Freight Trains

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Freight Trains - General Information

Q. What are the typical freight loads carried by IR?

IR carries the entire gamut of goods, ranging from parcel traffic and small consignments, agricultural products, raw materials like iron ore and petroleum, and finished goods like automobiles. Over the last few decades, IR has made an effort to move away from small consignments or piecemeal freight, and to increase the number of block rakes where a shipper contracts for an entire rake assigned to carry a shipment. These are more profitable for IR as the rake does not have to be split up into or amalgamated from individual wagons going to or coming from different points, saving on marshalling time, transit time, and scheduling. Most of IR's freight revenue now comes from such block rakes carrying bulk goods such as coal or cement. A typical load (full rake) consists of 42 BCN wagons (2560t) or 58 BOXN (3828t). Sometimes half loads (mini-rake) of 20 BCN wagons (1280t) are also available for contracts (see below for more on the mini-rake scheme).

Between 2004 and 2007, specifications for wagon loading were modified, so as to allow greater loads to be carried. Initially, an additional 4t were allowed to be loaded over the rated carrying capacity, with the subsequent increases in that figure to 6t and 8t. Since 2008, the additional 6t has been made near universal, with exceptions for routes where only an additional 4t over the carrying capacity can be loaded. Several freight heavy routes, with upgraded permanent way features, are now permitted to carry an additional 8t as standard.

Of course, IR does also carry container traffic. Parcel vans are still used a lot for smaller and mid-sized consignments. In 2000, high-capacity parcel vans (then called ‘Green Parcel Vans’) in special purpose rakes were introduced to carry fruits and vegetables. These vans carry 23t as opposed to the ordinary van which carries 18t of goods. Several of these high-capacity vans (in configurations of 1 to 4) run attached to mail and express trains; the vans are marked ‘Blue Parcel Service’ and have a dark-blue livery.

In 2003, new parcel vans using old general passenger stock (GS coaches) were introduced.

Refrigerated parcel van services are not common in IR. In 2003, RCF announced the manufacture of a refrigerated parcel van that can accommodate 5t of frozen goods at -20c and 12t of chilled goods at +4c. This coach has a maximum allowable speed of 130kmph and has a diesel-powered refrigeration unit that can run for 15 days without refuelling. The first proposed run for such a van was on the then Ernakulam-Thirvananthapuram Jan Shatabdi. It is not known if this materialized. Presently (07/2020), there are 9 refrigerated parcel vans in IR's fleet. They are used based on demand rather than on fixed routes or times.

A mini-rake scheme was introduced in July 2003 where loads smaller than full freight rakes (usually half-size, i.e., 20 wagons, also known as half rakes) are booked for transport by IR at full train-load prices, for distances up to about 300km with connecting services for transshipment to road transport. Not only is the half-rake service more convenient for many industrial concerns, the number of sidings at goods sheds and transshipment points where half-rakes can be loaded or unloaded is much larger than the number of sidings where full rakes can be handled.

Bulk freight transport rates also vary based on the number of times a rake may be loaded or unloaded. A so-called two-point rake is one that can be loaded or unloaded at two points, usually a half-rake at a time, at approved combinations of two loading or unloading locations.

Some freight rakes are used continuously in dedicated operations over a closed loop journey. These are known as closed-circuit rakes, and typically consist of 42 BCN or BCNA wagons (cement), or 58 BOXN wagons (coal), or 48 BTPN tankers (petroleum products). Much of the bulk goods movement of SCR, for instance, occurs on such closed-circuit rakes. These rakes are often also subjected to a more rigorous maintenance regime, known as the super-intensive examination, and have brake power certificates (BPC) issued for 6000km/35 days at a time.

There were a few other timetabled and guaranteed delivery time parcel operations run by IR, such as the ‘Tej Shree Parcel Sewa’ services (introduced 09/2009) run by NR between Patel Nagar (earlier, Tughlakabad) to Vapi and to Howrah. The parcel trains ran on the allocated route, and customers could book parcel vans ('VP') for attachment/detachment at specified stations along the route. However, these services were withdrawn soon after.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic related lockdowns starting April 2020, IR again began running timetabled and guaranteed delivery time parcel services. With minimal traffic because of curtailed passenger operations, these parcel services often ran on superfast mail/express timetables. It is hoped that these services will continue to operate even after regular passenger operations resume.

Q. What is ‘Scale R’ or ‘Scale S’, etc., in the context of parcel service?

IR has several freight rate scales for parcel traffic. Scale R or Rajdhani Parcel Service is applicable to parcels carried on the Rajdhani Express trains and thereby being assured of the speediest delivery of all IR's services. Scale P (Premium Parcel Service) applies to parcels carried on certain Shatabdi Express trains, certain other Mail/Express trains, and all Special Parcel trains (including the Green Parcel vans, Blue Parcel Service, etc.). Scale S (Standard Parcel Service) applies to all parcels carried on other passenger trains. There also used to be a Scale E (Economy Parcel Service) which was applicable to parcels carried on ordinary passenger trains, but that has since been abolished (03/2005) and the category merged with Scale P. Newspapers, magazines, and certain other goods always get classified as Scale S traffic (earlier, Scale E).

Q. How are freight trains scheduled?

Some goods trains are run as pre-scheduled or timetabled services (Link and Crack trains, Quick Transit Service, etc.). The majority of goods trains, however, are run as requirements arise. The process of arranging for a goods train to run is known as ordering a goods train. Ordering a goods train involves the issuance of written advice to the yard or station and loco shed that a certain train will run, starting from the station or yard at a certain time and running to a certain schedule. The written advice is known as the Train Notice. The train notice is normally issued at least 3 hours before the advertised departure of the train, so that the rake can be marshalled and the locomotives prepared for the trip. Once the train departs, it is under the control of the section controllers until it reaches the next goods yard (where the next section controller picks it up). Apart from coordinating with station staff for through running on the main or loop lines, normally goods trains run without attention from station staff.

