From a very modest beginning in 1853, when the first train steamed off from Mumbai to Thane, a distance of 34 km. The Indian railway system is the largest in Asia and world’s second largest railway system under a single management.
The railways constitute India’s principal means of transport and carry more than two third of goods traffic and passengers with investments exceeding Rs. 55,000 crores, employing about 16 lakh persons and 2,16,717 wagons. Indian Railways run around 11,000 trains everyday, of which 7,000 are passenger trains.
About 28 per cent of the route kilometre, 39 per cent of the running track kilometre and 30.42 percent of the total track kilometre (19,607 km) is electrified.
Before railways were taken over by Government in 1944 there was complicated method of ownership and control; some were company-owned and company-managed and some were state-owned and state- managed. Therefore to bring uniformity in the efficiency and economy of the railway, a scheme for re-grouping of the whole system was formulated by the Railway Board in 1950 and was enforced in 1952.
This scheme finally led to the setting of nine separate zonal railways. The responsibility for the general administration and management of the government railway lie with the Railway Board under the overall guidance of the Minister for Railways who is helped by the Minister of State for Railways.
The Railway Board exercises all powers of the Central government in terms of operations, regulation, and construction and maintenance. The Railways Board consists of the Chairman, the financial commissioner and five functional members.
The railway finances have been separated from the general revenues of government since 1924- 25. Railways have their own funds and accounts and the railway budget is presented separately to the Parliament. The railways contribute to the general revenues a fixed rate of dividend on the capital investment by the government. The quantity of contribution to be made is reviewed periodically by a Parliamentary Convention Committee.
Gauges of Indian Railways:
Indian railways comprise three gauges.
(i) Broad Gauge: This gauge has 1,676 m distance between the two lines. More than 70 per cent track of Indian railways is broad gauge.
(ii) Metre Gauge: The distance between two rails is one metre. About 24 per centof Indian railway is metregauge.
(iii) Narrow Gauge: This is of two types. One is 0.762 metre and the other is 0.610 metre broad. It is confined to hilly areas only.
The Railway network has been divided into seventeen zones, having different territorial jurisdictions that generally vary between 4,000 and 10,000 km route length. Each headed by a General Manager.
Zonal Railways are further divided into smaller operating units called divisions. There are 68 operating divisions in Indian Railway. Indian Railways is now reorganised into 17 Zones. Two new Railway Zones, viz., East
Central Railway, Hajipur and North Western Railway, Jaipur became functional on 1 October 2002. Five more new Zones-East Coast Railway, Bhubaneswar, North Central Railway, Allahabad, South East Central Railways, Bilaspur, South Western Railway, Hubli and West Central Railway, Jabalpur became functional on 1 April 2003.
Along with the reorganisation of the Zones, eight new Railway Divisions Agra on North Central Railway, Ahmedabad on Western Railway, Guntur and Nanded on South Central Railway, Pune on Central Railway, Raipur on South East Central Railway, and Ranchi on South Eastern Railway and Rangiya on Northeast Frontier Railway became operational on 1 April 2003.
Cooperation between public and railway administration is secured through various committees including Zonal Railway Users’ Consultative Committees and Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committees. Currently, the Railways are in the process of inducting new designs of fuel-efficient locomotives of higher horse power, high-speed coaches and modern bogies for freight traffic.
Modern signalling like panel interlocking, route relay inter-locking, centralised traffic control, automatic signalling and multi-aspect colour light signalling are being progressively introduced.
Indian Railways have made impressive progress in indigenous production of rolling stock and variety of other equipment over the years and is now self- sufficient in most of the items. Since the inception of the planned era in 1950-51, Indian Railways have implemented nine five-year plans, apart from annual plans in some years. During the Plans, emphasis was laid on a comprehensive programme of system modernisation.
With capacity being stretched to the full, investments of cost-effective technological changes have become inescapable in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for rail transport. Along with the major thrust directed towards rehabilitation of assets, technological changes and up gradation of standards were initiated in important areas of track locomotives, passenger coaches, wagon bogie designs, signalling and telecommunication.
Railways Public Sector Undertakings:
There are five undertakings under the administrative control of Ministry of Railways. They are as follows:
(i) Rail India Technical and Economic Services Limited (RITES):
It provides consultancy services for transportation in India and in other countries wherever asked for
(ii) Indian Railway Construction Company Limited (IRCON):
It takes the responsibility of construction of railway projects on turn-key basis within the country and in foreign countries specially in developing countries.
(iii) Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC):
It is concerned with raising of funds through public borrowings for implementation of Railway Plan.
(iv) Container Corporation of India Limited (CONCOR):
It handles the domestic and international container traffic through railway
(v) Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRC):
It looks after the running and maintenance of Konkan Railways
(vi) Centre for Railway Information System (CRIS):
It was set up as a registered society to design and implement various railway computerisation projects.
Production Units of Railways:
(1) Wheel and Axle Plant, Bangalore (Karnataka)
(2) Diesel Component Works (DCW), Patiala (Punjab)
(3) Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)
(4) Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) Chittaranjan, (West Bengal)
(5) Integral Coach Factory (ICF) Perambur near Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
(6) Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala (Punjab)