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13 March 2021

India - New Delhi - there is a train going far...

We didn't look back, and it's already mid-March. Today, March 13, we have the new moon.

With the new moon we begin the second lunar month in Asia.

The pandemic situation in the world looks boring. We still can't fly.

In Asia, the situation is so controlled that domestic trips take place as normal. At least in Vietnam and China. Interestingly, also in India. For the size of this country, and in fact a subcontinent, the pandemic is basically not developing 1 billion to 350 million inhabitants. Soon they may take over the palm of precedence from China in terms of the number of inhabitants.

Speaking of domestic travel, my discovery was the extremely popular rail travel in many Asian countries.

There is a reason for this. After all, railways, with a well-designed and used network of connections, are a fantastic alternative to traveling by air.

For example. If we take into account traveling to the airport, which is usually far outside the city, check-in time before departure, and then waiting for luggage and reaching the city center after arrival, then traveling on high-speed trains such as Shinkasen in Japan or CRH express in China is much more convenient. Imagine traveling on a train whose average speed is 350 kilometers per hour. Moreover, the high-speed railway in Japan or the line between Guanzhou and Beijing that passes through Shanghai is the standard 600 km / h. In this case, the journey of such a route does not differ much from the time needed to travel by plane.

What does it look like in India?

It is true that today's trip will not have much to do with high-speed railways, but I invite you to take a ride on the New Delhi - Ludhiana train. This trip allowed me to discover many interesting things.

I am going to Ludhiana, a thriving economic hub in North India, from the New Delhi Railway Station.

This station is not one of the largest. In the recent past, Kolkata was the main railway junction in India's rail transport. The journey to the train station from the hotel took 30 minutes. We moved agile between the "sea" of tricycles, motorbikes and old cars.

The train station is indeed a relic of the colonial past. Colorful, full of women dressed in multicolored "saris" and homeless people sleeping in the departure hall.

Trains stand at the platforms ready to receive travelers, 0.5 hours before the planned departure.

Before we get on the car, the obligatory luggage scanning, crossing a metal detector and… a walk to the platform. It doesn't take more than a few minutes.

Before we set off on our journey, I would like to talk for a moment about the history of railways in India.



Indian Railways

It dates back to 1846, after the British parliament decided to grant financial guarantees for the construction of a railway in India in exchange for a 5% share in the profit.

Interesting story because, at that time, the Indian subcontinent consisted of India and today's Bangladesh and Pakistan. The construction of the lines of the British Empire therefore took place simultaneously in several regions. As a result, different techniques for building railway lines were adopted. One of the effects of this approach was that the lines were built on the basis of a different gauge of rails, from 60 to 170 centimeters. This created additional problems. Railway companies handling traffic in a given province also had to ensure that their networks were connected with special connectors. This situation heavily influenced the post-colonial period of India's reconstruction of its potential.

After the collapse of the British colony in the Indian subcontinent, the railway lines did not survive the test. Various rails spacing, outflow of personnel, and neglect of maintaining fasteners resulted in breaking the connections of the present-day Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burma with India.

Briefly, the history of railroad development in India was as follows:

- resolution of the Parliament in London in 1846. And the commencement of the construction of further lines

- April 1853 - opening of the first steam railway: Mumbai - Thane line (35 km);

- 1854 - opening of the Kolkata - Hoogly line (38 km);

- May 1861 - the first railway in today's Pakistan: opening of the Karacz - Kotri section;

- 1862 - the first railway in present-day Bangladesh: opening of the Kolkata - Kushtia line;

- 1879 - opening of the Sara - Parbatipur - Chilahati - Shiliguri line in East Bengal;

At that point, by 1880, the length of the network reached 14.5 thousand kilometers. km.

- 1906 - rebuilt Howrah Station opens in front of Calcutta, the largest in India;

- 1907 - the government buys almost all major railways and leases them to private operators;

- 1931 - the first electric commuter trains in Madras.

A distinctive feature of the Indian railway network has been the diversification of track gauges. The wide track (1676 mm) was the dominant one, it was used by most networks, including the main lines. The meter network was particularly dense in Rajasthan in the west of the country, in East Bengal and Assama in the east (approx. 17,000 km) and in most of southern India (approx. 8,000 km).

In 1947, the rail network was split between India and Pakistan, and most of the lines were interrupted. The migration of people between the newly created states was accompanied by the exchange of railway personnel and equipment. The traffic pattern changed dramatically: Karachi ceased to play its role as a focal point for traffic to northern India, all movement was concentrated in Mumbai. Movements to Jammu and Kashmir were diverted to Delhi. Calcutta's Sealdah Station, one of the largest so far, has become a predominantly suburban station.

Many railway lines have been re-gauged several times. Since the 1990s, conversions from the meter track to the wide track have been massively undertaken in order to unify the national network.

