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MG Directional Asymmetry

Q. Is it true that all MG rolling stock in Assam was oriented “the wrong way around” from the stock in the rest of India?

Yes, this is true. All trains had to reverse direction at Siliguri. The Assam Bengal Railway was originally isolated and not connected to the other railway networks. The difference in orientation became a problem on completion of the Assam Rail Link, and the solution adopted was to reverse trains at Siliguri.

In case you were wondering why the orientation matters, Indian MG stock is asymmetric in that the male and female couplers are at different ends of each coach or wagon, so that the orientation of the stock has to be precisely maintained. In general, MG routes in India are (or were) designed so that between any two stations, all the routes always resulted in trains arriving with the same orientation -- this meant triangular configurations of track, double bypasses on the same side of a line, split junctions necessitating reversal to change routes, etc., were rare and had special operating procedures associated with them. (Locos always had both kinds of couplers at both ends, so that they were more flexible.)

More on MG unidirectionality

As mentioned above, MG stock is not symmetric in its orientation. If there are two routes between two MG stations, forming a cycle, usually there is a direction reversal associated with the station at either end, so that stock is always oriented in a particular direction on a particular section. Examples were:

  • Mayiladuthurai - Thanjavur (SR) (through Thiruvarur and through Kumbakonam)
  • Tiruvarur - Karaikkudi (SR)
  • Junagadh - Veraval (WR)
  • Khijadiya - Visvadar (WR)
  • Katosan Road - Ranuj (WR)
  • Kalol - Mehsana (WR)
  • Rewari - Ringus (WR/NR)
  • Purnea - Saharsa (NE)
  • Loharu - Sikar (WR/NR)

One cycle that violated the unidirectionality principle was the triangle formed by Phulera - Jaipur - Ringus, each station having a reversal so that a train that went through all three would be oriented in the reverse direction from the one that it started out in.

A rare cycle that did not involve any reversals at all is Kalol-Ambliyasan. The line from Kalol to Vijapur took off on the Ahmedabad side of Kalol and the line from Vijapur to Ambliyasan joined the line from the Delhi side, so that there is no reversal at Vijapur. Hence MG trains could go around this cycle continuously with no reversals at all. However, this cycle was broken sometime in late 2000 when the physical connection between the Kalol-Mahesana direct MG at Ambliyasan and Vijapur-Ambliyasan was removed.

Rack Railways

Q. Are there any rack railways in India?

Yes. See the section on the Ooty rack railway (Nilgiri Mountain Railway).

Q. Are there any funicular (cable) railways in India?

IR does not operate any funicular railways. However, there is a private funicular railway at Palani in southern India, with two lines and two rakes, connecting the base of the Palani Hill to the top where there is a Hindu temple. The rakes are coupled so that one is going down while the other is going up.

In addition, some dams, etc. have small funicular railways for access to the facilities.

At some mines in the east, IR did have NG freight wagons hauled by cables, but these don't really count as true funiculars.

Q. What are the different kinds of rack railway systems?

Rack railway systems use a geared wheel on the loco to engage with a rack, a toothed rail or rails set in the track, where the grade is too steep for the normal adhesion (friction) between wheels and rails to be used.

A ‘rack and pinion’ system usually refers to a pure rack system where all the track in the system is provided with a rack, including at points and crossovers. A ‘rack and adhesion’ system is one where not all of the track has a rack, and normal working using adhesion or friction between the rails and the driver wheels of the loco is used in some parts. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a rack and adhesion railway.

Among different kinds of rack systems are the ‘Abt system’ using a central rack rail or rails with two or more rows of teeth that are offset from one another, the ‘Riggenbach’ or ‘Riggi’ system where the rack is formed by short cross-bars attached to two parallel rails much like a ladder, and the ‘Strub’ system which has a single rack rail with teeth cut into it. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was supposed to have the Riggenbach system at first, but for various reasons ended up with the Abt system for its rack.

