When the state of current Indian railway is compared to that at the time of independence, it is generally implied that there has been no major development of the Indian railway over the years. With only about 9,000 km of route length added to the Indian railway network many a times we compare our railway with that of the Chinese railway which added about 85,000 km of route length to its network of about 90,000km by 2014. While the stark difference between the two is true, it cannot be taken as a complete truth. From the day of Independence the Indian Railway initiated various projects of gigantic proportions in the country that were crucial in developing it to our current standards. This is a series of articles in which I will talk about various projects that changed the face of the Indian Railways. The first of these projects I am going to talk about is the Project Unigauge. It is possible that many of you may not have heard about the Project Unigauge as it is not advertised as an achievement but its scale of proportions makes it the biggest project that has been handled by the Railway.
Project Unigauge was first officially started in 1990-91 with a vision to convert all the tracks in the country to Broad Gauge standard. In 1947 the Indian Railway operated on three main types of tracks:
- Broad Gauge (1676 mm) having 47.0% route share
- Metre Gauge (1000 mm) having 45.0% route share
- Narrow Gauge (762 and 610 mm) having 8.0% route share
It was observed that the towns and cities that were connected through the metre and narrow gauge had a poorer service than the equivalent towns connected through Broad Gauge system. The speed of the trains on the latter of the two gauges were slower than that on the BG and moreover the freight traffic on those two tracks were a small fraction to that plying on the BG. Hence it was decided by the Railway that the conversion of the Metre and Narrow gauge lines to Broad gauge will make Railway more efficient, it solved the problem of break of gauge in the Indian Railway network and increased freight traffic on the route. It also reduced the distance of the route through many regauged links.
Since the initiation of the Project Unigauge almost 23,000 km of railway tracks have been converted to the Broad Gauge standard and thus bringing the share of the BG line to 94% of the route length in the country. Changing a gauge is not simply increasing the length between the rails but with it comes various requirements like the bridges which first handled the narrow gauge trains could not handle the BG trains due to the speed and weight restrictions and many of those bridges or tunnels didn’t have enough space that could allow passage of a BG train. Moreover new station platforms had to be made to keep the safe distance between it and the train so that the it does not collide with the platforms. These challenges forced the Railway to build completely new bridges, tunnels and platforms and hence in effect it has built new route length of 23,000 km over the last 24 years. This figure tells us about the sheer magnitude over which the Railways has managed to upgrade its lines over the years. With this project the Railway has managed to provide seamless travelling option to the masses. This has not only benefited the local people but also the businesses as it provided them easier access to greater Indian market and paved way to start businesses in the lesser developed districts. Project Unigauge has not only affected the Railway but the whole nation with it and it will continue to do so by knitting India with one thread and making its foundations ever stronger day by day.
Such great feats of the Railways lay hidden beneath its inefficient and dirty image and with the transformation of the railways that has been finally initiated to improve the shoddy services thanks to the present government. It should be known to everyone that the Indian Railway is not an entity which should be used for the personal gains of anyone and bring into a state of disrepair but is an entity which we should recognize as a giant whom when given a helping hand by everyone can grow by leaps and strides and with its growth it will carry our burden for us.