Railway Zones

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Q. How many regions or “zones” does IR have?

Indian Railways is divided for administrative convenience into several regional railways. Until 2003 there were 9 zones, and this structure had not changed much for four decades. In 2002-03, 7 new zones were created, giving a total of 16. In 2010, Kolkata Metro was given the status of the 17th zone of Indian Railways. Additionally, Konkan Railway has the administrative status of a zone of IR, but is not normally considered a zone for operational purposes.

In February 2019, IR announced the creation of a new zone called South Coast Railway (SCoR) (with some divisions from SCR and ECoR moving), but no formal notification for its setup and operations has been issued until now (12/2021).

(For the administrative structure of Indian Railways, please see the miscellaneous section.)

The nine older railway zones are:

  • Northern Railway (NR)
  • North Eastern Railway (NER)
  • Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR, sometimes NEFR)
  • Western Railway (WR)
  • Southern Railway (SR)
  • South Central Railway (SCR)
  • South Eastern Railway (SER)
  • Eastern Railway (ER)
  • Central Railway (CR)

The eight newer zones are:

  • South Western Railway (SWR)
  • North Western Railway (NWR)
  • West Central Railway (WCR)
  • North Central Railway (NCR)
  • South East Central Railway (SECR)
  • East Coast Railway (ECoR)
  • East Central Railway (ECR)
  • Kolkata Metro

Deemed zone:

  • Konkan Railway

For their headquarters and constitution in terms of divisions please see below.

Konkan Railway (KR)

Konkan Railway is constituted as a separately incorporated railway, with its headquarters at Belapur CBD (Navi Mumbai), although it still comes under the control of the Railway Ministry and the Railway Board. In December 2004, it was proposed to be merged with IR because of its financial situation with high debt.

It consists of a single 760km route from Roha to Mangalore along the western coast of India (the Konkan region). The route remained a single-line track and un-electrified, but in the recent few years (starting 2014?) it has been patch doubled. It is also being electrified with passenger operations slated to be started in 2022.

It has been designed for high-speed traffic (160 km/h) and was fully thrown open to goods and passenger traffic in May 2009. KR does not have divisions like the other IR zones, but it has two regions with headquarters at Ratnagiri and Karwar. The Ratnagiri region extends from Roha to Sawantwadi, while the Karwar region extends from Pernem to Thokur (the latter being where SR territory begins, a few stations north of Mangalore).

Q. What are the headquarters and divisions of the railway zones?

Each zonal railway is made up of a certain number of divisions, each having a divisional headquarters. The 9 older zones were split into 59 divisions in all. With the creation of new zones, the divisions have also been reorganized, and new divisions were created in 2002 (some came into effect in April 2003) and in 2006, bringing the total number of divisions to 68.

The divisional organization of the zonal railways is as follows:

Zone Wise Breakup of IR
Zone Headquarters Divisions
New zones that started in April 2003
East Coast Railway Bhubaneshwar Khurda Road, Waltair, and Sambalpur divisions of SER
South Western Railway Hubli Bangalore and Mysore divisions of SR, reorganized Hubli division of SCR, including Hospet-Toranagallu.
(Earlier constituted to have Guntakal division of SCR as well.)
West Central Railway Jabalpur Jabalpur and Bhopal divisions of CR, reorganized Kota division of WR
North Central Railway Allahabad Reorganized divisions: Allahabad of NR, Jhansi of CR, and new Agra division
South East Central Railway Bilaspur Nagpur division and reorganized Bilaspur division of SER, new Raipur division
New zones that were created in 2002
North Western Railway Jaipur Jodhpur division and reorganized Bikaner division of NR, reorganized Jaipur and Ajmer divisions of WR
East Central Railway Hajipur Sonpur and Samastipur divisions of NER, Danapur, Mughalsarai, and Dhanbad divisions of ER.
(Was earlier constituted to have Katihar division of NFR as well.)
Old zones as they are after April 2003
Western Railway Mumbai Bhavnagar and Mumbai divisions, reorganized Ratlam, Rajkot and Vadodara divisions, new Ahmedabad division
Central Railway Mumbai Bhusawal and Nagpur divisions, reorganized Mumbai CST and Solapur divisions, new Pune division (including Pune-Kolhapur)
Eastern Railway Kolkata Howrah, Malda, Sealdah, and Asansol divisions
Southern Railway Chennai Chennai, Palakkad, Tiruchirapalli, Thiruvananthapuram, Madurai and Salem (created in 2006) divisions
Northern Railway Delhi Ferozpur, Ambala, Lucknow and Moradabad divisions, reorganized Delhi division
North Eastern Railway Gorakhpur Lucknow and Varanasi divisions, reorganized Izzatnagar division
South Central Railway Secunderabad Reorganized Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Guntakal (including Bellary-Guntakal (then MG) and Bellary-Rayadurg), and Vijayawada divisions, new Guntur and Nanded divisions.
South Eastern Railway Kolkata Kharagpur division, reorganized Adra and Chakradharpur divisions, new Ranchi division
Northeast Frontier Railway Guwahati Katihar, Lumding, Tinsukia divisions, reorganized Alipurduar division, new Rangiya division