- 2001 - restoration of connection between Calcutta (Sealdah) and Bangladesh;

- 2002 - the first section of the metro in Delhi;

Currently, the network of railway lines is 123.5 thousand km and supports over 67 thousand regular connections. This is 8,000 railway stations and 150,000 bridges. It makes an impression. And now attention - in 2019, railways carried ... 8.5 billion passengers.

Incredible, isn't it?


Let's go...

After a dose of history, we set off on a journey.

Train sets in India have an interesting arrangement of cars. Namely, the first and the last are public carriages, not bookable. Simply put, any basic ticket holder can get on and off at any time. It is these wagons that are shown as an example of crowding, with passengers clinging to the railings, hanging outside the wagon, on the steps to the entrance or on the roof. However, this applies mainly to regional lines, where speeds are low, on average 40 km / h.

In addition, there are second and first class carriages that are already air-conditioned. Second class wagons, well, they just have regular fans placed under the ceiling. First class wagons are now fully air-conditioned.

The entire train set is compartment-free, it looks very similar to the Polish InterCity or Chinese CRH cars.

The train started on time and we arrived on time. This is the first plus for Indian Railways. Also, the travel comfort is not controversial.



A travel speed of 140 km / h. The landscapes passed outside the window are diverse. Big and small towns, we came between slums, we came through farmland. Everywhere you can see an incredible amount of people and ... extremely polluted air. It was so effective that it was possible to see little or nothing from the window of the car if the distance was more than 500 m from the track.

The first pleasant surprise was that the wagons were clean. Also toilets, which in these case were made entirely of stainless steel. So using the toilet during the trip was not a problem. Water, soap and paper towels were standard.

The second surprise was that you get a meal as part of the trip. Moreover, this meal consists of several parts. We start with coffee or tea to choose from and a sweet snack. After about an hour, we get a full, warm meal. Typical as it is in Asia. Rice, a piece of meat and some vegetables. Everything is tasty, warm and exceptionally clean.

I was traveling with a group of passengers who started discussions very easily and willingly. Thanks to this, it was possible to build a short relation for the duration of the train journey. The five-hour journey was quick and pleasant. The comfort of the wagons did not differ from that which I had the opportunity to experience in Poland.

Admittedly, traveling by rail in India is a rather pleasant experience.

Probably classless carriages or regional trains have a slightly different comparative scale. It is there that dozens of travelers hanging on the steps, holding onto a railing or sitting on the roof, travel hundreds of kilometers.

However, during my trip, there were no such situations. Just only one notice - many people walked along the tracks of the stations they passed.

Generally, if we are moving a few hundred kilometers from our place of stay, actually choosing the railroad is a good alternative.

For longer journeys, moving from the north, from Delhi, south to Bangalore, for example, requires air travel. Just look at the map ...

Ticket control takes place in the train station building while scanning luggage. In the wagon, during the journey, the staff is more busy serving meals, operating the "little shop on wheels", keeping order or answering questions.

An additional interesting fact is that freight cars are still attached to all passenger trains. They transport both mail and industrial goods and food. They are a fairly quick and convenient alternative to the delivery of all kinds of products.

Entering the platforms, announcements before departure, inviting passengers from the hall of the station, where people usually wait for departure, take place according to the timetable. There is no free access to the platform.

Passengers are checked into individual trains. All in all, this ensures comfort in getting in and out. There is no crowds and the traffic of arriving passengers is separated from those who will depart in a moment. Thanks to this, the flow of passengers can easily and quickly move from the hall of the station to the platform and vice versa. This system is also in force in China and Viet Nam.



We managed the trip from Delhi to Ludhiana in 5 hours, to the train station, which was located near the city center. We anchored at the hotel and went to rest.

Taking into account the history of railroads and various techniques of building tracks, it should be said that railways in India are experiencing their second youth. Over the years, many modernizations have been made to ensure that all tracks meet one standard - 1.7 m rail gauge. A large electrification project for all lines is currently underway. As a result, over the past 15 years it has been possible to combine the railway systems of the past into one great "bloodstream". This is extremely important for a population of 1.4 billion.

The ticket booking system is also interesting and very effective. It is fully computerized. Tickets can be purchased 120 days before the trip, and the whole service can be done using the application on the phone or via the website. Thanks to this, queues at the stations are avoided, and at the same time passengers are checked in quickly and easily before departure.

This interesting experience with Indian railways will stay in my memory for a long time. I still believe that traveling by rail is the best alternative to traveling by plane. This is especially true of countries that have a very well-developed rail network and at the same time have high-speed trains.

If we take into account the number of passengers transported per month - 8.5 billion, it should be said that the challenge faced by the Indian railways is extremely great. The fact that these railways operate at a good, medium level is their great success.

So if you are going to visit India, I recommend a short or longer train ride. Thanks to this, you will gain another life experience and see India from the track side.


The train is going far, waiting for no one ...



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