The Jackfruit Letter

The (in)famous Jackfruit Letter

There is a very persistent legend about a letter purportedly written by an irate railway passenger suffering on account of the premature departure of a train. The letter is claimed to have been written around 1909 (a precise date of July 2, 1909 is also sometimes claimed), addressed to the Divisional Office of the East Indian Railway or the Transportation Superintendent at Sahibganj, West Bengal, or to the Railway Board.

The letter is said to have been discovered in railway records in West Bengal, or in the Railway Board's archives in New Delhi, or to have been published in the August 1909 issue of 'Indian Railways' (published by the Railway Board). It is very likely that this letter is a legend or joke, even if it was reproduced in an official publication. The text of the letter follows.

Dear Sir,

I am arrive by passenger train at Ahmedpore station, and my belly is too much full of jack fruit. I am therefore went to privy, Just as I doing the nuisance, that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhotie in the next hand. I am fall over and expose my shockings to man, females, woman on platform. I am get leaved at Ahmedpore station.

This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung, that dam guard no wait train 5 minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake, otherwise I am making big report to papers.

Your faithful servant,

Okhil Ch. Sen

Miscellaneous Stuff

Q. Did railway companies have nicknames or various other names they were referred by?

Railway companies in India had their share of critics and those who poked fun at them, both within and without. Since they were almost universally known by their initials, many of them had nicknames based on their initials. Examples follow:

  • GIP (Great Indian Peninsular Railway): Grossly Ignorant of Punctuality, Great Improvement Possible, Good In Parts (like the curate's egg), Greatest Incovenience Possible
  • SIR (South Indian Railway): Sambar-Idli Railway, Stupid and Irregular Railway
  • M&SMR (Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway): Mail in Slow Motion, Most Slowly Moving
  • BNR (Bengal Nagpur Railway): Bribes Never Refused, Brains Not Required
  • NR (Northern Railway): Nalaayak Railway (Hindi, ‘incompetent’)
  • BDR (Bankura-Damodar River Railway): Baro Dukkher Railway (Bengali, ‘railway of great grief’)
  • BB&CI (Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway): Beastly, Bad, and Cannot Improve

Q. What does it mean when a curve is described as a 2-degree curve?

A curve is often described in this way, by the angle (in degrees) subtended at its centre by a 30.5m arc. In practice a 30.5m chord length may be used, which makes a small difference.

Q. What is ‘mean sea level’? What does the sign about height above mean sea level at a railway station mean?

The ‘mean sea level’ (MSL) is a reference level from which vertical elevation is measured. It is fixed by observations over a long time of the surface of the open ocean, averaging out the changes due to tides, etc. The level is then extended in an imaginary surface (an ellipsoid, or more accurately a geoid) to cover all points of the earth, including land areas far from the sea. Heights of locations can then be given with reference to the mean sea level computed for that latitude and longitude. This allows heights of different places to be compared in a uniform manner.

Note that modern methods of geodesy use computer models of the earth's surface to compute reference geoid surfaces which provide the vertical datum for measurements by instruments such as GPS receivers; observation of the ocean surface are not necessarily part of these models.

Q. Often, it is seen that the front wheels of a locomotive or EMU slip before (and more than) the rear wheels. Why is this so?

When a locomotive (or EMU/DMU) accelerates, the force that propels it forward is the reaction force (pointing in the forward direction) acting on it from the rails at the wheel rims. This force does not go through the centre of inertia of the locomotive, and therefore acts to produce an unbalanced torque on the locomotive; this torque tends to raise the front end of the locomotive and lower the rear end. This causes the weight on the front wheels to decrease, leading to wheel slip (frictional forces being governed by the normal force).

A similar phenomenon can be observed in cars where the front of the car rises when it accelerates sharply, and dips down when the brakes are applied.

Q. Isn't electric traction better than diesel because…? Isn't diesel traction better than electric traction because…?

The debate over the relative merits of diesel and electric traction and which one is ‘better’ is a lively one and springs up every now and then on IRFCA and other railway forums. There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of traction, and each is suitable for certain applications. Economic and operational advantages of either type of traction may be different in the Indian context, and direct comparisons to European, American, or other railway practice may not be appropriate. Some (and only some!) of the considerations that frequently come up in this discussion are listed below. However, the main thing to note about this topic is that it has caused much rancorous debate among railfans, without either side ‘winning’, and there may not be much benefit to raking up the debate again unless you feel that there is substantial new information or novel points to be considered in your argument.

