Indian Railways is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 1,15,000 kilometres of track over a route of 65,436 kilometres. It brings together people from the farthest corners of the country and makes possible the conduct of business, sightseeing, pilgrimage and education. Indian Railways has been a great integrating force during the last over 155 years. However, it is time this mammoth system of transport was upgraded on par with the modern rail systems and emerged as an accident-free mode of transport.
From a very modest beginning in 1853, when the first train steamed off from Mumbai to Thane, a distance of 34 kilometres, Indian Railways has grown into a vast network of 7,025 stations spread over a route length of 63,436 kilometres. The growth of Indian Railways over the last one and a half centuries and has been phenomenal. It has played a vital role in the economic, industrial and social development of the country. In 2014-15, Indian Railways carried 8.397 billion passengers, or over 23 million passengers a day, and 1050.18 million tonnes of freight. During the year, Indian Railways’ revenues touched Rs 1,634.50 billion, including Rs 1,069.27 billion from freight and Rs 402.80 billion from passengers tickets.
It was in 1951 that the Indian rail systems were nationalised as one unit, to be called Indian Railways, thus becoming one of the largest networks in the world. Indian Railways operates both long-distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, metre and narrow gauges. Its operations cover 29 states and 7 Union Territories and it provides limited international services to Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In 1848, there was not a single kilometre of railway line in India. The country’s first railway, built by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR), opened in 1853, between Bombay and Thane. A British engineer, Robert Maitland Brereton, was responsible for the expansion of the railways from 1857 onwards. By 1880, the network had a route mileage of about 14,500 kilometres, mostly radiating inward from the three major port cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. By 1895, India had started building its own locomotives, and, in 1896, the country sent engineers and locomotives to help build the Uganda Railways.
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