share the tracks with long distance trains. New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata have their own metro networks, namely the New Delhi Metro, the Chennai MRTS and the Kolkata metro, respectively.

Suburban trains that handle commuter traffic are mostly electric multiple units. They usually have nine coaches or sometimes twelve to handle rush hour traffic. One unit of an EMU train consists of one power car and two general coaches. Thus a nine coach EMU is made up of three units having one power car at each end and one at the middle. The rakes in Mumbai run on direct current, while those elsewhere use alternating current. A standard coach is designed to accommodate 96 sitting passengers, but the actual number of passengers can easily double or triple with standees during rush hour. The Kolkata metro has the administrative status of a zonal railway, though it does not come under the seventeen railway zones.

The Suburban trains in Mumbai handle more rush then any other suburban network in India. The network has three lines viz, western, central and harbour. It's considered to be the lifeline on Mumbai. On 11th July 2006 six bomb blasted in these trains targeted at general public.


A single line rail bridge
A single line rail bridge

IR carries a huge variety of goods ranging from mineral ores, agricultural produce, petroleum, milk and vehicles. Ports and major urban areas have their own dedicated freight lines and yards. Many important freight stops have dedicated platforms and independent lines.

Indian Railways makes 70% of its revenues and most of its profits from the freight sector, and uses these profits to cross-subsidise the loss-making passenger sector. However, competition from trucks which offer cheaper rates has seen a decrease in freight traffic in recent years. Since the 1990s, Indian Railways has switched from small consignments to larger container movement which has helped speed up its operations. Most of its freight earnings come from such rakes carrying bulk goods such as coal, cement, food grains and iron ore.

Indian Railways also transports vehicles over long distances. Trucks that carry goods to a particular location are hauled back by trains saving the trucking company on unnecessary fuel expenses. Refrigerated vans are also available in many areas. The "Green Van" is a special type used to transport fresh food and vegetables. Recently Indian Railways introduced the special 'Container Rajdhani' or CONRAJ, for high priority freight. The highest speed notched up for a freight train is 100 km/h (62 mph) for a 4,700 metric tonne load.

Recent changes have sought to boost the earnings from freight. A privatization scheme was introduced recently to improve the performance of freight trains. Companies are being allowed to run their own container trains. The first length of an 11,000km freight corridor linking India's biggest cities has recently been approved. The railways has increased load limits for the system's 220,000 freight wagons by 11%, legalizing something that was already happening. Due to increase in manufacturing transport in India that was augmented by the increase in fuel cost, transportation by rail became advantageous financially. New measures such as speeding up the turnaround times have added some 24% to freight revenues.

Notable trains and achievements

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a World Heritage Site, and one of the few steam engines in operation in India.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a World Heritage Site, and one of the few steam engines in operation in India.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a narrow gauge train with a steam locomotive is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The route starts at Siliguri in the plains in West Bengal and traverses tea gardens en route to Darjeeling, a hill station at an elevation of 2,134 metres (7,000 ft). The highest station in this route is Ghum. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway, in the Nilgiri Hills in southern India, is also classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is also the only rack railway in India. The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) railway station in Mumbai is another World Heritage Site operated by Indian Railways.

The Palace on Wheels is a specially designed train, lugged by a steam engine, for promoting tourism in Rajasthan. The Maharashtra government did try and introduce the Deccan Odyssey along the Konkan route, but it did not enjoy the same success as the Palace on Wheels. The Samjhauta Express was a train that ran between India and Pakistan. However, hostilities between the two nations in 2001 saw the line being closed. It was reopened when the hostilities subsided in 2004. Another train connecting Khokhrapar (Pakistan) and Munabao (India) is the Thar Express that restarted operations on February 18, 2006 since being closed down after the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The Kalka Shimla Railway till recently featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kilometers.