  • Trade: Diesel uses oil that's imported with foreign exchange; electricity can be generated from plentiful domestic coal or hydroelectric plants, etc.
  • Pollution: Diesel yields nitrogen and sulphur oxides and particulate matter; electrics are cleaner locally but the power plants generate pollution or may be environmentally dangerous (hydroelectricity, etc.). Diesel technology is getting cleaner all the time. So is the pollution control at power plants, where efficiencies of scale help. Clean coal burning technologies may help further.
  • Efficiency: Diesel involves the whole petroleum transportation system and is limited by the efficiency of the internal combustion engine on the loco. Electrics are more efficient on-board (no need for an engine), and power plants can have better efficiencies by scale, but there are problems of transmission losses and other inefficiencies in the distribution of power
  • Freight Capability: The placement of the overhead catenary for electric traction prevents the use of double-stacking of container traffic. However, it is to be noted that with the newer high-rise catenary design and retrofitted pantographs on locomotives, this argument no longer holds water.
  • Reach: Diesels can obviously travel anywhere; electrics are limited to electrified lines. On the other hand diesels need to refuel periodically while electrics can keep going.
  • Capital investment: Electrification involves large up-front investment to set up the OHE and power supply and may not be economic for branch lines or other areas with low traffic. Heavy freight movement and busy passenger lines are the best suited for electric traction.
  • Power: Electrics can supply a lot of additional power for short periods since they can draw more current as needed from the OHE; diesels are limited in the power they can provide at any time.
  • Maintenance: Diesels are generally somewhat more complex to maintain since they have many more mechanical systems associated with the diesel engine itself.
  • Plant failures, etc.: OHE failure — perhaps because of problems at a remote power plant — strands all electric locos in a region. Theft of OHE cables also affects all electric traction in a section.
  • Perception: There is a common perception that electrics are ‘more advanced’ than diesels. In fact both electric and diesel technology have been around a long time and both have advanced a lot and are still being improved tremendously.

Q. Is it true that Indian Railways and Pakistan Railways have unsettled accounts going back many decades?

Both IR and PR claim they are owed money from unsettled accounts with each other, some of which date back to the time of Partition. Each side has a list of such amounts due, which are generally fairly small (to the tune of a few lakhs of rupees, Rs 6 lakhs, Rs 12 lakhs, etc.), claimed under various heads such as passenger or freight traffic operations, hire charges for coaches or wagons, etc., for cross-border traffic between 1947 and 1965, and also a few smaller items dating back to the time of Partition which saw large-scale movement and redistribution of assets and staff. These matters are diligently recorded in the account books and brought up in each semi-annual and annual meeting between the two countries, but never taken up for discussion because of more pressing issues. A tit-for-tat situation has ensued, with even more recent account settlements (e.g., a substantial Rs 16 crore settlement for wagon hire and penalty charges for a few years up to March 2008) being held hostage to these smaller historical unsettled amounts, with either side arguing that payments for amounts it owes are to be delayed until all the older accounts are correctly settled, and occasionally the list of the older unsettled items seems to grow longer!

Q. Is it true that Pakistan Railways has a captured Indian Railways WDM-2 locomotive? Are there any other IR rolling stock in use in Pakistan?

Yes. In 1969, one WDM-2 locomotive of Indian Railways was appropriated by Pakistan and incorporated into Pakistan Railway's fleet. There are few details available about the circumstances of the appropriation, and the road number of the locomotive assigned by IR is not known, although it is thought to be from a batch erected by DLW in 1965. PR initially assigned it a road number of 3770, but it was later renumbered to 4621 to fit into the ALU26 loco series since the WDM-2 is an Alco DL-560 model. As late as 2000, the loco is said to have been active and based at Rawalpindi shed. The locomotive was nicknamed ‘Indira Gandhi’ by Pakistan Railways.