Q. How are freight trains numbered or named?

The rakes are assigned names in alphabetic sequence starting with a name that begins with an 'A' for the first formation out of a marshalling yard after 0100 hrs, along with a number. This designation can change if the rake is broken up at another yard and regrouped. Thus, freight trains have names such as 'Ahmedabad 10', or 'Bombay 21', or 'India 38'. The letters 'J' and 'U' are not used, so that there are 24 letters available, one for each hour of the day. The number following the alphabetic part of the name indicates the time (minutes past the top of the hour) when the train departed the yard; e.g., 'India 38' is a freight train that left the yard at 0938 hrs. Trains leaving between midnight and 0100 hrs use the letter 'Z'. The words used to signify the letters of the alphabet are not standardized; 'Z' could be indicated by 'Zebra' or 'Zimbabwe'.

Some special freight trains are named differently (e.g. the Shalimar Special out of Mumbai (Wadi Bunder to Shalimar near Calcutta), or the erstwhile 'Salt Cotours' freight (Wadi Bunder to Salt Cotours near Chennai)); these tend to be ‘privileged’ trains and they carry goods with guaranteed delivery schedules. The ‘Ahmedabad Arrow’ used to run between Bombay and Ahmedabad. Other such named freight trains (past and present) include the ‘Green Arrow’, ‘Blue Flame’, ‘Red Star’, ‘Black Gold’, and ‘Green Bullet’.

Other special freight trains include the ‘Freight Chief’ and the ‘Super Link Expresses’. CONCOR introduced several new dedicated time-tabled container trains in 2000 (Shalimar - Chennai, Shalimar - Hyderabad, Cossipore - New Delhi) and 2001 (Cossipore - Haldia, for international container freight).

In December 2000, special timetabled parcel trains were introduced by SER. One was the ‘Dakshin Parcel Express’ between Calcutta and Chennai, and another was the ‘Pashchim Parcel Express’ between Calcutta and Mumbai. These ran at 90-105km/h. The ‘Millennium Parcel Express’ slated to run between Chennai and New Delhi was announced in May 2001, and also Shalimar - Ahmedabad, Shalimar - Sanatnagar, Sanatnagar - Tughlakabad, and Turbhe (New Bombay) - Shalimar. However, these services did not last beyond a few runs, with their operational slots taken over by regular passenger traffic.

Q. Who carries container traffic in India?

Most rail container traffic in India is handled by CONCOR (the Container Corporation of India) which until recently was the only such organization. CONCOR is a public-sector concern, but it maintains its own fleet of wagons and other assets that are separate from IR's, although the traffic moves on IR's tracks.

In 2006 the government gave approval to the Pipavav Rail Corporation (PRCL) to offer container services in India. PRCL will run container services from the ports of Pipavav, Mundra, Chennai/Ennore, Vishakhapatnam, and Kochi (Cochin). PRCL is a joint venture between IR and the Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd. Originally, PRCL was set up to construct and operate a 270km BG railway line between Pipavav port and Surendranagar on the Western Railway.

Private Operators

Private companies were given approval sometime in 2007 to operate in India. Generally speaking the private companies are given limited licences to operate container services on specific routes and for a specific number of years. In April 2007, Boxtrans Logistics, belonging to the JM Baxi Group, became the first private player to operate container services, with a rake of 45 Texmaco flat wagons running between Cossipore (ER) and Loni near New Delhi and Mundra port (Gujarat). The initial runs carried about 90 TEUs. Boxtrans also ran services on the Loni - Vishakhapatnam route. Its licence allowed it to run on all routes except the premier New Delhi - JNPT route.

Another company, APL (formerly American President Lines), belonging to the Singapore-based Nepture Orient Lines began container operations in May 2007 with a rake from Loni to JNPT. APL holds a so-called ‘Category 1’ licence allowing it to run container services on all routes in India, for a period of 20 years. APL initially bought seven 45-flat-wagon rakes from Titagarh Industries. A joint venture between Hind Terminals (of the Sharaf Group, UAE) and MSC Agency (belonging to the Mediterranean Shipping Company, Geneva) also has a Category 1 licence. Another private operator, Innovative B2B Logistic Solutions, has a limited licence to run container services on some routes. Other licensees include Reliance Infrastructure Engineers, Adani Logistics, Central Warehousing Corporation, and Delhi Assam Roadways Corp. Other private operators are gradually entering the field. Arshiya International, a supply-chain management company, began operations in Jan. 2009 with dedicated rakes and custom-built containers to carry freight for Vedanta Aluminium Ltd.

Q. What are CONTRACK trains? And ConRaj trains? And CARTRAC?

In 1999 CONCOR began running some fast (up to 100km/h) guaranteed delivery container freight trains on certain routes (35 rail corridors have been identified as suitable for such service). The rakes consist of 5-wagon groups of flat cars; the flat cars are low flat cars which allow loading full size containers.

A particular freight service of this kind inaugurated in June 2000 went by the name of CONTRACK and was a time-tabled weekly train between Shalimar Terminal and Tondiarpet (Chennai). (07/2020) There are regularly scheduled container freight between the two terminals, but the name CONTRACK is not in use for these services anymore.

Some of the fast (up to 100km/h) freight trains, especially on the Mumbai-Delhi route, are informally named ‘Con-Raj’ (for Container Rajdhani). Some of these even go straight through Vadodara without a halt, with crew changes only at Valsad and Godhra.

