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Indian Railways over the years: How it went from a primitive mode of transportation to modern, electrified network

Even though Indian Railway was regarded as the lifeline of independent India, it was plagued with multiple plights from primitive maintenance methods to ageing track to outmoded rolling stock technology.

From being flaunted as the gift of ‘British rule’ to being cursed as a primitive and unevolved mode of transport- Indian Railways has had quite a long journey just like the Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express. The Indian Railways witnessed a gleaming start under the British Raj in 1853, with country’s first passenger train setting off on a 34 km journey between Mumbai’s Bori Bunder station and Thane, carrying 400 passengers.

Even though Indian Railways was regarded as the lifeline of independent India, it was plagued with multiple plights. Primitive maintenance methods, ageing track and machinery, outmoded rolling stock technology and increasing railway accidents were some grave issues apart from safety and hygiene.

An article dated May 1989, highlights how while safety was the main concern, the government focused on making railways a 5-star affair. Did you know in Congress-led Central government, MoS for Railways Madhavrao Scindia introduced plastic tumblers for tea in the railways? That too at an enormous cost of Rs 80 lakh a year.

Some staggering data revealed one-fifth of the total length of railway track in the system needed replacement but was not being done. Continuous use of old and weakened track led to metal fatigue and fractures causing major accidents, rail fractures increased from 4,517 in 1980-81 to 6,272 in 1987-88 resulting in severe speed restrictions. As many as 690 railway bridges were in distress. 2,119 out of 26,277 broad and meter gauge coaches were overaged and required immediate replacement but the required number of new coaches were simply not available. The article while citing many more statistics revealed the pathetic condition of Indian Railways.

Then how did we manage to come to a year which recorded 0 deaths due to rail accidents in 2019 from 2,400 deaths between 1990-1995? The past 6 years have been exceptional for the Indian Railways. From eliminating deaths caused by rail accidents to inaugurating ‘Dedicated Freight Corridor’ to boost transport to introducing semi-high speed fully air-conditioned trains operated by private operators.

Let’s have a look at some of the key achievements by the Indian Railways.

Faster and modern travel experience

Indian Railways flagged off it’s first private semi-high speed fully air-conditioned train adorned with modern technology- Tejas Express.

Operated by IRCTC ( Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation), a subsidiary of Indian Railways, the train is capable of attaining a speed of 160kmph, the Indian Railways has identified 12 clusters to run these faster and modern private trains. Giving a boost to the ‘Make In India’ project, these modern trains will be manufactured by the private sector.

Operating on 4 routes currently, Tejas Express is fitted with bio-vacuum toilets, water level indicators, tap sensors, hand dryers, integrated braille displays, LED TV for each passenger with phone sockets, local cuisine, celebrity chef menu, WiFi, tea and coffee vending machines, magazines, snack tables, CCTV cameras, fire and smoke detection and suppression system.

Dedicated freight corridor

In what is considered to be a game changer in rail transportation, Dedicated freight corridor involves the construction of six freight corridors traversing the entire country. The project holds key to unlock maximum freight potential, increase freight speed and ensure economical transportation.

Undertaking the work of two corridors, construction of a 1504 km long Western DFC and 1856 km Eastern DFC has begun. This will be done along with the development of a 4km-long tunnel, 262 bridges, 33 flyovers, 505 road-over-bridges and 200 road-under-bridges on Western DFC and 104 new bridges, 368 road-over-bridges, 189 road-under-bridges and 21 flyovers on Eastern DFC.

Enhancing infrastructure of railway stations

India is all set to witness clean, vibrant and swanky railway stations equipped with world-class technology.

The Indian Railway Station Development Corporation (IRSDC) has taken up the mammoth task of beautifying and redeveloping as many as 110 railway stations.

From a 5-star hotel atop Gandhinagar Railway Station to making Surat station a multi-modal transport hub, the passengers are in for an airport like experience.

Enhancing agri logistics system

With a vision to increase farmer income the Government of India has taken several steps to develop a robust and integrated agri logistics systems in the country for transportation of agri-produce.

As a part of ‘Kisan Rath’, Indian Railways operates 208 Kisan Rail Services on 24 routes for transportation of fruits, vegetables and other perishables. In addition, to facilitate storage of perishables, temperature controlled Perishable Cargo Centres have been established at multiple locations.

Promoting clean energy

Announcing the initiative for 100% electrification of trains by 2023, Indian Railways will become zero net emitter by 2030. With the vision to promote clean energy, railways inaugurated the first waste to energy plant in Bhubaneshwar in 2020.

The waste to energy plant, with the capacity of 500 Kg waste per day will convert multiple feedstocks into hydrocarbon liquid fuels, gas, carbon and water using a patented technology.

Sharp decline in rail accident deaths

Infrastructure plays a major role in rail accidents. From rail fractures to weak bridges, deaths due to rail accidents remained a major cause of concern for the country. However, for the first time in history, India managed to record 0 deaths due to rail accident in 2019. Ensuring mega blocks for maintenance, using modern machinery, removal of all unmanned level crossings, signalling modernization and more delegation of power to field level officers made this feat possible.

With these initiatives, Indian Railways is sure to experience a transformation in not just passenger experience but also freight and transportation. We leave you with one interesting video on the world’s highest rail bridge being built in the Reasi district of Jammu & Kashmir.

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