Following the abrupt suspension of cross-border services in 2019, IR’s rake of the Samjhauta Express was stuck at Wagah, just across the border. In January 2020, IR sent a formal request to Pakistan Railways to return the rake after reports surfaced of it being used for operations on PR’s lines. It is not confirmed if the rake was returned or if it is still in use in Pakistan.

Q. Was an East Pakistan (Bangladesh) locomotive captured by India?

During the India-Pakistan war of 1971, a locomotive from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which had arrived at Howrah was detained and never returned after the war ended. It was located at Bandel, although it was operated since its appropriation. It’s current status is unknown.

Q. What is the ‘Pakistani Bridge’?

A bridge on the Pathankot - Jammu Tawi section, near Kathua station, is nicknamed the ‘Pakistani Bridge’, because its girders (9 of them, of 20' span each) were actually girders from a Pakistani bridge that were appropriated by the Indian Army from inside Pakistani territory during the war of 1971 as part of operations to dismantle and disable railway lines. The girders were used for the bridge near Kathua which was commissioned in 1972. The bridge itself is still in use, although the girders of Pakistani origin have by now been replaced, having eventually developed cracks after nearly 30 years of use.

Q. Women in IR: Does IR have women in operational positions, as drivers, signal staff, etc.? Are there women porters? Are there women stationmasters?

Yes, of course. Although the overwhelming majority of drivers of locomotives and EMUs are men, in recent years a few women have become drivers. Since the mid-1980s or so, there have been a few women drivers and assistant drivers of goods and passenger locomotives and several who pilot shunters. Kalyan has a woman WCG-2 driver, For EMUs, Ms Surekha Yadav made headlines as the first woman to drive an EMU in the Mumbai system in 2001 (it was a Dombivli local to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai). She started as a goods and shunter driver in 1986.

There are many women who work in other operational positions, as station staff, signal staff, and so on. In the non-operational roles (administration, management, etc.) there are plenty of women employed by IR — it's not rare at all.

Women porters are quite rare. Wankaner is one station which is said to have had many women porters in the 1980s. (Situation today is unclear.) Women have always been present in significant numbers alongside men in other occupations involving manual labour, however, including construction activities and such. In steam days, there were many women employed in the manual coaling of steam locomotives.

Q. What is an ‘Adarsh Coach’?

An ‘Adarsh Coach’ is a coach that is maintained to a high standard for cleanliness and with the voluntary involvement of regular passengers has a code of conduct observed on board regarding the avoidance of liquor and tobacco consumption, etc. The practice started on some routes of the Mumbai suburban system (in particular on an A/C chair car known popularly as 'C-3' frequented by season ticket holders of the Central Railway).

Timekeeping & Surveying

Q. What timekeeping systems were and are used by railways in India? When did Indian Standard Time come into use?

Today Indian Railways, and indeed, everybody and every agency in India, observe Indian Standard Time (IST), which is defined as being 5 hours and 30 minutes in advance of UTC (formerly GMT) -- and hence also denoted as UTC+0530. In certain time-zone maps, IST is also designated E(asterisk) (pronounced 'Echo-star'). There is only one time zone for all of India. India does not currently observe any form of daylight saving time or any other seasonal adjustments to the time (although daylight savings time has been tried in the past).

In the very early days of railways in India, local time was observed at each large city, in common with practice in most other countries at the time. Bombay and Poona, for instance, had their own local times differing by about 7 minutes. There were anomalies too, such as Ahmedabad which strangely observed Madras local time. Because of their importance as administrative as well as commercial and economic centres, Bombay Time and Calcutta Time assumed special importance and were followed for many official purposes in the late 19th century (Bombay Time from 1884), effectively forming two time zones for British India.

