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Indian Railways is the fourth largest rail network in the world and the largest in Asia. It is the principal means of transportation for commodities and people in India. Indian Railways is a public sector undertaking. The railways lines were constructed during the British rule for strategic reasons and for commercial purposes. The first railways track was laid between Bombay and Thane in 1853. The initiation of railways by the British rulers benefitted India in many ways.

Advantages of Railways

Railways provide infrastructural facilities which are so essential for a country’s development. Transport of agricultural products to the markets, supply of raw materials to the factories and transport of finished products to the market, distributing agricultural inputs like farm machineries and chemical fertilisers, development of internal and foreign trade are benefits of the railways. Movement of people over long distances across the country is mainly served by the railways.

In India there are over 7000 railways stations. Railway lines are of three gauges—broad gauge, meter gauge and narrow gauge. Narrow gauge rail lines are chiefly constructed in the hilly regions. The railway tracks between Siliguri and Darjeeling has been given special status of heritage site. Mettupalyam–Ooty and Kalka–Simla are also noted for their picturesque routes.

In India there are 16 railway zones. But the distribution of the railway network is not uniform. The topography, economic and administrative factors play key roles in the extension of railway network in India. The northern plains of India with flat plain land, dense population and rich agricultural resources have contributed largely to the development of railways. The hilly regions of the peninsular plateau, the Himalayas with their rough terrain, sparse population and lack of economic development have not favoured construction of railway lines. The deserts of Rajasthan and the forested regions of Central Indian Highlands in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh do not have well-developed railway links. The Western Ghats are almost continuous except the passes. It is through these passes that the western coastal plain has railway links with the rest of the country. The Konkan Railways, constructed along the western coastal plain, cutting across the Western Ghats through tunnels, has contributed to the economic development of the Konkan region.

Suburban railway system plays a very important transport link between the nodal city and its suburbs. A dense network of railway lines connects Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi with their suburbs. These metropolitan cities have extended along the railway tracks. The metro railway service, in many places through underground lines, was first introduced in Kolkata. At present Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore has the metro rail services, and plans are there to spread this facility in other cities.

Railways in India have contributed to the transport of agricultural commodities and development of industrial areas. Connection with the mining areas and areas of tourist interest has contributed largely to the economic development of India. Availability of rail network along the suburban areas of the metropolitan cities has immensely helped commuting of the people and expansion of the urban areas, as found in Mumbai and Kolkata. Superfast expresses such as Rajdhani, Duranto, Shatabdi and luxury trains like ‘Palace on Wheels’ to cater to foreign tourists have been introduced by Indian Railways to facilitate easier movement of passengers.

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