CONCOR runs its services on high-speed flat wagons which are rated for service at 100km/h. (These are also known as ‘low belt container flat wagons’, and abbreviated 'BLC'.) Introduced in 2000, under the auspices of a World Bank loan and the IBRD, these have several advanced features, such as automatic twist locks, slackless drawbars, and small-diameter wheels allowing a low bed height. Originally used in the Tughlakabad-Mumbai container route for the Con-Raj trains mentioned above, they are now the standard flat wagons for container freight on IR. Newer versions starting in September 2004 have automatic load sensing devices to allow optimum braking under varying loads. The wagons have a single-pipe air-brake system.

CARTRAC is the name given to CONCOR's automobile transport service. It uses converted passenger coaches to hold automobiles in two decks. A typical CARTRAC rake has about 21 such modified coaches. Newer CARTRAC stock is built on a modified design of the passenger double decker coaches with loading gates at ends where typically a vestibule would open.

Q. What is the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC)?

Dedicated Freight Corridors is a project for new railway lines exclusively for carrying freight isolated from normal IR traffic and passenger trains. Conceived in 2004-2005, planning began in 2006 and construction for the Western and Eastern Corridors in 2009. The Western Corridor connects Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai. The Eastern Corridor connects Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal.

In 2018, the number of corridors were increased with approvals for East-West Dedicated Freight Corridor (Kolkata to Mumbai), North-South Dedicated Freight Corridor (Delhi to Chennai), East Coast Dedicated Freight Corridor (Kharagpur to Vijayawada) and South-West Dedicated Freight Corridor (Goa to Chennai).

Western Dedicated Freight Corridor

The Western Corridor connects the Jawaharlal Nehru Port to Dadri via Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Palanpur, Jaipur and Rewari. The total length of the corridor is 1504km. The corridor roughly follows the same alignment as existing lines between the port and Rewari but deviates entirely post to reach Dadri. A feeder line from Dadri to Khurja will connect the Western Corridor to the Eastern. Other feeder lines to the ports of Gujarat have also been constructed. Junction stations for interconnection between existing lines and the corridor have been provided at Vasai Road, Kosad/Gothangam, Makarpura (Vadodara), Amli Road (Sabarmati), Palanpur, Marwar Jn., Phulera, Rewari and Pirthala Road.

The Corridor will mainly carry container traffic and thus was originally (04/2009) expected to be unelectrified. But successful trials using high reach pantographs on electric locomotives hauling double stacked containers reversed this decision. A variant of the WAG-9 locomotive, the WAG-9HH with 9000hp is expected to carry a bulk of the traffic when the corridor is fully functional.

(11/2021) 306km of the corridor has been commissioned and functional between Ateli (Rewari) and Madar (on the outskirts of Ajmer). A further 300km between Madar and Palanpur is currently under commissioning and is expected to be functional in early 2022.

Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor

The Eastern Corridor connects Ludhiana to Sonnagar via Ambala, Saharanpur, Khurja, Shahjahanpur, Lucknow, Allahabad, and Mughalsarai. The primary feeder routes for this will be from Sonnagar to Durgapur via Gomoh, Sonnagar to Tatanagar via Garhwa Road, and Barkakana to Bokaro via Chandrapura. Work on the extension to Dankuni, near Kolkata has not yet begun. A new freight terminal and a deep-water port are expected to be the rail heads for this corridor when completed for a total length of 1856km. The Eastern corridor will be single line on the Ludhiana-Dadri portion (447km) and double line on the remaining portions.

The Eastern Corridor is expected to carry more heavy mineral traffic and less container traffic. The Corridor is electrified with a majority of the traffic expected to be hauled by the Alsthom developed WAG-12B, 12000hp locomotives.

(11/2021) 351km between Bhaupur (near Kanpur) and Khurja is operational on the EDFC. The section between Bhaupur and Deen Dayal Upadhyay Stn. (Mughalsarai) is expected to be operational by June 2022.

Both Corridors will carry double stack containers, with the Eastern featuring well wagons to reduce height to 5.1m. The Western has catenary design to accommodate two full size containers with a combined maximum height of 7.1m. Both corridors support running trains at a maximum speed of 100kmph with 25t axle loads (with bridges and other permanent way structures supporting 32.5t). Maximum grade is 1 in 200 with maximum curvature of upto 2.4 degrees. 2x25kV AT feeding has been standardised.

Transit time for freight between Mumbai and New Delhi is expected to drop to about 36 hours from the current 60 hours. In the busiest freight routes such as Ahmedabad - Marwar, the number of freight trains running is expected to rise from 15 each way each day (currently) to 72 each way; between JNP and Vadodara the increase will be from 9 to 49.

Q. Are there direct freight trains running between India and neighbouring countries?

Freight trains run regularly between India and Pakistan via the Attari (Punjab) - Lahore route when political conditions between the two countries are cordial. The Munabao - Khokhrapar route was under consideration (2007) for goods traffic, but was subsequently dropped.

Freight trains have also been running regularly between India and Bangladesh on the Gede - Darshana and Petrapole - Benapole routes. Another route connecting India and Bangladesh is Singhbad (India) - Rohanpur (Bangladesh). The Bongaon (India) - Jessore (Bangladesh) direct BG route has been proposed, and needs a 10km link constructed between Akhaura and Agartala. Nepal is connected to India by rail by the Birgunj - Raxaul line. See the international section and also the international links list.

Q. How heavy are the freights carried by IR? What are the heaviest freights?

Among the heaviest freights regularly hauled in India are the 4700+ tonne loads hauled by two (sometimes one, depending on the gradient, etc.) WAG-9 locos in the Dhanbad Division. Earlier, these freights required multiple WAG-5 locos to haul them. Typical heavy freight trains in many sections use two or three WAG-5's at the front and two or three WAG-5's at the rear. Iron ore trains on the Kulem-Londa section, as well as other heavy freights in other sections such as on the SER can have up to 7 locos, for instance with 3 at either end and 1 in the middle, connected and operated through a system known as ‘Locotrol’. The Kirandul-Kottavalasa line, before it was electrified, often had many freight rakes hauled by 5 or 6 diesel locos (1960s). (Today 2 or 3 WAG-5 or WAG-9 locos are usual for these.)