Calcutta was the administrative capital of India until 1912. Calcutta Time was 5 hours, 30 minutes, and 21 seconds in advance of GMT, while Bombay Time was 4 hours and 51 minutes ahead of GMT. However, over time, many railway companies standardized on using Madras Time which was in between Bombay and Calcutta times, and often this, rather than Bombay time, was what was used in Indian timetables from the late 1880s onward, including the Newman's Indian Bradshaw, although this was far from universal. The East Indian Railway, for instance, for a long while used Jabalpur local time, 34 minutes and 6 seconds behind Calcutta Time. Madras Time, or ‘Indian Standard Railway Time’, or ‘Railway Time’ as it was often known, was 32 minutes and 49 seconds behind Calcutta Time, i.e., 4 hours 57 minutes and 32 seconds in advance of GMT. Madras Time was, by the late 19th century, effectively used for railway timetables over the whole subcontinent, across Lahore, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Timetables for Bombay trains usually had the local times for trains printed alongside the Madras Time schedule, and trains arrived and departed according to the Madras Time schedule.

Indian Standard Time

The closest notion of a precursor to Indian Standard Time is really Madras Time, as this, rather than Calcutta Time or Bombay Time, was the one backed by rigorous astronomical observations. The Madras Observatory, founded in 1796 and the first and only observatory in India until 1899, was in charge of maintaining a standard clock that indicated Madras Time.

In 1899, the Kodaikanal Observatory was built and timekeeping responsibility passed to it. However, Madras Time was not a standard time zone in the modern sense. In 1884, the World Meridian Conference at washington, DC, in the USA, set up the standard time zones as we know them today. Sandford Fleming, a Canadian, is generally credited with the proposal, although American and Canadian railways had by then already been observing standard time based on hour-wise time zones proposed by Charles F Dowd in 1863. It must be noted that the standardization of time zones was quite heavily promoted by the railway companies of the time in the United States and elsewhere because of the confusion and complexity of keeping track of local times in many different cities.

British India did not adopt the standard time zones, however, until 1905 when the meridian passing through Allahabad at 82.5 degrees east longitude was picked as the central meridian for India, corresponding to a single time zone for the country at 5 hours and 30 minutes in advance of GMT. This went into force on January 1, 1906. (Also for Sri Lanka, then Ceylon.) However, Calcutta time was officially maintained as a separate time zone until 1948. Bombay time was maintained, but only informally (although used for some local railway purposes too), until about 1955.

After independence and the partition of British India, Pakistan stayed on Indian Standard Time for three years and adopted Pakistan Standard Time at 5 hours in advance of GMT in 1951.

In India, a Standard Time Installation (from Rhode and Schwarz, Munich) was set up at Benaras (Varanasi) with two master quartz clocks providing 100kHz outputs (with drift better than 1 in 108) and two slave clocks providing 1kHz 1V outputs. In 1953, an observatory was set up at Sarnath and a new Standard Time Installation established, with the quartz clocks monitored and cross-checked against time signals from Rugby, Irkutsk, Paris, and other standard time stations. In India today, official time signals are generated by the Time and Frequency Standards Laboratory at the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi for commercial and official use, and is based on atomic clocks. These clocks are tied into the world-wide system of clocks that support UTC or Universal Coordinated Time.

Railway Timekeeping

In the 19th century, timekeeping by the railways was by means of standard-issue pendulum clocks at stations and of course, the iconic station master's watch or timepiece. The clocks at different stations, at least the bigger ones, were generally kept in fair synchronization by telegraphic means -- a time signal was sent from the head office or the regional headquarters of a railway at a specified time every day, and the station clock was to be adjusted appropriately.

This allowed trains to be run according to published timetables without the confusion of accounting for myriad local times. (This is a system that is based on the one developed in the UK in 1852, in which time signals were sent telegraphically from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich to various railway stations.) Four o'clock was a common time of day when the time signals were sent from the control office. The control office of course maintained its own principal clocks which kept official time for the railway.

By the turn of the century, all main-line stations were in telegraphic communication and thus could synchronize their clocks in this way to the official time. The convention developed of having the signals department of a railway be in charge of the chronometry and uniform timekeeping. Around 1925 omnibus telephone systems and train control circuits developed which further improved the synchronization of station clocks. Around 1952-1954 the railways generally shifted to a divisional system of working where the principal clocks were maintained at divisional headquarters instead of at the regional headquarters or head offices.

A significant development in the 1940s, especially after 1947, was the use of radio by the government and by commercial concerns, to broadcast time signals for various purposes. In the second half of the 20th century, the use of the time signal at 1600 hours generally fell into disuse and stationmasters and other staff were generally free to set their clocks according to the widely available radio time signals from broadcast stations.

