In India there are about 36,500 route miles of railways. That’s only a little bit less than in Canada, or in all of Africa combined; 40% more than in Australia and three times British Railways' tracks.
In Indiathere are about 36,500 route miles of railways. That’s only a little bit lessthan in Canada, or in all of Africa combined; 40% more than in Australia andthree times British Railways' tracks. They carry more ton-kilometers of goodsthan the railways of any country except the USA, USSR, Canada or China and morepassenger kilometers than any country apart from the USSR and Japan. To reachthis place in the United Nations League-chart the Indian Railways carry aboutsix million passengers a day - that is, at any moment there are likely to beperhaps half a million people standing, sitting or lying in the trains ofIndia. And this calculation omits those who are in the trains without payingtheir fares, a considerable number of people well warranting the special appealprinted on the back cover of every issue of the All India timetables: a pictureof Mahatma Gandhi and requests to passengers willingly to pay their fares dueand “to help us stop ticketless travel”.
Anyrailway which continuously sticks away something like one-sixth the populationof New Zealand at all times in its carriages is no small system, and the IndianRailways are forbidding. Serving a sub-continent, they are American in theirdistances without being American in their speeds – or in their fares. It takesfour days and four nights, by the fastest expresses, to travel the hypotenuseof this triangular country – and costs but little more than ten dollars.
Railways,beginning as a British export, changed rapidly when sent to North America andContinental Europe. The Independent British colonies (S. Africa, Australia andthe rest) were also not long in discovering that they could reduce costs byresort to North American practices. By the early twentieth century some of thelines run by expatriate Englishmen, especially in Africa, were doing likewise.But not in India; here the dignity and standards of the Raj had to bemaintained. Only two major concessions were made: one, early on, was to switchfrom double tracks to single; the other, to adopt the meter and then narrowgauge, which were thought to conserve capital without lowering standards. Itwould have been better for the economic development of India had the railwaysbeen cheaply built and the money saved used to promote industry – even justthose industries serving the railways themselves, for up to Independence thegreater part of the railway plant was imported. But no, the railways were to bethe monument of the Trader’s Raj; impressive with their fine terminals andwell-built track. Reclining on his sleeping berth in his reserved compartment,the Trader could feel he had conquered and impressed; great was the Raj andexcellent were its railways.
Tracesof the grandeur remain, even now that a third class annexed has been added tostation after station, and the tracks swarm with third class carriages, even towhole trains. But there have been conscious attempts to jump the Britishtradition: in locomotives, the new India standardized domestic production onrather North American bar-framed designs, and produced them in such quantitythat the prospect of standard, unvarying steam power which so perturbed Englishrailway writers in the early 1950’s, has actually come to pass. And the dieselsthat are coming are emphatically American, while the electric engines areContinental-International. Yet under the rolling stock, with the highproportion of four-wheel vans, the vacuum brake sighs even yet, while in thecab of express and local train alike there will likely be a Neale’s token.
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