The first railway in India opened in 1853 from Bombay (present day Mumbai) to Thane, a distance of 21 miles (33 km). It was built to a gauge of 5ft 6in (1675mm), which was adopted as standard for the majority of main line railways in the Indian subcontinent. However, in the mountainous areas, various narrow gauges are used, including 2ft (610mm), 2ft 6in (762mm) and 1000mm. Some of these narrow gauge lines themselves form extensive networks, and many are gradually being converted to broad (1675mm) gauge.
The Indian railway network links with that of Pakistan with line from Amritsar through border town of Atari, where it connects with a Pakistan Railways line from Lahore. The Indian network has several connections with the network of Bangladesh, but there are no through passenger trains. A metre gauge line of the North Eastern Railway division of Indian Railways reaches the border town of Jaynagar, where there is interchange with the 2ft 6in (762mm) gauge Janakpur Railway of Nepal. A short branch of the Indian Railways reaches Brirgunj in Nepal, following the route of an earlier 2ft 6in (762mm) gauge line.
In 2006, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) was set up as a government company to coordinate the design, build, operation and maintenance of new dedicated freight railways in the country. Current projects amount to over 3300km of new line.
Three spectacularly picturesque narrow gauge lines, originally built to serve British hill forts, later becoming important local transport links, then tourist attractions. They now have UNESCO World Heritage status. Administratively and operationally part of the Indian Railways network, they also have their own websites, listed here.
Image of Bholu the Guard © 2002 Indian Railways
Flag image from CIA World Factbook