From about 1952 onwards, drum clocks working on the electric mains supply became common in many stations, especially the suburban stations in Bombay. These clocks used a multi-polar hysteresis armature motor which, when excited by the 50Hz mains supply produced a low rpm output for use in the clocks. The first such clocks appeared at Churchgate, Bombay Central, and some WR suburban stations. Victoria Station and some other locations, on the other hand, used the 'Pulsynetic' pendulum clock (by Gents of Leicester, England) which could drive a number of half-minute slave dials.

Drum clocks and others relying on the stability of the 50Hz AC mains supply did have some problems as the frequency of the supply did occasionally vary when power plants came on line or went off the grid. This led to some of the station clocks being off by a couple of minutes or more in a day on occasion. This led to the practice of creating a separate special local supply of the 50Hz AC for important stations such as Churchgate, from about 1974 onwards. The 50Hz AC supply unit consisted of a DC-to-AC converter run from a crystal-controlled oscillator output divided digitally to produce a 50Hz 230V supply. Clocks run on this supply at Churchgate had errors of 1 second in 8 days. This system was adopted widely at many stations for maintaining the clocks' accuracy without manual intervention. In recent years, with the falling prices of electronics, crystal-controlled (quartz) digital clocks have been introduced with extremely good accuracy. Synchronization — as needed — is achieved by means of a special ring on the control telephones for all station masters in a given division at a chosen time — often 0000 hours. Some stations are now experimenting with installing GPS-based clocks that keep time in synchronization with the GPS satellite signals.

Of course, while the running of trains generally does not require accuracy in timekeeping to better than a few seconds at best, the more recent rise of services such as GPS for location tracking and geospatial services has necessitated the use of extremely accurate timekeeping systems (which may be encapsulated today in fairly inexpensive handheld GPS receivers and other devices!), which ultimately rely on precise synchronization with UTC.

Q. Who produces official maps of India? What datum or reference are Indian maps based on? Is GPS accurate in India?

The Survey of India, or SOI, and particularly its Geodetic and Research Branch, under the Department of Science and Technology, produces official topographic maps or ‘toposheets’ for civilian and official use. All other value-added maps generated by other agencies such as the Geological Survey of India, the Naval Hydrographic Office, and the National Remote Sensing Agency, as well as all commercially available maps for particular sectors (including railway route maps) are based ultimately on the SOI base maps. The Survey of India is the oldest scientific department under the government, having been constituted in 1767.

All maps produced by the Survey of India have been (until now — see below) created with reference to a datum that is based on the Everest Ellipsoid (also known as Indian spheroid or Indian datum). The Everest ellipsoid is named after Sir George Everest (after whom the mountain peak is named as well) and was derived in 1830. It was further defined by the fixing of its semi-major axis, flattening, and north-south component of the deflection from the vertical (meridional) in 1840 by Everest, and the fixing of the east-west component of the vertical in 1876 by Walker. It has since been used as the basis for all kinds of surveying and cartographic work in the Indian subcontinent and for neighbouring countries.

Sir George Everest, the first Surveyor General of India, was involved with the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, the project to map the subcontinent undertaken by the British in the 19th century. Bases, triangulations, and astronomical observations were made based on the arc of the meridian going through Kalianpur, in Madhya Pradesh, at 24°7′ for the reference meridian.

The original datum spheroid known as Everest-1830 has been refined slightly several times (Indian-1880, Everest-1930, Indian-1956, etc.), but the main characteristics have remained unchanged. The datum is suitable for mapping in the region of the Indian subcontinent but not for regions farther away as it is a local spheroid approximation of the surface of the earth and its centre does not coincide with the centre of the earth. Based on the Everest datum, several sub-datums have been established, as well as 'aerodrome reference points', on which most topographical maps of India are based.