(05/2001) On May 17, 2001, a single WAG-9 achieved a top speed of 100km/h while hauling a rake of 58 BOXN-HA wagons (4700t) on the Sonenagar-Mughalsarai section of ER. The 123km section was covered in 100 minutes, at an average speed of 72km/h.

Trials have been conducted with a single WAG-7 hauling a 6000 tonne rake on level track near Gomoh; 5500t rakes have sometimes been hauled double-headed by WAG-9 locos; and 5500t rakes have also been hauled by two or three WAG-7 (?) locos. In 1998 a single WAM-4 hauled a 9000t (!) rake near Ghaziabad. In the early 1990s, a kilometer-long coal rake for NTPC's Dadri power plant was hauled on the Grand Chord.

Diesel traction: a single WDG-4 has been used to haul a 4700t rake (58 BOXN wagons).

‘Midhaul’ operations where locomotives are used in the middle of a rake are not common in IR. Locos are more often added at the front and rear of a rake, though some zones do regularly run ‘midhaul’ trains (see below).

SCR ran (02/2002) some trials using up to 7 locomotives (3 in the front, 3 at the rear, and one in the middle) for a 54-wagon rake on the Castle Rock - Kulem ghat section. Trials on the Hassan-Mangalore section with 58-BOXN wagon rakes were carried out with six WDG-3A locos, 3 in the front and 3 at the rear. Even though the newer locomotives such as the WAG-9 or WDG-4 can haul these heavy loads singlehandedly, many of the older bridges and other structures on IR's lines cannot withstand the higher longitudinal stresses that these locos exert, hence often these loads are hauled by multiple lower-powered locos. Brake power is also an issue on gradients. Three WDG-3A locos are said to be able to keep a fully-loaded 58-BOXN rake at 30km/h on a 1:50 down gradient using train brakes and dynamic brakes.

The BOXN-HA wagons (see the section on wagon types) was planned for heavier axle-loading and would have eventually allowed the routine hauling of 5220t rakes without the need for longer sidings or loops; however the experiments with this wagon type didn't work out and they were never manufactured after the initial batch of about 301.

Top Speeds

(Times uncertain here) For 4700t loads on level track: A WDG-2 can attain 68km/h in about 56 minutes (? not certain); a WDG-4 can reach 82km/h in 30 minutes; a WAG-5 can attain a top speed of 80km/h in 33 minutes; for a WAG-7, the figures are 92km/h and 38 minutes (or 70km/h in 15 minutes); and for a WAG-9, 100km/h and 17 minutes. In 2000, successful trials were conducted of running BOXN wagon rakes at 100km/h on the Gomoh-Mughalsarai section, and even up to Ghaziabad.

Goods trains on mainline BG routes are generally restricted to 75km/h, with a few exceptions and special operations. (Parcel vans and milk vans or refrigerated vans for perishables attached to passenger trains can of course go faster.) the average speeds of goods trains on the main trunk routes are around 40-45km/h.

Q. Do double-stacked container trains run on IR?

(07/2020) IR runs double stacked containers on two routes. Rewari - Pipavav and Rewari - Kandla/Mundra. Both these routes are via Ringas, Phulera, Palanpur, Mahesana and Viramgam. These lines have OHE clearances of upto 7.5m to allow two 9.5' high containers to be stacked on top of each other. Other than small isolated sections that act as test beds, these are the only lines on IR that are capable of handling double-stacked container traffic.

Most traffic is still diesel hauled, but as more electric locomotives get fitted with high-reach pantographs, this is expected to change.

Until 2004, two things prevented IR from running double-stacked containers - the Schedule Of (moving) Dimensions, which governed clearances and heights of objects and rolling stock, and limited axle loads. Both these were reviewed and changed during 2004 to 2006 period.

RDSO had been exploring the possibilities for double-stacking. Normally, BLCA and BLCB flat wagons used for 9.5' high containers have 840mm diameter wheels with a floor height of 1009mm above the rails. A single rake (45 BLCA/BLCB) can carry 90 20' long ISO containers or 45 40' long containers and this standard configuration can run at 100km/h on most of the important IR routes. In late 2003, RDSO ran trials on the Sidhapur - Umerdasi section of WR using double-stacked 40' long (and 9.5' high) containers on unmodified BLCA/BLCB wagons. Satisfactory ride characteristics were observed up to 85km/h on straight track, and also at lower speeds in yards, over complex points, and on 2-degree curves.

RDSO submitted reports on this to the Railway Board and occasionally (2004, 2005) IR made reference to the possibility of double-stacking, but this had not materialized anywhere except for extremely limited trials until 2006, when the first double-stacked container service began between Jaipur and Pipavav (starting on March 24, 2006). Jaipur - Pipavav was chosen because of the lack of electrification (at that time) which eliminated the height constraint, and easy elimination of other obstructions which might have infringed on double-stacked train moving dimensions (and of course the availability of container freight from Pipavav port).

(07/2008) The first trials of double-stacked container traffic on electric traction happened from July 6-9, 2008 between Jakhapura and Tomka on the Jakhapura-Daitari section of East Coast Railway, under a high catenary (OHE clearance, 7.45m). These trials were conducted using a WAG-7 locomotive that had a specially modified pantograph manufactured by Stone India. These trials were deemed successful, but it was not until 2013 when IR began seriously constructing high catenaries in the Rewari - Mahesana section. The section between Jakhapura and Tomka has subsequently reverted to regular catenary dimensions.

