The first railway on Indian sub-continent ran over a stretch of 21 miles from Bombay to Thane on 16 April 1853. The idea of a railway to connect Bombay with Thane, Kalyan and with the Thai and Bhore Ghats inclines first occurred to George Clark, the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Government, during a visit to Bhandup in 1843. During the formal inauguration ceremony, 14 railway carriages carrying about 400 guests left Bori Bunder at 3.30 pm "amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and to the salute of 21 guns".
The first passenger train steamed out of Howrah station destined for Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles, on 15 August 1854. Thus the first section of the East Indian Railway was opened to public traffic, inaugurating the beginning of railway transport on the Eastern side of the sub-continent. In South, the first line was opened on 1 July 1856 by the Madras Railway Company. It ran between Veyasarpandy and Walajah Road (Arcot), a distance of 63 miles. In the North, a length of 119 miles of line was laid from Allahabad to Kanpur on 3 March 1859.
The first section from Hathras Road to Mathura Cantonment was opened to traffic on 19 October 1875. These small beginnings in due course developed into a network of railway lines all over the country. By 1880, the Indian Railway system had a route mileage of about 9000 miles. When India became independent in 1947, there were forty-two rail systems. In 1951, the systems were nationalized as one unit, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. Thus Indian Railways (IR) was torn.
Today, Indian Railways has one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world. It transports 20 million passengers and more than 2 million tonnes of freight daily and is one of the world's largest commercial employers, with more than 1.6 million employees. The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country, covering 6,909 stations over a total route length of more than 63,327 kilometers. In terms of rolling stock, IR owns over 200,000 (freight) wagons, 50,000 coaches and 8,000 locomotives. IR operates both long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, meter and narrow gauges. It also owns locomotive and coach production facilities.
Indian Railways is a department owned and controlled by the Government of India, via the Ministry of Railways. It is administered by the Railway Board, which has a financial commissioner, five members and a chairman. Its headquarters are in New Delhi. It is divided into zones, which are further sub-divided into divisions. The number of zones in Indian Railways increased from six to eight in 1951, nine in 1952, and finally 16 in 2003. The Kolkata Metro is owned and operated by Indian Railways, but is not a part of any of the zones. It is administratively considered to have the status of a zonal railway.
The various zones of Indian Railways are Central Railway (CR) with headquarters at Mumbai, East Central Railway (ECR) with headquarters at Hajipur, East Coast Railway (ECOR) with headquarters at Bhubaneswar, Eastern Railway (ER) with headquarters at Kolkata, Konkan Railway (KR) with headquarters at Navi Mumbai, North Central Railway (NCR) with headquarters at Allahabad, North Eastern Railway (NER) with headquarters at Gorakhpur, North Western Railway (NWR) with headquarters at Jaipur, Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) with headquarters at Guwahati.
Northern Railway (NR) with headquarters at Delhi, South Central Railway (SCR) with headquarters at Secunderabad, South East Central Railway (SECR) with headquarters at Bilaspur, South Eastern Railway (SER) with headquarters at Kolkata, South Western Railway (SWR) with headquarters at Hubli, Southern Railway (SR) with headquarters at Chennai, West Central Railway (WCR) with headquarters at Jabalpur, and Western Railway (WR) with headquarters at Mumbai.
Indian Railways is the country's single largest employer. Staff are classified into gazetted (Group A and B) and non-gazetted (Group C and D) employees. While the recruitment of Group A gazetted employees is carried out by the Union Public Service Commission through exams conducted by it, the recruitment to Group 'C' and 'D' employees is done through 19 Railway Recruitment Boards which are controlled by the Railway Recruitment Control Board (RRCB). The training of all cadres is entrusted and shared between six centralized training institutes.
As on 31 March 2008, the total length of track used by Indian Railways was about 1,11,600 km while the total route length of the network was 63,273 km. About 28 per cent of the route-kilometer and 42 per cent of the total track kilometer was electrified. Indian broad gauge 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) is the most widely used gauge in India with 96,851 km of track length (86.8 per cent of entire track length of all the gauges) and 51,082 km of route-kilometer (80.7 per cent of entire route-kilometer of all the gauges).
Indian Railways operates about 9,000 passenger trains and transports 20 million passengers daily across twenty-eight states and two union territories. Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya are the only states not connected by rail. A standard passenger train consists of eighteen coaches, but popular trains can have up to 24 coaches. Coaches are designed to accommodate anywhere from 18 to 108 passengers, but during the holiday seasons and/or on busy routes, more passengers may travel in unreserved coaches. Most regular trains have coaches connected through vestibules. However, 'unreserved coaches' are not connected with the rest of the train via any vestibule.
Several long trains are composed of two to three classes of travel, such as a 1st and 2nd classes which have different pricing systems for various amenities. The classes in operation are First class AC (also called 1A), AC Two tier (2A), First class (FC), AC Three tier (3A), AC Chair Car (CC), Executive Class Chair Car (EC), Sleeper Class (SL), Seater Class (2S), and General (G) or Unreserved (UR). All these classes are not found on any single train. A special compartment known as the guard's cabin is found at the rear of the train.
A standard passenger rake generally has four general compartments, two at the front and two behind, of which one is exclusively for ladies. The exact number varies according to the demand and the route. A luggage compartment can also exist at the front or the back. In some trains a separate mail compartment is present. In long-distance trains a pantry car is usually included in the centre. A new class Economy AC three tier is introduced in the Duronto trains.
The Himsagar Express, between Kanyakumari and Jammu Tawi, has the longest run in terms of distance and time on Indian Railways network. It covers 3,745 km in about 74 hours and 55 minutes. The Bhopal Shatabd: Express is the fastest train in India which has a maximum speed of 150 m/h on the Faridabad-Agra section.
Fares on the Indian Railways across categories are among the cheapest in the world. In the past few years, despite a recessionary environment, the Indian Railways have not raised fares on any class of service. On the contrary, there has been a minor dip in fares in some categories. This was possible because Indian Railways makes 70 per cent its venues and most of its profits from the freight sector, and uses these profits to cross-subsidies the loss-making passenger sector.
Ministry of Railways has planned to construct a new Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) covering about 2762 route km on two corridors Eastern Corridor from Ludhiana to Sone Nagar and Western Corridor from Jawaharlal Nehru Port Mumbai to Tughlakabad/Dadri along with interlinking of two corridors at Khurja. Upgrading of transportation technology, increase in productivity and reduction in unit transportation cost are the focus areas for the project.