Despite beginning life as a by-product of British colonial rule, the Indian Railways developed rapidly to define and shape the country post-Independence.

Article from IndiaTV August 15, 2021

Independence Day 2021: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced that 75 ‘Vande Bharat’ trains will connect different parts of the country in 75 weeks to mark the ongoing ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of 75th Independence Day, he said it is unprecedented the way UDAN scheme was connecting far-flung areas of the country and the speed at which new airports are being built.

Vande Bharat, the indigenous semi-high speed train set, is being given a boost, with the Railways gearing to roll out at least 10 of them, linking around 40 cities, by August 2022 to commemorate 75 years of Independence. The PM also talked about boosting rail connectivity in the northeast region, saying it is significant for the entire country. As PM Modi announced the launch of 75 Vande Bharat trains to mark 75 years of Independence from British rule, let’s have look at the glorious journey of Indian Railways.

The first railway proposals for India were made in Madras in 1832. However, India got its first passenger train of the sub-continent in 1853. The idea of a railway to connect Bombay with Thane, Kalyan and with the Thal and Bhore Ghats inclines first occurred to George Clark, the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Government, during a visit to Bhandup in 1843. In less than 20 years after the steam engine came to India in 1853, all its major metropolitan centres – including Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras – were linked by an extensive railway network. The country’s hill railways were laid in the next 50 years. Less than a century after the railways chugged into India, as many as 54,000 kilometres of tracks were added to India’s network at the annual rate of 600 km. Looking at the growing need, Railway Board was formed in 1901.

Despite beginning life as a by-product of British colonial rule, the Indian Railways developed rapidly to define and shape the country post-Independence. In 1947, the departure of Britain split the nation in two, causing a ripple effect across the railways as more than 40% of the network was lost to the newly created Pakistan.

1853-1869: Launching passenger rail services

Although rail services in India were initially proposed in the 1830s, historians cite 16 April 1853 as the kick starter for India’s passenger rail revolution. On this date, the country’s first passenger train set off on a 34km journey between Bombay’s Bori Bunder station and Thane. It consisted of 14 cars being hauled by three steam locomotives and carried 400 passengers. This early era of passenger travel was primarily funded by private companies under a guarantee system created by the British Parliament, which ensured they would receive a certain rate of interest on their capital investment. In total, eight railway companies were established between 1855 and 1860, including Eastern India Railway, Great India Peninsula Company, Madras Railway, Bombay Baroda, and Central India Railway.

First Passenger Train

1901-1925: Moves towards centralisation

After years of construction and financial investment, the railways finally began to make a profit in 1901. Nevertheless, it was during the early years of this century that the scale of government intervention increased dramatically. GIPR was the first company to become state-owned in 1900. By 1907, the government had purchased all major lines and began leasing them back to private operators.

1925-1946: Electrification and hard times

The first electric train ran between Bombay and Kurla on 3 February 1925, setting a precedent for further electrification in the coming years. By 1929, the railway network had grown to an overall length of 66,000km and carried approximately 620 million passengers and 90 million tonnes of goods annually.

1951: Replacement of exiting rail networks with zones

In 1951-1952, it was decided to replace the existing rail networks with zones. A total of six zones came into being in 1952. In 2003, 6 further zones were made from existing zones for administration purposes and one more zone was added in 2006. The Indian Railways now has 18 zonal Railways. 1985 onwards steam locomotives were phased out and electric and diesel locomotives took their place.

1980-2000: Technology and phasing out steam

The 1980s saw a complete phase-out of steam locomotives, as electrification was spurred on by energy crises in the 1970s. Around 4,500km of track was electrified between 1980 and 1990. Meanwhile, India’s first metro system opened in Calcutta in 1984. Though economic stagnation and political upheaval blocked the growth of the network in the 80s, the 90s saw the opening of the Konkan Railway; a 738km behemoth connecting the western coast of India with the rest of the country.

2000-2021: Moving online

Since 2000, metro stations have continued to pop up in India’s major cities, including Delhi (2002), Bangalore (2011), Gurgaon (2013) and Mumbai (2014). The nineties also saw the creation of the network’s East Coast, South Western, South East Central, North Central and West Central Railway zones, in 2002. Nevertheless, arguably the greatest step forward for IR was the launch of online train reservations and ticketing through its IRCTC system in 2002. Passengers could now book their journeys online or buy tickets from thousands of agents across the country – a necessary addition, considering that passengers had reportedly traversed a distance of more than 4.5 billion kilometers on the railways in the period from 2000-2001.

Indian Railways: Structure

Indian Railways is headed by a four-member Railway Board whose chairman reports to the Ministry of Railways. The Railway Board also acts as the Ministry of Railways. The officers manning the office of Railway Board are mostly from organised Group A Railway Services and Railway Board Secretariat Service.

Vital Role of Indian Railway in Covid-19

Indian Railways plays a vital role in the economy and the lives of people in India. While the overall intermodal share of rail in freight traffic is around 35 per cent, it continues to account for a major share in the transportation of bulk commodities – such as coal, iron ore, cement and food grains – which are drivers of the economy

The year 2020 showed India a glimpse of how life would be without trains. As the coronavirus nation-wide lockdown was announced on March 24, the Railways for the first time in its 167-year-old history shut down all its services.

It was on May 1 that the wheels of trains started chugging again. This time, to ferry migrant workers home. Between May 1 and August 30, the Railways ferried 63.15 such workers home across 23 states in over 4,000 Shramik Special trains, not only bringing huge relief to the stranded migrants, but also hope for the others that their lifeline was down, but not out.