In April 2007, even triple-stack containers were considered. These were special-purpose automobile carrier containers that were proposed to be run between New Delhi and Pune. They were supposed to run on the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, but the project seems to have been shelved with no details forthcoming in the last 10 years or so.

Q. How has IR developed its hauling capacity?

Rakes of the old freight wagons, classified 'CG', for Covered Goods, consisting of the old 4-wheeled C or CR wagons) up to 1850 or so tonnes (2350t for some types of wagons). With the introduction of bogie stock, mixed CRT/CRC/BCX rakes became more common and brought the maximum up to 2750 tonnes. As noted above, even today the standard load for a typical shipment by a 'full rake' of miscellaneous goods is about 2200t.

The introduction of bogie wagons and air-braked stock has allowed larger and heavier formations to be hauled, and 3660t rakes of box wagons became common. The so-called ‘Jumbo’ rakes, consisting mostly of BCX and similar bogie stock are up to 3500-3750 tonnes (these are air-braked today, but vacuum-braked rakes of this size have been used), and beyond these are what are known in IR parlance as ‘Super-Jumbo’ rakes, carrying up to 4500-4700 tonnes. The super-jumbo rakes consist entirely of the newer BCX/BCN/BCNA/etc. wagons and are air-braked.

Most rakes have only BCN/BCNA wagons, up to about 42 of them. Forty two BCN wagons are about the limit for most parts of IR's network because of the restriction imposed by the lengths of loops where freight trains can be diverted to allow passenger trains to pass. The standard loop length is 650m, although many places are now getting loops of 900m to cope with freight formations that are up to 850m long.

BOXN formations up to 58 cars are also common (again, this is the maximum length allowable on most loop lines). In several places, IR has run, as experiments, longer freight trains formed by combining two or three freight rakes for part of a route and then splitting them later as they go on to their respective destinations. However, when running combined the extra-long rake has to be scheduled carefully as it places severe constraints on the movement of all other traffic on the same track because it cannot fit on any loop at any station, and any problem with the rake can result in major delays.

Q. What is the state of intermodal transportation in India? Are roadrailers, road trailers on rails, etc. used in India?

In late 1999/early 2000, a trial Wabash/Kirloskar roadrailer ran between JNPT and Nagpur, but these were never proven to be successful. Konan Railway also made some trials of TOFC (trailer on flat car). Spine cars, well cars, freight DMUs, CargoSprinter, etc. are not in use in India currently.

Konkan Railway pioneered the ‘roll-on, roll-off’ (‘RORO’ or ‘RO-RO’) concept in India on its route between Mumbai (Kolad) and Goa (Verna). Starting in 1999 with 5 trucks being transported at a time, today the service handles 50 trucks at a time. In this service, trucks belonging to commercial private trucking companies loaded with their goods drive on to a rake of flat cars and are carried (trucks and their cargo, and their drivers!) by train to the destination where they simply drive off the train; this obviously eliminates a lot of time lost in intermodal transshipment. Loading and unloading at either end can be as short as 10-15 minutes. The RORO rake normally achieves speeds of about 75km/h. The Kolad-Verna stretch takes about 10 hours with RORO while it can be a full day's driving or more if the trucks take the road instead. The trucks are restricted to 25 tonnes for 2-axle trucks and 40 tonnes for 4-axle trucks. RORO service is also available now until Mangalore (Surathkal) on the KR route. In July 2004 it was proposed that KR get monopoly rights to operate such RORO services on the rest of the IR network. Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Kochi were said to be among the routes being considered for this.

Q. How are the different kinds of freight cars classified?

… And information on brakes, couplers, etc.

Please see the section on freight cars in the page on rolling stock for more details on wagons and their features, freight consists, etc.

Wagon Pooling

Q. What is Wagon Pooling?

Each zonal railway of IR has a fleet of freight wagons that it owns. Of necessity, most freight trains traverse through territory of more than one zonal railway, and wagons of one railway may end up outside their home zone after a run. Wagon Pooling refers to the practice of allowing other zonal railways to use the wagons for their own freight trains. In effect, the wagons from all zonal railways are 'pooled' together and scheduled for goods trains indiscriminately, without a zone giving preference to wagons it owns. Pooling generally increases wagon utilization, since it avoids transshipment from one zone's wagons to another zone's wagons at zonal boundaries, and also avoids having wagons return empty to their home railway. It also minimizes shunting as a result and improves yard and siding utilization.

Generally speaking, most wagons used for long-distance freight are pooled wagons and participate in the pooling. See below for non-pooled and local traffic wagons which do not participate in wagon pooling.

Wagon pooling is also applied outside IR. Wagons may be pooled with non-IR organizations such as industrial plants (power stations, collieries, mines, cement works, etc.). Additional, wagons are also pooled with foreign railways such as Bangladesh Railway and Pakistan Railways. IR wagons venture on to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi networks as part of cross-border goods traffic, and similarly wagons from those railways enter IR's network. These wagons do not have to return immediately, and may be used for goods movements outside their home railways - but usually these are returned fairly soon.

Obviously, with wagon pooling a concern that arises is how wagons are to be maintained and overhauled. As a general rule, wagons are to return to their home railways every 3 years for periodic overhaul (POH). This is usually indicated as a stencilled notation, e.g., ‘Return 6/20’ indicating a return required to the home railway by May 2020. Ordinary inspection and most minor maintenance at yards and at stations en route is of course carried out by whichever railway happens to have the wagons at the time. (In fact, wagons cannot be interchanged if they have serious defects; the railway which has the wagon at the time then must fix the defect.)

The Directorate of Wagon Interchange (DWI) under the IRCA is responsible for coordinating all wagon interchanges across IR. Officers in charge of wagon interchange are assigned to each nodal point where interchange occurs.