The Lifeline Express is a special train popularly known as the "Hospital-on-Wheels" which provides healthcare to the rural areas. This train has a compartment that serves as an operating room, a second one which serves as a storeroom and an additional two that serve as a patient ward. The train travels around the country, staying at a location for about two months before moving elsewhere.

Among the famous locomotives, the Fairy Queen is the oldest running locomotive in the world today, though the distinction of the oldest surviving locomotive belongs to John Bull. Kharagpur railway station also has the distinction of being the world's longest railway platform at 1072 m (3,517 ft). The Ghum station along the Toy Train route is the second highest railway station in the world to be reached by a steam locomotive. Indian Railways operates 7,566 locomotives; 37,840 Coaching vehicles and 222,147 freight wagons. There are a total of 6,853 stations; 300 yards; 2,300 goods-sheds; 700 repair shops and a total workforce of 1.54 million.

The shortest named station is Ib and the longest is Sri Venkatanarasimharajuvariapeta. The Himsagar Express, between Kanyakumari and Jammu Tawi, has the longest run in terms of distance and time on Indian Railways network. It covers 3,745 km (2,327 miles) in about 74 hours and 55 minutes. The Trivandrum Rajdhani, between Delhi's Nizamuddin Station and Trivandrum, travels non-stop between Vadodara and Kota, covering a distance of 528 km (328 miles) in about 6.5 hours, and has the longest continuous run on Indian Railways today. The Bhopal Shatabdi Express is the fastest train in India today having a maximum speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) on the Faridabad-Agra section. The fastest speed attained by any train is 184 km/h (114 mph) in 2000 during test runs. This speed is much lower than fast trains in other parts of the world. One reason attributed for this difference is that the tracks are not suited for higher speeds.

Organisational structure

The headquarters of the Indian Railways in Delhi
The headquarters of the Indian Railways in Delhi

Indian Railways is a publicly owned company controlled by the Government of India, via the Ministry of Railways. The ministry is currently headed by Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Union Minister for Railways and assisted by two junior Ministers of State for Railways, R. Velu and Naranbhai J. Rathwa. Reporting to them is the Railway Board, which has six members and a chairman.

Each of the sixteen zones is headed by a General Manager (GM) who reports directly to the Railway Board. The zones are further divided into divisions under the control of Divisional Railway Managers (DRM). The divisional officers of engineering, mechanical, electrical, signal & telecommunication, accounts, personnel, operating, commercial and safety branches report to the respective Divisional Manager and are in charge of operation and maintenance of assets. Further down the hierarchy tree are the Station Masters who control individual stations and the train movement through the track territory under their stations' administration. In addition to the zones, there are six production units (PUs) each headed by a General Manager (GM), who also report directly to the Railway Board. These production units are:

  1. Chittaranjan Locomotive Works : Chittaranjan
  2. Diesel Locomotive Works : Varanasi
  3. Integral Coach Factory ; Perambur (Near Chennai)
  4. Rail Coach Factory : Kapurthala
  5. Rail Wheel Factory : Yelahanka (Near Bangalore)
  6. Diesel Modernisation Works : Patiala

In addition to this the Central Organisation for Railway Electrification (CORE) is also headed by a GM. This is located at Allahabad. This organisation undertakes electrification projects of Indian Railway and monitors the progress of various electrification projects all over the country.

Apart from these zones and production units, a number of Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) are under the administrative control of the ministry of railways. These PSU's are:

  1. Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation
  2. Konkan Railway Corporation
  3. Indian Railway Finance Corporation
  4. Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation
  5. Railtel Corporation of India – Telecommunication Networks
  6. RITES Ltd. – Consulting Division of Indian Railways
  7. IRCON International Ltd. – Construction Division
  8. Rail Vikas Nigam Limited
  9. Container Corporation Limited

Centre for Railway Information Systems is an autonomous society under Railway Board, which is responsible for developing the major software required by Indian Railways for its operations.

