Rail transport (also known as train transport) is a means of transferring passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails, which are located on tracks. In contrast to road transport, where the vehicles run on a prepared flat surface, rail vehicles (rolling stock) are directionally guided by the tracks on which they run. Tracks usually consist of steel rails, installed on sleepers (ties) set in ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually fitted with metal wheels, moves. Other variations are also possible, such as “slab track”, in which the rails are fastened to a concrete foundation resting on a prepared subsurface.
Rolling stock in a rail transport system generally encounters lower frictional resistance than rubber-tired road vehicles, so passenger and freight cars (carriages and wagons) can be coupled into longer trains. The operation is carried out by a railway company, providing transport between train stations or freight customer facilities. Power is provided by locomotives that either draw electric power from a railway electrification system or produce their power, usually by diesel engines or, historically, steam engines. Most tracks are accompanied by a signaling system. Railways are a safe land transport system when compared to other forms of transport. Railway transport is capable of high levels of passenger and cargo utilization and energy efficiency but is often less flexible and more capital-intensive than road transport when lower traffic levels are considered.
Indian Railways (IR) is a statutory body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Railways, Government of India that operates India’s national railway system. It manages the fourth-largest railway network in the world by size, with a route length of 67,956 km (42,226 mi) as of 31 March 2020. 45,881 km (28,509 mi) or 71% of all the broad-gauge routes are electrified with 25 kV 50 Hz AC electric traction as of 1 April 2021.
In the fiscal year ending March 2020, Indian Railways carried 808.6 crores (8.086 billion) passengers and transported 121.23 crores (1.2123 billion) tonnes of freight. It runs 1 lakh (100,000) passenger trains daily, on both long-distance and suburban routes, covering 7,325 stations across India. Mail or Express trains, the most common types of trains, run at an average speed of 50.6 km/h (31.4 mph). Suburban EMUs run at an average speed of 37.5 km/h (23.3 mph). Ordinary passenger trains (incl. mixed) run at an average speed of 33.5 km/h (20.8 mph). The maximum speed of passenger trains varies, with the Gatimaan Express running at a peak speed of 160 km/h (99 mph).
In the freight segment, IR runs 8,479 trains daily. The average speed of freight trains is around 24 km/h (15 mph). The maximum speed of freight trains varies from 60–75 km/h (37–47 mph) depending on their axle load with ‘container special’ trains running at a peak speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).
The first railway proposals for India were made in Madras in 1832.
- The country’s first transport train, Red Hill Railway (built by Arthur Cotton to transport granite for road-building), ran from Red Hills to the Chintadripet bridge in Madras in 1837. In 1845, the Godavari Dam Construction Railway was built by Cotton at Dowleswaram in Rajahmundry, to supply stone for the construction of a dam over the Godavari River. In 1851, the Solani Aqueduct Railway was built by Proby Cautley in Roorkee to transport construction materials for an aqueduct over the Solani River.
- India’s first passenger train, operated by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and hauled by three steam locomotives (Sahib, Sindh, and Sultan), ran for 34 kilometers (21 mi) with 400 people in 14 carriages on 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge track between Bori Bunder (Mumbai) and Thane on 16 April 1853. The Thane viaducts, India’s first railway bridges, were built over the Thane creek when the Mumbai-Thane line was extended to Kalyan in May 1854. Eastern India’s first passenger train ran 39 km (24 mi) from Howrah, near Kolkata, to Hoogly on 15 August 1854. The first passenger train in South India ran 97 km (60 mi) from Royapuram-Veyasarapady (Madras) to Wallajabad (Arcot) on 1 July 1856.