Obviously, the Everest datum does not coincide with any geocentric datum, and in particular, it does not coincide with the WGS-84 (World Geodetic Survey 1984) datum which is a very widely used datum and the one that is used by the GPS satellite navigation system. WGS-84 is a geocentric geodetic datum which is earth-centred and earth-fixed (ECEF), established through space geodetic observations, originally by the Doppler observations of the TRANSIT satellite system operated by the US Department of Defense, and now maintained through observations using the GPS satellite system and GPS monitoring stations at Hawaii, Colorado Springs, Ascension, Diego Garcia, and Kwajalein.

WGS-84 was defined to be aligned with the Bureau International de l'Heure (BIH) Conventional Terrestrial System in 1984 and is reference meridian is the international Zero Meridian through Greenwich, UK. The discrepancies between locations computed through GPS (i.e., based on WGS-84) and those inferred from Everest datum-based Survey of India maps can amount to dozens or hundreds of meters. (This is in addition to the problem that several — a couple of hundred or more — physical landmarks in India are said to have their locations deliberately obfuscated on Survey of India maps of larger scales available to the public for strategic military reasons.)

There exist computer programs to convert between the WGS-84 and Everest-1956 datums, applying a 7-parameter coordinate transformation model. Because of irregular variations and inhomogeneities in the Indian geodetic network, for serious mapping work separate coordinate transformations must be applied for different regions within India.

Recently, starting in November 2002, the Survey of India has begun releasing maps of regions of India (in electronic format as well as printed maps) based on the WGS-84 datum, at scales up to 1:25 000.

Note: India has strict controls on the possession, distribution, and export of large-scale topographic maps of many areas that are classified as sensitive or of military significance. Surveying or detailed observations of topography in restricted areas, near strategic points such as bridges or tunnels, etc., may be barred or may be cause for the railway police or other security personnel to question or arrest you. The more involved and sophisticated your surveying activities, the more fancy your GPS receiver or other equipment, and the more complex your calculations, the more likely you are to get in trouble with the authorities on suspicion of espionage or terrorism. Be very careful not to draw attention to yourself if you are a person fond of maps and topography.


All of the numbers below is based on information presented in the Indian Railways Year Book 2018-2019.

Q. How many passengers does IR carry?

IR carries around 23 million passengers every day.

Q. How much freight does IR carry?

IR carries over 3.3 million tonnes of freight every day. Its capacity is around 1225 million tonnes a year (roughly 739 billion NTKM).

Q. How many people does IR employ?

IR employs around 1.2 million people

Q. What are some of the other statistics

  • Route kilometres: 67,415 (BG: 62,891; MG: 2,839; NG: 1,685)
  • Total Track kilometres: 123,542
  • Electrified route kilometres: 34,319
  • Level crossings (total): 22,388
  • Level crossings (unmanned): 1,048
  • Bridges: 150,746, of which 700 are “important” and 12,402 are “major” bridges
  • Stations: Around 7,300 (but see Stations)
  • Locos (all): 12,147
  • Locos (diesel): 6,049
  • Locos (electric): 6,059
  • Locos (steam): 39
  • Passenger coaches: 55,282
  • EMU/DMU coaches: 10,439
  • Wagons: 289,185 (165,254 open high-sided variants, 67,566 covered variants, 17,049 open low-sided variants).
  • BG traffic is 99% of the total for freight, and 97% of the total for passengers.
  • Electric traction hauls 65.4% of the freight traffic and 56.2% of the passenger traffic.

IR Organization

Q. How is IR organized for administrative purposes?

Note: Much of the following information is likely outdated and will be updated soon. A number of organizational reforms were undertaken in 2021 to eliminate many of the directorates and technical service cadres.

Indian Railways is a public-sector enterprise under the central government of India. Railways are defined as a subject of the Central List in the Indian Constitution, giving the central government the primary authority to legislate on railway matters. The Railways Act, 1989, defines the current legal framework for construction and operation of railways in India.

