• Indian railway system is the main artery of the country’s inland transport
  • Railways virtually form the life-line of the country, catering to its needs for large scale movement of traffic, both freight and passenger, thereby contributing to economic growth and also promoting national integration

Development and growth of Indian Railways

  • The first railway line was opened for public traffic in 1853, between Mumbai and Thane
  • At present, India has the second largest railway network in Asia, and the fourth largest in the world; after USA, Russia and China
    • But, India tops world’s leading countries with regard to passenger/kilometre carried
  • ‘Indian Railways’ is the largest public sector undertaking of the country, comprising vast network stations and route length with fleet of locomotives, passenger vehicles etc.
  • Since its inception in 1853, Indian Railways has played a vital role in the economic, Industrial and social development of the country


Distribution of Indian Railways

  1. The North Indian Plain
    • This region has a dense network of railways from Amritsar to Haora
    • Dense population, development of Industry & Agriculture, large scale Urbanisation have helped in development of Railways
  2. The peninsular plateau
    • The whole of peninsular plateau has hilly and plateau terrain, which hinders the development of railways
    • The population density is also moderate here
    • For such reasons, except, Saurashtra and Tamil Nadu, a relatively open and more lose network has developed here
  3. The Himalayan region
    • The rugged terrain, hill and valley topography, backward economy and sparse population are factors responsible for the sparse rail network in the region
    • Also, there are practically no railway line in North-Eastern states of Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland
      • These areas have rough terrain with thick forests
      • Hence, construction of railways under these condition is a difficult and costly affair


The coastal plains

    • There is distinct contrast in rail network between eastern and western coastal plains
    • The Eastern Coastal plain is quite wide and permits the construction of railways
      • But, such network has been eluded in the Western coastal plain, due to the structure and relief of the area


Significance of the Indian Railways

  • Railways provide the cheapest and most convenient mode of passenger transport both for long distance and suburban traffic
  • Railways have played a significant role in the development and growth of Industries. Growth of textile Industry in Mumbai, Jute Industries around Kolkata are largely due to development of railway network in these areas
  • Agriculture also owes its growth to railways to a great extent. Now farmers can sell their agricultural produce to distant places
  • Railways have been helpful in removing isolation between cities and countryside; and have played a significant role in dissemination innovations and new ideas
  • Railways are particularly suited for long distance journey; and hence provide a strong medium of national integration
  • Railways carry relief and rescue teams to the affected areas, during times of natural calamities. Hence, they play a part in mitigating the sufferings of the people
  • Railways help in facing man-made calamities like social, political, religious disturbances, insurgency, etc. It facilitates easy movement of police, troops, defence equipment etc, during times of emergency



  • Metro Rail offers fast, cheap and comfortable journey in metropolitan cities of India
  • It helps in reducing pressure on the existing road transport and provides clean and eco-friendly transport at the local level
  • It is a part of rapid mass transport; and first rapid transit system in India was the Kolkata Metro, which started operations in 1984
  • The Delhi Metro was India’s first Modern Metro and third rapid transit system in India, which started its operations in 2002
  • After the success of Metro Rail in Delhi, other cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, have planned to ease the public transit system


Government Initiatives to improve Railways Sector in India

  • In June 2021, the Central Government approved the implementation of a 235 km semi high-speed rail corridor between Pune and Nashik in Maharashtra. The cost of building this project will be Rs. 16,039 crore
  • In April 2021, Indian Railways completed the arch closure of the under-construction Chenab Bridge which is the world’s highest railway bridge. Chenab Bridge is 1315 m long and will be 35 meters higher than Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • In July 2020, the Ministry of Railways has invited Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for private participation in operating passenger train services across 109 Origin Destination (OD) routes
  • On September 22, 2020, Indian Railways sanctioned a feasibility study for seven bullet train projects – all open to PPP investments.
  • The Indian Railway launched the National Rail Plan, Vision 2024, to accelerate implementation of critical projects, such as multitrack congested routes, achieve 100% electrification, upgrade the speed to 160 kmph on Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai routes, upgrade the speed to 130 kmph on all other golden quadrilateral-golden diagonal (GQ/GD) routes and eliminate all level crossings on the GQ/GD route, by 2024

On the whole, Indian Railway network is growing at a healthy rate. In the next five years, Indian railway market will be the third largest, accounting for 10% of the global market. Indian Railways, which is one of the country’s biggest employers, can generate one million jobs when scaled to efficient levels.