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Rail transport is a popular choice for many businesses to move their goods to various destinations. Goods like coal, food grains, iron and steel, etc., are some of the most transported commodities via rail. Indian Railways carry more than 1.2 billion tonnes of freight traffic every year.


What is rail transport?

Rail transport is a mode of transport that refers to moving goods or passengers by a train that runs on a rail or a railroad. These are locomotives that are known to be highly cost effective when it comes to transporting bulk goods.

Trains run on metal rails and wheels usually made of structural steel. This contributes to lesser frictional resistance between the wheels and the rail helping trains carry more load. Rail transport in India has seen a significant rise in the transport of bulk commodities via rail over the past four decades.

History of goods transport via rail

The Red Hill Railway was India’s first train built in 1837 which ran from Red Hills to Chintadripet bridge in Madras. The train was hauled by a rotary steam-engine locomotive and was primarily used to transport granite stone for road-building work in Madras.

In 1845 the Godavari Dam Construction Railway was built at Dowleswaram in Rajahmundry. It supplied stone for the construction of a dam over the Godavari river.

In 1851 the Solani Aqueduct Railway was built in Roorkee which was hauled by the Thomason steam locomotive. The railway transported construction materials for an aqueduct over the Solani river.

At present the railway system in Indian is under the Indian Railways, an institution under the Government of India. This organisation supervises the manufacture of trains, the rail networks and the freight movement.

Benefits of rail transport

The importance of rail transport comes into picture when transporting bulk commodities over long distances. The advantages of rail transport are listed below:

  • Unlike road transport, rail transport is faster as it is not subject to traffic jams. Train services are halted only when there is a breakdown of infrastructure.
  • Trains are perfect machines to transport bulk goods over long distances. They are also ideal carriers for goods that are heavy. A standard wagon has a much higher load capacity than a lorry.
  • Organised form of transport with fixed routes and schedules contributing to speedy delivery of goods.
  • Rail transport guarantees the safety of products carried over long distances.

Disadvantages of rail transport

Rail transport has its share of disadvantages as well:

  • The routes and timings of a train is fixed and cannot be changed according to individual requirements
  • Railways cannot pick up the goods from the source location and or perform last mile delivery therefore, goods require loading and unloading adding to the cost of transport
  • It is not a cost-effective option for smaller loads and short distances
  • There is only limited service in rural areas especially in hilly regions of the country

Goods transport on rail vs road

Goods transport via rail holds multiple advantages over goods transport via road:

  • Capacity

The load capacity of trains is much higher than lorries or trucks. A single wagon of a freight train in India can carry about 50 – 70 tonnes. A single goods train will have around 57 wagons which means a a single freight train is capable of carrying around 3900 tonnes.

  • Distance

As mentioned before, trains can carry bulk commodities over long distances. Freight trains are specially designed to transport high cargo volumes over long distances while road transport is for smaller loads and shorter distances.

  • Speed and time

Trains can reach much faster than an automobile travelling on road as road transport is dependent on road traffic, weather and other factors. Even though there is significant loading and unloading time for goods transport via rail, it is still considered faster than road transport.

  • Cost

The cost of transporting goods over long distances via rail is less than the cost of transporting goods via road. Goods transport via rail is cheaper because freight trains can carry bulk commodities and feature lower fuel consumption.

Finding a freight train for your products

The government has made it easy for businesses to find the right wagon to transport their products. Follow these steps to book a wagon on a freight train.

Step 1: Visit the official website of Indian Railways Freight Services

Step 2: Navigate to ‘New to rail’ option

Step 3: Choose ‘Select the right wagon’

Step 4: Navigate to select your commodity column that appears


Step 5: Choose the commodity you wish to transport from the drop-down menu

Step 6: Find the right wagon from the list that appears

Once you complete step 5, a list of wagons appear that have the capacity to carry your goods. Each wagon on the list will have carrying capacity, standard rake size and loading preference.

How is rail transport helping MSMEs?

MSMEs who are transporting bulk commodities like steel, iron ore, minerals, fertilisers, etc., take advantage of transport via rail. This is not only cost effective for MSMEs, but they can also participate in various freight incentive schemes and concessions designed for businesses transporting their goods using Indian Railways.

For instance, the Freight Incentive scheme for loading bagged consignments in open and flat wagons gives a tax rebate on a group of commodities that are chosen by a business to be transported in an open and flat wagon. A 30% tax rebate can be claimed for fly ash and urea transport over rail.

A 20% tax rebate can be availed on commodities including cement, China clay, chemical manures, food grains, de-oiled cake, soap stone powder, Hydrated lime, Quick lime, Lead/Zinc concentrate, bentonite powder. Soda ash, chalk powder, calcite powder, calcinated bauxite, marble chips and caustic soda.

You must register on the official website of Indian Railways Freight Services to participate in incentive schemes and other services provided by the Indian Railways.

Priyanka Babu

Priyanka is a seasoned content marketing professional with more than 6 years of experience crafting various forms of business and technology sector content. Her insightful writing tackles critical issues faced by small-scale manufacturing businesses. Priyanka’s clear and concise communication empowers businesses to make informed decisions and thrive in today’s dynamic business environment.