Some trivia

Both Mumbai and Kolkata have the headquarters of two zonal railways each (WR/CR, and ER/SER respectively). However, Howrah in Kolkata is the head-station for both ER and SER, whereas Mumbai has two separate head-stations (Mumbai CSMT, formerly known as Victoria Terminus for CR, and Mumbai Central for WR).

New Delhi is close to the NCR/NR border which is at Tughlakabad. Nagpur is a city with two divisional headquarters (one for CR, one for SER), a rare distinction it shares with Lucknow, which has headquarters for two different divisions in NR and NER. (Of course, except for Mumbai and Kolkata which are the headquarters of two zonal railways each as noted).

The headquarters of South Eastern Railway is located at Garden Reach in Kolkata. The nearest station to Garden Reach is Khidirpur, which belongs to Eastern Railway! SER’s jurisdiction lies completely on the other side of the Hooghly River.

Q. How big are the various zones?

Zonal Sizes in Kilometres (2019-2020)
Zone Route Kms. Running Track Kms. Total Track Kms
Central 4152 6563 8827
Eastern 2820 5174 7220
East Central 4220 6151 9954
East Coast 2800 4693 6009
Northern 7323 10024 13558
North Central 3552 6003 6436
North Eastern 3473 4515 4894
Northeast Frontier 4239 4785 6473
North Western 5643 7620 8027
Southern 5087 7376 9103
South Central 6382 8903 10872
South Eastern 2713 5305 6549
South East Central 2457 3882 5193
South Western 3578 4650 5880
Western 6509 8424 10659
West Central 3010 5112 6617
Metro Railway, Kolkata 28 55 95

In the past, this data was broken down by gauge, but with almost all lines converted to BG, this data is not provided by IR in its latest annual reports.

History of the Railway Zones

Q. What is the history behind the 7 new zones created?

In 1984, the Railway Reform Committee had proposed the creation of four new zones to cope with the growth of freight traffic across the country and to rationalize the traffic handling of IR. This proposal went nowhere. In the 1990s IR had been considering setting up more zones, ostensibly to improve administrative and operational efficiency. However, the final proposals which came out for new zones appear to have been motivated by politics as much as technical considerations of efficiency.

Six zones (East Coast Rly., East Central Rly., North Central Rly., North Western Rly., South Western Rly., and West Central Rly.) were proposed and approved in principle in July 1996 during the tenure of Ram Vilas Paswan as Railway Minister. Raipur was proposed as the headquarters of the East Coast Railway, but eventually Bhubaneshwar was settled upon.

The South Western Railway was originally to have been based at Bangalore, but later (03/2000) it was decided to make Hubli (now Hubballi) its headquarters (this involved a fair amount of agitation and political action in Hubli as well). The South East Central Rly. headquartered at Bilaspur was proposed in 1998 and approved in principle by the government in 1999.

Until mid-2002 not much had been done for these new zones yet beyond some contracts for office space and the appointment of some officers. In fact, in May 2000 the government had cancelled these staff appointments and there was talk of disbanding whatever little administrative structure had been put in place for these new zones. In March 2002, the South Western Zone was ‘inaugurated’ with some publicity, although there was no office space for the zone at Hubli; some staff at Bangalore were assigned to the new zone with, apparently, little to do.

Nothing really definitive was done about these new zones until June 2002, when the Railway Ministry announced that official notifications had been issued for the creation of two new zones: East Central and North Western. Some operational and administrative work for these officially began in October 2002. In July 2002, five more zones were officially created: East Coast, North Central, South Western, West Central, and South East Central.

In April 2003, all new zones came into effect and began operational and administrative duties.

Q. How were the 9 older zones created out of the former independent railway networks?

Around 1950, legislation was passed allowing the central government to take over many of the independent railway systems that were in operation.