Rail budget and finances

The Railway Budget deals with the induction and improvement of existing trains and routes, the modernisation and most importantly the tariff for freight and passenger travel. The Parliament discusses the policies and allocations proposed in the budget. The budget needs to be passed by a simple majority in the Lok Sabha (India's Lower House). The comments of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) are non binding. Indian Railways are subject to the same audit control as other government revenue and expenditures. Based on the anticipated traffic and the projected tariff, the level of resources required for railway's capital and revenue expenditure is worked out. While the revenue expenditure is met entirely by railways itself, the shortfall in the capital (plan) expenditure is met partly from borrowings (raised by Indian Railway Finance Corporation) and the rest from Budgetory support from the Central Government. Indian Railways pays dividend to the Central Government for the capital invested by the Central Government.

As per the Separation Convention, 1924, the Railway Budget is presented to the Parliament by the Union Railway Minister, two days prior to the General Budget, usually around 26 February. Though the Railway Budget is separately presented to the Parliament, the figures relating to the receipt and expenditure of the Railways are also shown in the General Budget, since they are a part and parcel of the total receipts and expenditure of the Government of India. This document serves as a balance sheet of operations of the Railways during the previous year and lists out plans for expansion for the current year.

The formation of policy and overall control of the railways is vested in Railway Board comprising the Chairman, Financial Commissioner and other functional Members for Traffic, Engineering, Mechanical, Electrical and Staff matters. As per the 2006 budget, Indian Railways earned Rs. 54,600  crores (Rs. 546,000 million or US$12,300 million). Freight earnings increased by 10% from Rs. 30,450 cr (US$7,000 million) in the previous year. Passenger earnings, other coaching earnings and sundry other earnings increased by 7%, 19% and 56% respectively over previous year. Its year end fund balance is expected to stand at Rs. 11,280 cr (2.54 billion US$)..

Around 20% of the passenger revenue is earned from the upper class segments of the passenger segment (the air-conditioned classes). The overall passenger traffic grew 7.5% in the previous year. In the first two months of India's fiscal year 2005-06 (April and May), the Railways registered a 10% growth in passenger traffic, and a 12% in passenger earnings .

A new concern faced by Indian Railways is competition from low cost airlines that has recently made its début in India. In a cost cutting move, the Railways plans to minimise unwanted cessations, and scrap unpopular routes.

Current problems

Level crossings like these usually see a high accident rate
Level crossings like these usually see a high accident rate

Indian railways suffers from deteriorating finances and lack the funds for future investment. Last year, India spent $28 billion, or 3.6% of GDP, on infrastructure. The main problem plaguing the Railways is the high accident rate which stands at about three hundred a year. Although accidents such as derailment and collisions are less common in recent times, many are run over by trains, especially in crowded areas. Indian Railways have accepted the fact that given the size of operations, eliminating accidents is an unrealistic goal, and at best they can only minimise the accident rate. Human error is the primary cause (83%) blamed for mishaps. The Konkan Railway route suffers from landslides in the monsoon season, which has caused fatal accidents in the recent past.

Contributing to the Railways' problems are the antiquated communication, safety and signalling equipment. One area of upgrading badly required is an automated signalling system to prevent crashes. A number of train accidents happened due to a manual system of signals between stations. However, the changeover to a new system would require a substantial investment. It is felt that this would be required given the gradual increase in train speeds and lengths, that would make accidents more dangerous. In the latest instances of signalling control by means of interlinked stations (e.g., Chennai - Washermanpet), failure-detection circuits are provided for each track circuit and signal circuit with notification to the signal control centres in case of problems . However, this is available in a very small subset of the total Railways. Aging colonial-era bridges and century-old tracks also require regular maintenance and upgrading.

In many places, pedestrians, vehicles or cyclists may cut across the tracks to save time, causing a safety hazard to the railways. Most railway land in India is not fenced or restricted in any way, allowing free trespass. In rural areas, cattle and other animals may stray onto the tracks, posing a much more serious safety hazard to fast-moving trains.

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