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.
The first train steamed off in the country in 1853 from Mumbai to Thana, covering a distance of 34 km. During these years, Indian railways have grown into a vast network.
In the first place the total route length has increased very slightly. However, 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. Similarly, 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 deselisation 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.
Indian railways have taken several measures to improve their efficiency and usefulness to the public: