If you ever want to visit India, then you need to experience the Indian railways, as they are a vital part of the history of this country, some of the last remains of what the British left behind, what and how they influenced the Indian lifestyle and culture.
In order to start your journey right, here are some facts you need to know about these railways.
History of the Indian Railways
The construction of the first railway started in the mid-1800, and, in less than 100 years, 66.000 km of railway was built in almost all the important districts of the country. This was a great investment, as the trains carried around 620 million passengers a year, as well as 90 million tons of gold.
In all this fuss about the creation of the Indian railways, there is one man whose name should never be forgotten: Robert Brereton, a British engineer who expanded the railways starting with 1857, linking Calcutta, Bombay and Allahabad, a route who was opened really fast, in 1870.
The interest and fascination were so big, that the development went on quite well, with India building its own locomotives by the end of the 19th century and sending engineers and locomotives in Uganda to help build their railway system, starting with 1896.
The government took over almost all the railway companies by 1907, introducing the first electric locomotive one year later. But the arrival of the First World War interrupted the development of the railways, leaving them in a state of shabbiness and collapse.
Once the central management was improved, the Indian railways experienced a period of economic boom, between 1920 and 1929, which was, again, crippled by a new conflict, the Second World War. The railways survived, but, by 1946 they were all controlled by the government.
Their glory was short-lived, as India, which obtained its independence in 1947, had now to face a decaying rail network. This led to the creation of the Southern railway system, in 1951, through the merging of three big railways, expanded over an overflowing and culturally opulent area of states, covering the greatest part of the Southern Peninsula. The blooming continued with the creation of six railway zones in 1952, maintained until 2003, when seven other zones were added.
Finally, computerization was first introduced in 1987, in Bombay, with the entire railway system being modernized in 1995.
Infrastructure of the Indian Railways
The Indian railway network is considered the second longest in the world, running under a single management, of over 62.725 km, out of which 21.5% are electrified. After China, India is placed second in terms of freight concentration.
But the infrastructure of the railway network still lags behind compared to other railways in the world, requiring a lot of attention and an extensive improvement plan. A program was launched to shrink terminal delays and to boost time on the Indian railways’ rolling stock, thou progress is reportedly slow. The government also changed its approach over the years, inviting the private sector to participate in freight movements.
Traveling by train in India might be a one-in-a-lifetime experience, but, if you want to really enjoy the journey, then you need to make a railway reservation. Do not worry about losing your money or getting tricked, as, when booking, you will receive a number of 10 digits, called PNR that you can find on the top left corner of your ticket.
You can check the PNR status of your booking online, as the website of the Indian railways can easily show you how to do that. The prices are already good for Indian trains, but, if you book 90 days in advance, you can rest assured knowing that you get a seat (these ones are sold the fastest), and you also get a better price, almost a bargain.
Your IRCTC PNR status can also be checked on a website designed particularly for this purpose, http://www.pnrstatus.info/, whose informal and clean interface makes it friendly even to users who have never been to India or have never travelled by train in India. You can even reserve seats, for a sleeper, 1, 2 or 3 AC carriages (air conditioners of different classes) or also a chair car. The choice of luxury for food and comfort depends only on you.
But, if you really want to enjoy a great trip in India and if you want to benefit from the easiest way to travel by train and to see a great deal of this country, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to book online and with as much time in advance as possible. Print your ticket, take your passport with you and you can travel easy and safe.
To conclude, the Indian railways are the best way to visit India and make the most of your visit.