Rail Transport

Indian railway network is the fourth largest in the world after Russia, the U.S.A. and Canada. In a vast country like India, it has brought the people of the farthest corners of the country closer to one another. Railways are ideal for carrying goods and people over long distances. It employs the largest number of persons among the Central Government departments.

Following sections will explain why Indian Railways constitute the major national means of transport –

  • Operations of Indian Railways
  • Measures Taken By Indian Railways To Improve Their Efficiency And Usefulness To The Public
  • Regions Of Railway Networks – Dense, Moderate & Sparse
  • The Pattern Of Trunk Railway Routes
  • The Role Of Railways

Operations of Indian Railways

The first train steamed off in the country in 1853 from Mumbai to Thane, covering a distance of 34 km. During these years, Indian railways have grown into a vast network. The following table may give you an idea about the growth of the railway system during the post-independence era.


The above table gives us an idea of quantitative progress made by the railways over 50 years.

  • Nearly 28% of its route length has been electrified.
    • It means over this track the traffic is far cleaner and faster.
    • It also means considerable saving in transporting charges of coal which the railways consumed for their own running.
    • To that extent the railway wagons are now free to carry commercial goods of its clients.
  • The route length has increased only marginally but the passenger km traffic has increased more than eight times. Even the goods traffic in terms of tonne-km has increased by well over ten times. This also speaks of qualitative increase in the efficiency of the railways.
    • This has become possible by electrification of part of the route and dieselisation of the track. The number of steam or coal engines had come down to mere 45 by 2003-04 from 8120 in 1950-51. Now there are 4769 diesel engines as compared to mere 17 in 1950-51. Similarly electric locomotives have increased from 72 to 3003 by 2003-04.
  • The new railway lines have been added only marginally. However, there has been considerable increase in running track.
    • In 1950-51 it was about 59,000 km. By 2003-04 it rose to nearly 84,000 km.
    • It means considerable portions, particularly the busy ones have been converted from single to double and in some cases even triple tracks.
      • This has enabled railways to run more trains, both goods and passengers.
  • The railways have undertaken to convert metre gauge railway tracks into broad-gauge (1.68 metres) enhancing the capacity of railways to carry more goods and more passengers with an increased speed.
  • By strengthening trunk route railway tracks, Indian Railways run several fast trains.
    • Earlier there were passenger and express or mail trains, the only two categories.
    • Now there are Super fast Expresses, Rajdhani Expresses, and Shatabdi (the fastest) Expresses running between busy terminals.
  • Now metro rail is a new concept which provide faster transport facility in metro cities. Delhi is the first ones, where its running successfully.

Measures Taken By Indian Railways To Improve Their Efficiency And Usefulness To The Public

  • considerable increase in railway running track;
  • increase in electrification of busy trunk routes;
  • conversion of metre gauge railway lines into broad gauge;
  • introducing several types of fast and superfast passenger trains;
  • running fast goods and special food-grain trains;
  • provide better facilities for reservation and other customer care services, introducing reservation through internet.

Regions Of Railway Networks – Dense, Moderate & Sparse

The Regions of Dense Railway Network

  • The northern plains and eastern coastal areas possess a dense network of railways. The level land, fertile soils, dense population and spread of industries are the reasons for this dense railway network.
  • The plains of Gujarat and Saurashtra, Central Tamil Nadu and Chotanagpur Plateau are the other regions. These regions have well-developed industries.

Regions of Moderate Railway Network

The whole of peninsular region except Tamil Nadu and Chotanagpur has a moderate network. The hilly and plateau terrain provides unfavourable conditions for laying railway lines. There are long trunk routes which connect the important industrial cities and ports. The railway lines either pass through the large gaps between hills or through the tunnels.

Regions of Sparse Railway Network

  • The Himalayan mountain region, comprising Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have hardly a line here and there. The hilly terrain, rugged topography are the main reasons responsible for the very sparse network. Some foot hill towns such as Jammu, Kathgodam, Kotdwar and Dehradoon are the only rail heads touching the region. Recently, railway line has been extended from Jammu to Uddhampur in the state Jammu and Kashmir. There are few narrow gauge tracks between Kalka and Shimla and between Siliguri and Darjeeling.
  • The North eastern region has also sparse railway network. Only Brahmaputra valley in Assam has main railway line. All hilly states in this region are almost without a railway line. The hilly terrain, thick forest cover, heavy rainfall, low-level of economy and sparse population are the main factors for the absence of railway lines.
  • Desert region of western Rajasthan has also sparse network of railways. There are some metre gauge railway lines which link the big cities. However, most of these metre gauge railway lines have been converted into broad gauge lines. This area is sparsely populated and has few industries. Moreover the climate is hot and dry. Dry sandy winds obstruct the railway tracks. All these factors hamper the construction of railway lines and their proper maintenance.

The Pattern Of Trunk Railway Routes

  • There are two main lines patterns that serve as backbone of the entire railway network in the country –

    • The busy trunk route railway lines connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata (and back to Delhi) – the kite-shaped pattern.
    • The diagonal lines connecting Mumbai and Kolkata on one hand and Delhi and Chennai on the other – the diamond-shaped pattern.
  • This main pattern needs two important additions –
    • one in the Sutlej Basin or the Punjab plains in the north-west,
      • consists of lines connecting Delhi with Pathankot, Amritsar-Wagha and Firozpur
    • other one in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam,
      • connects North-east Bihar and Northern West Bengal with Dibrugarh in east or upper Assam.

All these lines connect Delhi with a broad gauge and the most part of them has been electrified.

The Role Of Railways

Study the following table carefully, to understand the role of the Indian railways –


  1. Coal is the most dominating commodity transported by the railways. Railways promoted industrial growth of the coal starved areas.
  2. Railways help to increase industrial production by carrying raw materials to industrial centres.
  3. Railways also help in distribution of semi-finished and finished products like pig-iron and steel which in turn promote secondary industries.
  4. Railways also help in promoting exports of commodities like iron-ore, cement and food grains to earn foreign exchange.
  5. Railways promote building activity all over the country by carrying cement over long distances.
  6. Railways help in boosting agricultural production by carrying huge amounts of fertilisers from one region to another.
  7. Railways carry mineral oil, an industrial input, from port cities and refineries to the interior parts of the country.


Bibliography : NIOS Geography Book



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