Each railway's wagons are enumerated and kept track of. Based on the goods traffic needs of a particular railway, it may require more or fewer wagons than it actually owns. A creditor railway is one which needs fewer wagons than it needs, so that its surplus wagons are, in effect, ‘loaned’ out to other railways. A debtor railway, similarly, is one which needs more wagons than it has, so that it has to ‘borrow’ wagons from the wagon pool for its operations. For the privilege of using wagons over the number that a railway owns, it has to pay rental charges. These hire charges vary by type of wagon. As an example, 4-wheeled BG wagons had hire charges of Rs 66 a day in the 1970s. In 2010 they were around Rs 387 a day. Industrial (non-IR) users were charged Rs 1038, Bangladesh Railway Rs 665, and Pakistan Railway Rs 1000. Hire charges for MG wagons were around Rs 204 a day, for non-railways users Rs 464, and for BR, Rs 290.

The DWI computes the Pool Target for each zonal railway which is the number of pooled wagons it can have at any time in order to run its expected goods operations smoothly. These are often denoted relative to the number of wagons the railway owns: A pool target of +2000 implies that the zonal railway must do with 2000 fewer wagons than it owns, and therefore must be a creditor railway. Similarly, a pool target of -2000 implies the railway is a debtor railway and will use 2000 more wagons than the number it owns. As excessive holdings of wagons by a particular zonal railway leads to inefficiency, the DWI is empowered to instruct railways to reduce their holdings, and impose fines when pool targets are not maintained.

At each Interchange Point, or junction where interchange occurs between railways, goods traffic needs to be regulated to maintain traffic flow, as well as to ensure adherence to pool targets. For this purpose, Junction Quotas are determined, which specify the number of wagons to be interchanged each day between individual railways at the interchange point, in each direction. Junction quotas in the case of highly asymmetric traffic routes may specify a particular number of empties to be returned in the reverse direction. The railway that works the junction or interchange point is known as the Working Railway, and the other railways interchanging their wagons at that junction are called the Using Railways. A wagon is interchanged between the working railway and the using railway when it enters or leaves the junction. Equalization is the process of ensuring that the flow of wagons between two interchanging railways is equal in both directions at the interchange point. This is not always the case, when traffic flows are not symmetric. Overequalization refers to a railway handing over more wagons than it receives in return; the opposite situation is Underequalization. For instance, NCR hands over coal wagons from ECR to WCR at Bayana, and is overequalized with WCR, because WCR does not return the wagons to NCR by the same route. WCR hands over the released empties to CR in the return direction - it is overequalized with CR; the empties pass over CR to Ajni and Katni to SECR and back to the colliery regions. The situation can be more complex if the wagons are not returning empty but being used for some other highly directional goods traffic on the return trip. The DWI issues instructions regarding junction quotas and equalization. Strict equalization is not always required - railways often overequalize with another railway at one junction but underequalize by a matching amount at another.

As the working railway is placed at a disadvantage since it holds wagons at its junction even though it is not utilizing them, a Junction Allowance used to be specified to compensate for the extra wagon hours at the junction; this has since been dispensed with.

An Interchange Message noting the total numbers of wagons interchanged over a day may look like the following (example from Railway Operation by Francis DaCosta).

MGS 5/1
20 JN - Interchange midnight ending 4.1.80
AD 2813 CL 1073 CE 28 OL 1709 OE 3
DA 3085 CL 493 CE 826 OL 1125 OE 641

In the above interchange message which records the total interchanges as of midnight following the working day, A stands for ER, and D for NR. C = Covered wagons and O = Open wagons. L = Loaded, E = Empty.

In addition to the aggregate information about numbers of interchanged wagons, individual car movement records are also maintained, so that overdue or missing wagons can be identified easily. The divisional wagon balance is calculated as of midnight each day.

At each interchange junction, wagons to be interchanged are inspected. A defect found in a wagon may be classified as a Penalty Defect in some cases, and is racked up as a debit to the railway offering the wagon. A defect that is serious enough that the wagon cannot be used is classified as a Rejection Defect and the wagon remains with the offering railway, which may offer it again after fixing the problem. No actual monetary fines are levied; but the statistics on defects provide an indication of the level of maintenance of wagons by a railway. Rejection defects increase the holdings of wagons on a railway's books, and therefore may render it liable for fines if it exceeds its pool targets as a result.


Originally, with the separate railways that existed in India, there was no concept of wagon pooling. Each railway used its own wagons on its lines, and wagons from foreign railways were operated only by specially negotiated agreements among the railways. For instance, much coal loaded by the East Indian Railway was done on its own wagons, and transshipped to wagons of other railways at transshipment points. The inefficient utilization of the wagons in the prevailing system became very apparent during World War 1 when the demands of goods traffic rose sharply. Emergency orders were issued allowing indiscriminate loading of goods on any available wagons regardless of which railway owned them. The Indian Railway Conference Association (IRCA) carried out a review of the new practice and after further experiments, in 1925 it was decided as a policy that wagons should generally be pooled. The IRCA was given control over the wagon interchange policies and procedures.

Wagon pooling at first applied only to BG wagons. As there were many more - and very small - railways operating on MG, it took longer to coordinate the arrangements for wagon pooling among them. The MG network of northern India had wagon pooling from 1939, and the southern MG network had wagon pooling from 1950.

Q. Where are IR's wagon interchange points?

There are many interchange points between zonal railways for BG goods wagons - practically any junction near a zonal boundary which sees significant BG goods traffic counts as one. For MG wagons, there were four principal interchange points: Khandwa for SCR/WR, Himmatnagar for WR/NWR, Purnia for NFR/ECR, and Forbes Ganj for NFR/NER. International interchange points include Attari for NR with Pakistan Railway, Ranaghat and Petrapole for ER with Bangladesh Railway, Singhabad for NFR with Bangladesh Railway (all BG). Radhikapur and Mahishasan were for MG interchange between NFR and Bangladesh Railway.