Special Trains for Migrants

The Railways operated 1,089 special train services, while Kolkata Metro was running 60 per cent of its services, Mumbai suburban was running on 88 per cent and 50 per cent of Chennai suburban services were in operation. The Railways also launched eight Kissan Rail Services to enable farmers to send their products across the nation with enhanced speed and reduced cost.

Converted coaches into Covid Wards

Indian Railways has converted its coaches into COVID-19 care Coaches. In a bid to address the problem of bed crunch in hospitals amid the rising COVID-19 cases, Indian Railways have started to deploy isolation coaches at various places for the treatment of covid-19 patients. The isolation coaches, which were deployed last year in only some states as COVID care centers, are now being put to use again. At present, according to the Railway Ministry, as many as 4,002 converted coaches are available with Indian Railways in its 16 zones.

Given the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases, Railways operated ‘Oxygen Express’ trains to transport liquid medical oxygen (LMO) and oxygen cylinders for patients across India, using green corridors for expeditious delivery. Oxygen is critical in the treatment of certain medical conditions in Covid infection and the national transporter has made a movement plan for dispatch of 10 empty tankers on April 19.

Modernization of Railways

The unmet demand level necessitates substantial investments in capacity augmentation and technology. The time has come to modernize the Indian Railways, make it world-class, and a key driver of the country’s growth in the post-Covid era. The overall travel experience of the common man needs to be transformed; high-quality in-transit experience needs to be supplemented by best-in-class railway stations.

Need for Modernisation

1. Overstretched Infrastructure: With more than 60% of routes being more than 100% utilized. In the last 64 years, while the freight loading has grown by 1344% and passenger kms by 1642%, the Route kms have grown by only 23%.

2. Lack of Customer Focus: Inability to meet the demands of its both freight and passenger customers Apart from the quantum of investment, quality of delivery an issue Cleanliness, punctuality of services, safety, quality of terminals, the capacity of trains, quality of food, security of passengers and ease of booking tickets among major customer focus issues.
3. Low internal generation of resources: Passenger trains utilise two-thirds of capacity and generate only one-third of revenues High freight tariff leading to getting out-priced in market Inadequate carrying capacity leading to decreasing modal share in freight and huge unmet passenger demand Negligible diversification in commodities being catered for Negligible proportion of ‘Non-fare’ revenues.
4. Organisation rigidity: Slow decision making, inadequate market orientation and silo working Long project approval duration- average 24 months.

The Model of Public-Private Partnerships has come into existence by the introduction of Private Finance initiative projects initiated by the Government of Britain. Later the concept has been taken up by many Governments in the name of PPP. Indian Railways (IR) over the years has modified the PPP model. Nongovernment Railway Model is the only Model allowed until December 2012 for Rail-Port connectivity projects. R3i Policy of 2011 did not enable last-mile rail connectivity on the NGR model to other than seaports. As part of the 2012 PPP policy, the following five models have been allowed.

1. Non-Govt. Lines Model on revenue sharing
2. Joint Ventures Model on revenue sharing
3. Built Own Operate and Transfer Model on revenue sharing
4. Annuity Model of fixed fee recovery basis
5. Customer Funded Model on discount on freight moved on the line
6. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Asset Creation

Initiatives under Make in India

Setting up of a modern signalling equipment facility at Chandigarh through PPP.
Construction of new lines – Bhupdeopur-Raigarh (Mand Colliery) and Gevra RoadPendara Road; Doubling of Palanpur-Samakhiali section through PPP.
Setting up 2 locomotive plants through PPP is crucial for the development of the infrastructure sector.
Setting up joint ventures (JV) with major public sector customers for fulfilling the requirements of new lines.
The High-Speed Rail project will be a major ‘Make in India’ initiative where Indian companies and contractors are encouraged to take part in open and transparent competitive bidding process for various work planned to be carried out for this project.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train

Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor is an under-construction high-speed rail line connecting India’s economic hub Mumbai with the city of Ahmedabad. When completed, it will be India’s first high-speed rail line. Construction was expected to begin by April 2020, and the project was expected to be completed by December 2023. However, due to delays acquiring land, the completion date has been pushed to October 2027. The project is estimated to cost 1.1 lakh crore (US$15 billion), including the cost of 24 trainsets, interest during construction and import duties. 20% of the components used on the corridor will be supplied by Japan, and manufactured in India.

Vande Bharat Express

Vande Bharat, also known as Train 18, the indigenous semi-high speed train set, is being given a boost, with the Railways gearing to roll out at least 10 of them, linking around 40 cities, by August 2022 to commemorate 75 years of Independence.

Hyderabad-based engineering firm Medha, which in February secured the contract to supply the electrical systems for 44 Vande Bharat trains, has now been told to advance its production plan, so that at least two prototypes can be rolled out by next March following all trials.

Vande Bharat is the name given to India’s own semi-high speed train set, a collection of 16 coaches, self-propelled, and does not require an engine to haul them. This is called distributed traction power, which is increasingly becoming the norm the world over, as opposed to locomotive-hauled trains.

Future Ahead: Privatisation of Railways
With the objective of improving user experience, the MOR had been discussing the initiative of permitting private entities to undertake passenger train operations on selected routes. The MOR has taken the first step in this regard by issuing a request for qualification (RFQ) on 1 July 2020. Till now, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (a Government of India owned listed entity) was the only private entity permitted to operate passenger trains on select routes.

Private players to alter the landscape of the Indian Railway network

The MOR will be providing non-discriminatory access to private train operators to the Indian Railway track and signalling network. The operation of passenger trains by private parties is likely to alter the landscape of the Indian Railway network. Effectively, the overarching control of the Ministry of Railways on rolling stock, railway tracks and manpower engaged in services will diminish.

(With Inputs from Indian Railways)