Indian Railways

Indian Railways logo
Indian Railways logo

Indian Railways (reporting mark IR) is a state-owned railway company, responsible for rail transport in India. It is owned and operated by the Government of India through the Ministry of Railways. It is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km (71,000 mi) of track over a route of 67,312 km (41,826 mi) and 7,112 stations. In 2015-16, IR carried 8.101 billion passengers annually or more than 22 million passengers a day and 1.107 billion tons of freight in the year. In 2014–2015 Indian Railways had revenues of ₹1.709 trillion (US$25 billion) which consists of ₹1.118 trillion (US$17 billion) from freight and₹451.26 billion (US$6.7 billion) from passengers tickets.

Indian Railways headquarters, Delhi
Indian Railways headquarters, Delhi

Railways were first introduced to India in the year 1853 from Mumbai to Thane. In 1951 the systems were nationalised as one unit, the Indian Railways, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. IR operates both long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, metre and narrow gauges. It also owns locomotive and coach production facilities at several places in India, with assigned codes identifying their gauge, kind of power and type of operation. Its operations cover twenty six states and two union territories across India, and also has international connectivity to Bangladesh (with Bangladesh Railway) and Pakistan (with Pakistan Railways).

Indian Railways is the world’s seventh largest commercial or utility employer, by number of employees, with over 1.376 million employees as of last published figures in 2013. The trains have a 5 digit numbering system and runs 12,617 passenger trains and 7,421 freight trains daily.

The core of the pressure for building Railways In India came from London. In 1848, there was not a single kilometer of railway line in India. The country’s first railway, built by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR), opened in 1853, between Bombay and Thane. The East Indian Railway Company was established 1 June 1845 in London by a deed of settlement with a capital of £4,000,000, largely raised in London. The Great Southern India Railway Co. was founded in Britain in 1853 and registered in 1859. Construction of track in Madras Presidency began in 1859 and the 80-mile link from Trichinopoly to Negapatam was opened in 1861. The Carnatic Railway founded in 1864, opened a Madras-Arakkonam-Kancheepuram line in 1865. The Great Southern India Railway Company was subsequently merged with the Carnatic Railway Company in 1874 to form the South Indian Railway Company.

A British engineer, Robert Maitland Brereton, was responsible for the expansion of the railways from 1857 onwards. The Allahabad-Jabalpur branch line of the East Indian Railway had been opened in June 1867. Brereton was responsible for linking this with the GIPR, resulting in a combined network of 6,400 km (4,000 mi). Hence it became possible to travel directly from Bombay to Calcutta. This route was officially opened on 7 March 1870 and it was part of the inspiration for French writer Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days. At the opening ceremony, the Viceroy Lord Mayo concluded that “it was thought desirable that, if possible, at the earliest possible moment, the whole country should be covered with a network of lines in a uniform system”.

By 1895, India had started building its own locomotives, and in 1896, sent engineers and locomotives to help build the Uganda Railways.

In 1900, the GIPR became a government owned company. The network spread to the modern day states of Assam, Rajputhana and Madras Presidency and soon various autonomous kingdoms began to have their own rail systems. In 1905, an early Railway Board was constituted, but the powers were formally vested under Lord Curzon. It served under the Department of Commerce and Industry and had a government railway official serving as chairman, and a railway manager from England and an agent of one of the company railways as the other two members. For the first time in its history, the Railways began to make a profit.

The period between 1920 and 1929 was a period of economic boom; there were 41,000 mi (66,000 km) of railway lines serving the country; the railways represented a capital value of some 687 million sterling; and they carried over 620 million passengers and approximately 90 million tons of goods each year. Following the Great Depression, the railways suffered economically for the next eight years. The Second World War severely crippled the railways. Starting in 1939, about 40% of the rolling stock including locomotives and coaches was taken to the Middle East. The railways workshops were converted to ammunitions workshops and many railway tracks were dismantled to help the Allies in the war.By 1946, all rail systems had been taken over by the government.

The apex management organisation is the Railway Board, also called the Ministry of Railways. The board is headed by a Chairman who reports to the Minister of Railways. The board has five other members in addition to the chairman. The General Managers of the zonal railways and the production units report to the board.

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