Q. What are non-pooled wagons and local traffic wagons?

These are wagons that do not participate in wagon pooling. Some wagons may be marked as Non-Pooled Wagons (usually stencilled 'N.P.' on the wagons) - these are usually some special-purpose high-capacity wagons used by various railways that generally earmarked for some particular operations on that railway or on particular routes. They do travel to other zones, but are not scheduled for further trips by the other railways. When they are loaded to adjoining railways, they are usually marked to be sent back to a station on the route they took, or back to their home railway by any route.

A few other wagons in each railway may also not participate in wagon pooling - these are local traffic wagons, which are usually low-capacity wagons used for internal movements such as departmental trains and which do not venture outside their home zone.

Types of Freight Trains

Q. What are the different types of goods trains?

Goods trains are classified into a few different categories. Departmental trains are trains run for internal purposes of the railway, such as track maintenance or conveying equipment. They may be ballast trains or other material trains. Breakdown trains and other special-purpose trains for dealing with accidents are also considered to be departmental trains.

Work trains are trains used for short-distance movements of freight, especially small packages ('smalls') transshipped from long-distance freight trains. Shunting trains are used for moving wagons to different stations in a section, and are involved only in attaching and detaching such wagons. They are also known as section trains (especially on CR) and pick-up trains elsewhere. They are known as pilots if they run for a very short distance, for just a few stations. Trains with wagons that are actually loaded or unloaded with smalls at various stations are called Road Vans, or transship trains (CR) or smalls quick transit (SQT) on ER. Road vans are a vanishing breed these days with the widespread use of block rakes and container traffic and increasing reliance on transshipment of goods from freight terminals to road transport for onward delivery rather than transporting smalls by rail.

Through goods trains are freight trains transporting goods from one goods yard to the next without stoppage at intermediate points. Long-distance goods, also known as solid trains include various special long-distance freight trains that get precedence. The remainder of the through goods trains, which run at lower precedence, are known as Ordinary Through trains.

Q. What's a ‘mini-rake’?

A half-size goods rake (20 wagons), available for booking under special tariffs. See above.

Q. What's a ‘jumbo’ or ‘super-jumbo’ rake? What are ‘Python’ rakes? Are there really ‘Anaconda’ rakes running?

The term ‘jumbo’ originated when longer and heavier freight rakes could be hauled as better wagons (bogie stock), more powerful locos, and air-braking begin to come into use. A ‘jumbo’ rake is usually a BCX/BOY/etc. rake of up to 3500-3750 tonnes, which is much larger than the old ‘CG’ rakes which used to be limited to 1800 tonnes or so. All air-braked rakes of BCN/BCNA wagons up to 4500-4750 tonnes are known as ‘super-jumbo’ rakes.

‘Python’ rakes originated on WR in the Gandhidham - Viramgam section. The term refers to two rakes that are coupled together and run to maximise available paths and traffic slots. Because they share a common path between a pair of stations it is more efficient for them to move together and open up an otherwise used slot. Each rake has its own locomotive and caboose with the lead loco pilot communicating for acceleration and braking with their mid-rake colleague via radio. Because loop lengths prevent such rakes from being sidelined, they are run with the highest priority and often overtake passenger trains.

Recently (06/2020) SECR has begun running what it calls ‘Anaconda’ rakes. These share the concept as the ‘Python’ rakes but are longer (with 3-4 rakes lashed together, total 2+km) and feature distributed locomotive control with the lead loco controlling the rest of the 6 to 7 in the consist.

Link Trains, Crack Trains

Q. What are Link Trains?

Among goods trains, Link Trains are or were those with a pre-specified regular weekly or daily schedule (the ‘link’ for the train). Often, these goods trains had dedicated sets of crew, and these trains were usually given priority by the controllers as well. High utilization is achieved by extended running with longer distances between rake examinations. Today, the term is not used much, and there are a variety of high-priority timetabled goods services that use the same management principles. Historically, the introduction of Link Trains was a significant step in improving the efficiency of goods services.

Very early, in steam days, generally the Assigned Crew system was followed, where a single set of crew members (one driver and two firemen) were attached to a locomotive permanently, and travelled with it on all trips. The sense of ownership and dedication resulted in the crew taking very good care of the locomotive, and the system worked while goods traffic requirements remained low. However, utilization was lower than it could be, since the locomotive had to remain stabled any time the crew were resting, as required for instance by the rules around hours of running duty.

In the 1930s, the Pooled Crew system was introduced, where crew were not assigned permanently to a locomotive, but instead assigned to an engine when it was ready to run. This increased the utilization of the engines. With the outbreak of World War II, there were greatly increased demands for goods traffic, there was a shortage of spares, and many junior staff on account of large numbers of promotions given to cope with the need to run more trains.

All this combined, especially on CR, lead to massive congestion of goods traffic, and average goods train speeds dropped to below 30km/h. It was in an effort to alleviate this situation that Link Trains were introduced.

Daily paths were set up - these schedules were known as links. The link trains were organized so they would skip some intermediate stops for coaling/watering. A few sets of crew members were allocated to each locomotive. When a link train was to be run, one set of crew would run the loco all the way to the destination point (the out-station), and sign off there, and another set would make the return journey. The first link train on this system was run in 1942, using two XP engines to haul goods on the 395km Bhusaval-Nagpur section. The engines were able to log 9500km a month, far higher than the typical engine utilization of the time.

