Indian Railways: Largest rail network of Asia 

The plan for a rail system in India was first put forward in 1832.

By Author  |  Published: 29th Jul 2020  7:41 pm

Starting its service 167 years ago on 16 April 1853 with the first passenger train run over a stretch of 34 kilometers from Mumbai to Thane, The Indian Railways now has a route length of 67,415 km making it the fourth largest railway network in the world by size. Owned and operated by the Government of India, it runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily, connecting more than 7,172 stations.

The plan for a rail system in India was first put forward in 1832. However, it wasn’t until 1844, the Governor-General of India Lord Hardinge allowed private entrepreneurs to set up a rail system in India that birthed two new railway companies which were assisted by East India Company.  

The first train in India became operational in 1851, and was used for the hauling of construction material in Roorkee. In 1853, the first passenger train service was inaugurated between Bori Bunder, Bombay and Thana, making it the formal origin of the Indian Railways. 

Wars crippled economy

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 it, the railways had suffered immensely and were in a poor state. The Second World War severely crippled the railways as trains were diverted to the Middle East. 

Division post-partition

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. 

With nationalisation in 1951 almost all railway production units were indigenized. It swiftly developed out of steam locomotives into diesel and electric locomotives and the entire railway reservation system was streamlined with computerization by 1995.

Structure and functioning

The Indian Railways fall under the Ministry of Railways, currently with Piyush Goyal as the Minister. It is also broadly organised from functional groups within the Indian Railway Service. India’s rail system is managed at a regional level since Indian Railways have divided themselves into eighteen zonal railways with each zone headed by a General Manager. 

At the apex of the management organisation is the Railway Board, a part of the Ministry of Railways. The board is headed by a Chairman who directly reports to the Railway Minister. The board has five other members.

Currently there are 18 zones and 71 divisions on the system nationwide. 

Newest trends

Indian Railways steps up the fight against Covid-19, providing  protection to its front line medical workers as well as other operational employees, from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The workshops of Indian Railways are manufacturing PPE coveralls, hand sanitizers, face masks, cots in-house. 

For the manufacturing of these items, raw material is also procured by the field units.  The Railway Ministry has also designated as many as 50 Railway Hospitals as Covid-19 dedicated hospitals and health centers. 

Also, so far, a total of 5,231 train coaches have been turned into isolation coaches to treat Covid-19 patients, out of which 960 isolation coaches have been stationed at various locations based on the requests received from the state governments.


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