  • At the very top is the Minister of Railways, who is part of the Cabinet in the government, and, naturally, must also be an elected member of parliament.
  • There are usually one or two Ministers of State for Railways, and sometimes a Deputy Minister for Railways as well.
  • The Railway Ministry under the Minister of Railways handles the legislative aspects relating to IR, including sanctioning its financing, its capital projects, and operations at a high-level.
  • The Railway Board is appointed by the government, and is the body that manages the operations and projects of IR.
  • The Railway Board has a Financial Commissioner, and several Members for different functional areas: Member Electrical, Member Mechanical, Member Traffic, Member Civil Engineering, Member Staff, Member Signalling & Telecom, and Member Stores. (The last two were added in January 2004.) One of these is also the Chairman of the Railway Board. These officers are all ex-officio Secretaries to the Government of India in the Railway Ministry; the Chairman is ex-officio Principal Secretary to the Government of India in the Railway Ministry. The Financial Commissioner consults with the Minister of Finance as well as with the Minister of Railways. The Secretary of the Railway Board has the rank of an additional secretary to the Government of India.
  • There are 16 Additional Members for specific areas: civil engineering, works, metropolitan transport, traffic, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, signal and telecommunications, computer services, production units, planning, finance, budget, staff management, commercial services, and general engineering.
  • There are a varying number of Officers on Special Duty who are deputed to serve various functions as the need arises. They are on par with the General Managers of the zonal railways.
  • The Railway Board functions rather like the board of directors of a corporation in supervising operations and directing policy implementation.
  • The Railway Board is further organized into Directorates, each with an Executive Director, Directors, Joint Directors, Deputy Directors, and so on. These cover the areas of Accounts, Budget, Civil Engineering, Coaching, Corporate Coordination, Computerization and Information Systems, Economic Efficiency and Research, Electrical Engineering, Electrification, Establishment, Federations, Finance, Health, Land Management, Legal, Management Services, Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering – PU & W, Management Information Systems, Official Language, Pay Commission, Planning, Projects, Public Relations, Safety, Safety Review Commission, Secretariat, Security, Signal, Statistics and Economics, Stores, Telecommunications, Track, Traffic – Commercial, Traffic – Transport, Tourism and Catering, Vigilance, Works.
  • The Research, Design, and Standards Organization has a Director General and is an attached office of the Railway Board.
  • The Railway Liaison Office is another attached office, which works with the directorate of supplies and disposals of the government.
  • Subordinate offices of the Railway Board include the Railway Rates Tribunal, Railway Service Commissions (19 of them), the Railway Staff College at Vadodara, IR Institute of Signal Engineering and Telecommunications at Secunderabad, and the IR Institute of Advanced Track Technology at Pune.
  • There are 16 zonal railways (see the section on geography for more details). Konkan Railway is constituted as a separate corporation but is treated as a zonal railway under the Railway Board. Each zone has a General Manager and a senior deputy general manager, and is split into 11 departments: engineering, operations, commercial, finance and accounts, mechanical, electrical, personnel, signal and telecom, stores, medical, security. A separate construction department may be present. The post of General Manager of a zonal railway is pretty much directly descended from the post of the same name in the state railways of the late 19th century.
  • There are 12 manufacturing units: CLW, BLW (formerly DLW), DMW, ICF, RCF, MCF, RWF (formerly WAP), RWP, CORE, WPO, MRVC and COFMOW. Until about 2010, only 5 were recognized as production units ( CLW, DLW, ICF, RCF and RWF, with DCW treated as an additional production unit.)

Q. What is the difference between the RPF and the GRP?

The RPF (Railway Protection Force) and the GRP (Government Railway Police) have different functions.

The RPF is a security force directly under the union government's Ministry of Railways, and its primary responsibility is to safeguard and protect railway property, including rolling stock, the permanent way, and station or yard premises, from damage or sabotage and to investigate incidents of vandalism, theft, etc., of IR assets and property entrusted to it (i.e., freight).

The GRP, on the other hand, is a police organization under the control of the state government in each state, and its primary mission is the maintenance of law and order and ensuring passenger safety on board trains and on IR property. Thus the GRP concerns itself with robberies or other criminal incidents on board trains or on railway premises, missing persons, injuries or deaths in connection with the railways, and has police powers in each state to arrest persons, register criminal cases, etc. (Such police powers for enforcing local law and order are constitutionally not available to any body acting under the control of the union government.)