In 1945 the system was extended to the then new and powerful AWE engines on the Bhusaval division. Five goods trains were run on fixed links using 9 AWE engines from Bhusaval to Igatpuri. The system was further improved by using extended engine runs that used lineside coaling and watering facilities outside the sheds to allow engines to skip sheds and save time.

Trains were not re-marshalled at intermediate points. This was used for instance on the approximately 400km route between Daund and Raichur, and between Jhansi and Delhi. Watering stations were staggered, so that successive trains on a route used alternating watering stations - this was especially helped by the introduction of WG and YG locomotives with high tender water capacity. C&W examination was also extended to happen only once in 360km or so. Engines and rakes were allowed to run 800km after an extended examination, and 300km yard to yard after a ‘safe-to-run’ examination.

Even today, Jumbo rakes and other high-priority goods rakes are allowed to run without detailed examination at intermediate points. Of course, with the introduction of diesel and electric traction considerations of watering and coaling points are no longer a concern.

Q. What are Crack Trains?

Crack Trains were introduced on ER for similar reasons as for Link Trains on CR. A crack train is run on a link system (scheduled engine and staff). However, as ER is a dense and relatively compact railway zone where extended runs are difficult (200km might constitute an inter-divisional movement), the idea was to run these trains with one set of crew for the outward and homeward journeys, by having a very quick turn-around (1 hour or less) at the out-station. The outward and homeward journeys together constituted just one cycle of duty for the crew. The turn-around was done if possible in the outstation yard itself without visiting the outstation shed. A goods rake for the return journey was kept ready and waiting in the other portion of the yard so that the engine could be coupled to it and start on its return journey as soon as possible. Because the same crew comes back on the homeward journey, the entire trip has to be fairly short, within about 10 hours to comply with regulations on running duty hours, and definitely within 12 hours. None of the other refinements of CR's link trains such as staggered watering stations were used.

The first crack train was run on March 30, 1958 between Gaya and Mughalsarai. On this section, 25 to 30 goods trains ran daily - 24 through goods trains on the Gaya - Son Nagar section and 29 on the Son Nagar - Mughalsarai section. The speeds of these trains in 1958 had come down to about 20km/h. The introduction of crack trains raised the average speed by the end of March 1958 to 40km/h. Crack engines had utilizations up to 9500km per month.

Later the system of crack trains was introduced on NR on the Kanpur - Tundla (230km) route, and Mughalsarai - Allahabad (150km). The former was covered (460km round trip) in 12 hours with 40 minutes of outstation detention. To motivate the crew and ensure high performance, crew were made eligible for higher payments when running crack trains (in addition to the higher mileage earnings accrued). However, bad performance was punished by summary removal from the roster of crack train crews. In addition, cabin crew and other lineside staff were instructed to be extra vigilant in checking for hot axles and other problems on these crack trains. Special procedures were introduced to detach a wagon with a hot axle within 20 minutes. It is said that an IR officer, MS Gujral, who was familiar with how much more effective and popular among soldiers military marches were when they included returning home to barracks on the same day rather than camping out or at remote barracks, was the one who came up with the key idea behind crack trains.

Crack trains persisted in large numbers until about 1973 when the 10 hour rule on running duty was introduced, which led to shorter cycles that were sometimes not as effective. Also, the increasing use of diesels and electrics, where the emphasis was on utilization measured in other ways, slowly led to the diminishing importance of crack trains. They continued to be used on SER for a long time. Special freight trains such as the Rockets, Green Arrow, etc., were all operated on the crack train principle.

Later the term ‘crack train’ was extended to include trains operated on the link train principle (fixed schedule for engine and staff) and skipping at least one locomotive changing station without change of crew, even if the crew did not make the trip back with the same engine right away.

Link trains and crack trains both represent landmarks in goods train management in India.


Q. Why does a goods train sometimes move backwards briefly before starting to move ahead from a stop?

There are a few different reasons that this happens. One reason (and the official one stated in working timetables) has to do with ensuring the couplers (CBC's) along the rake are all engaged and locked before starting off. The backward push forces the couplers to engage if they are loose, not fully engaged, or if the coupler pins had been inadvertently (or maliciously) lifted while the train was stopped.

Another reason is to compress the couplers along the length of the rake, so that when the loco starts moving forward, it has an easier time setting the wagons at the front in motion first before the rear wagons as the slack in the couplers plays out along the length of the rake -- it doesn't have to set the entire train in motion all at once. This is more important with poor track conditions where the loco cannot develop its full tractive effort before its wheels slip, or with older style bearings on the wagons which have much higher starting friction than the rolling friction encountered when on the move. Bad or older designs of bearings can also stick or bind and increase the starting resistance.

A third reason for the backward push is to release brakes where the blocks have stuck to the wheel treads (brake binding); once released by the backward push, there is no further resistance to forward motion. This was more of a problem in the vacuum brake days with poorly maintained brakes. Lastly, in the age before walkie-talkies, the backward push was a way to inform the guard at the rear end that the train was about to set off -- with really long rakes and noisy environments, horn signals might not always work.

Q. Why are there sometimes empty (or water-filled) tankers or other wagons at the end and beginning of rakes carrying petroleum products or other inflammable substances?

These empty or water-filled tankers or other wagons are known as ‘guard wagons’ and are intended to provide a safety buffer for the tankers carrying inflammable cargo. They are intended to take the brunt of any minor collision so that the tankers carrying the inflammable substances are not themselves damaged leading to possible explosions or major fires. At the head of the rake, next to the loco, another reason for providing guard wagons is to prevent inflammable vapours from the tankers from catching fire either from the hot diesel exhaust from the loco, or sparks at the pantograph from electric locos.

Q. Where are IR's goods yards, marshalling yards, etc.?

See the section on goods marshalling yards, CONCOR depots, etc.