Indian Railways: The Largest and Busiest in the World
The India’s Rail transport is one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, transporting seventeen million passengers and more than one million tonnes of freight daily. Indian Railways also known as IR is a Department of the Government of India, under the Ministry of Railways and is the world’s largest commercial or utility employer, with more than 1.6 million employees and enjoys a monopoly on India’s rail transport.
The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country; the routes cover a total length of 63,465 km (39,435 miles). As of 2005, IR owned a total of 222,379 wagons, 42,125 coaches and 7910 locomotives and ran a total of 14,444 trains daily, including about 8,702 passenger trains.
A Brief History of Rail Transport in India
Railways were first introduced to India in 1853. The first passenger train service was inaugurated between Bori Bunder, Bombay and Thane on 16 April 1853. 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 then 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. By 1875, about £95 million were invested by British companies in Indian guaranteed railways. 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 (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). By 1895, India had started building its own locomotives, and in 1896 sent engineers and locomotives to help build the Uganda Railway.
By 1947, the year of India’s independence, there were forty-two rail systems. In 1951 the systems were nationalized as one unit, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. Indian Railways operates both long distance and suburban rail systems.
Indian Railways Passenger Services
Indian Railways operates 8,702 passenger trains and transports 17 million daily across twenty-eight states and three union territories (Delhi, Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) and Chandigarh). Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya are the only states not connected.
The passenger division is the most preferred form of long distance transport in most of the country.
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.
The Palace on Wheels is a specially designed train, frequently hauled by a steam locomotive, for promoting tourism in Rajasthan.
The Maharashtra government did try to introduce the Deccan Odyssey along the Konkan route, but it did not enjoy the same success as the Palace on Wheels.
The Karnataka government has recently introduced The Golden Chariot train which connects popular tourist destinations in Karnataka and Goa.
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 kilometres.
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 carriage 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.
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.