Though not often thought about, the railways of India are an exceedingly important part of socio-economic development.
With a modest beginning in India on April 16, 1853, when the first wheels rolled on rails from Bombay to Thane (a mere 34 km), the Indian Railways has emerged today as the largest network in Asia and the second largest in the world.
This web of rail lines runs throughout the country. Tracks stretch from one corner of India to the other. The total length of the railway tracks in India is about 63000 kilometers. About 7800 trains carry about eleven million passengers to their destinations every day. Goods trains transport about 600,000 tons of goods from one place to another daily.
One of the most important aspects of the Indian railway is its ability to integrate markets, allowing for the emergence of a modern economy. It connects industrial production centers with markets and to sources of raw materials. It also links agricultural production centers with distant markets. It provides rapid, reliable and cost-effective bulk transportation to the energy sector, to move coal from the coalfields to power plants and petroleum products from refineries to consumption centers. It links places, enabling large-scale, rapid and low-cost movement of people across the length and breadth of the country.
The Indian Railway contributes to India’s economic development, accounting for about one per cent of the GNP and the backbone of freight needs of the core sector. It accounts for six per cent of the total employment in the organized sector directly and an additional 2.5 per cent indirectly through its dependent organizations.
The railways also address the major problems of cost and efficiency. Train transport is six times more energy-efficient than road and four times more economical. The social costs in terms of environment are significantly lower in rail. Rail construction costs are approximately six times lower than road for comparable levels of traffic. It is the only major transport mode capable of using any form of primary energy.