In 1951, the following zones were created:

  • SR — April 14: From Madras & Southern Mahratta Rly., South Indian Rly., and Mysore State Rly. (about 9660 km).
  • CR — Nov. 5: From the GIPR, the Nizam's State Rly., and the Scindia and Dholpur Rly. (about 8690 km).
  • WR — Nov. 5: From the BB&CI Rly., the Saurashtra, the Rajasthan, the Jaipur, and the Cutch Rlys. (about 9120 km).

In 1952, the following zones were created:

  • NR — April 14: From the Jodhpur Rly., Bikaner Rly., three divisions of the East Indian Rly. north-west of Mughalsarai, and the Eastern Punjab Rly. (about 9670 km).
  • ER — April 14: From the rest of the East Indian Rly. (east of Mughalsarai) and the Bengal Nagpur Rly. (about 9120 km).
  • NER — April 14: From the Oudh-Tirhut Rly., the Assam Rly., and the Kanpur-Achnera section of the BB&CI Rly. (about 7660 km).

In 1955, the South-Eastern Railway is carved out of ER:

  • SER — August 1: ER retains three divisions of the old East Indian Rly. and the Sealdah division of the old Bengal-Assam Rly. (about 3740km); the rest becomes SER (about 5380km).

In 1958, the Northeast Frontier Railway was carved out of NER:

  • NFR — Jan. 15: the former Assam Rly. lines in the Pandu region are split off from NER to become the NFR (about 3730km).

In 1966, South-Central Rly. was carved out of SR:

  • SCR — Oct. 2: The former Nizam's State Rly. network (by then the Secunderabad and Solapur divisions of SR) and part of the former Madras & Southern Mahratta Rly. (by then the Vijayawada and Hubli divisions) are split off from SR to become the South-Central Rly. (about 6070km).

Adjustments: Later in 1977, Guntakal division from SR was merged into SCR, and the Solapur division transferred back to CR. There have been other minor adjustments; e.g., in 1988 Ruthiyai-Bina was transferred from WR to CR. Akola-Purna was transferred from CR to SCR in the late 1970s. Malda was moved from NFR and made part of ER in the early 1980s. In 1979, the Shoranur-Cochin section was transferred from the Palghat division (originally Olavakkot — included Cochin - Shoranur and Jolarpettai - Shoranur) to the newly formed Trivandrum division. Minor adjustments including transfers of portions of various routes from one division to another within a zone are quite common.

Major Routes

Major connecting routes

Information on a few route-related topics is provided below.

The golden quadrilateral consists of the routes connecting the four big metropolises (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata) in a quadrilateral along with its diagonals. These are the most important routes in terms of passenger and freight volume. They constitute about 16% of the total network in terms of route length, but carry over 50% of the total freight and 47% of the total passenger traffic.

The golden diagonal consists of routes connecting Mumbai and Chennai via Wadi, Renigunta, and Mumbai and Howrah via Nagpur.

The dedicated freight corridor (DFC) is a proposed set of routes to carry freight exclusively.

Assam Rail Link

The Assam Rail Link was a project started in 1947 and finished in 1949, of re-connecting Assam Railways with the rest of the Indian system wholly through Indian territory following its disconnection because of partition and the formation of (then) East Pakistan. A 229km meter-gauge line was built within 2 years. The link opened to passenger traffic on Jan 26, 1950, Republic Day.

For this link, the Kishanganj branch of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was taken over and converted to MG and connected to the NER network at Barsoi. The Teesta Valley Line was taken over for MG (until Sivok), but the rest of it was devastated by floods and closed. The link spanned the Teesta, Torsha, and Sankosh rivers.

Kashmir Rail Link

The Kashmir Rail Link, also known as the Kashmir Railway or, officially, as the Jammu Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway Link (JUSBRL) is a project (on going as of 2021) to connect the Kashmir Valley with the mainland railway network. The link will run for 356km from Jammu to Baramulla via Srinagar (an extension to Kupwara has been announced in 2018). It is part of the Firozpur division of NR.

Construction started in 1983, but did not progress much until 2002, when it was declared a National Project. Jammu was linked to Udhampur in April 2005. A disconnected section from Qazigund to Baramulla (119km) was finished on Oct. 28, 2009 with the completion of the Anantnag - Qazigund section. Hillar Shahabad, at 1755m (5757'), on the Banihal - Baramulla section is now the highest BG station in India.

Udhampur-Katra was inaugurated on Jul. 4, 2014. The section from Katra to Qazigund remains unfinished with completion dates pushed from 2021 to 2022 to 2025. The Katra-Qazigund section in particular is one of the most challenging projects IR has undertaken, with the need to create a 1.31km long bridge that is 359m above the river Chenab (this would be the tallest railway bridge in the world) and new tunnels in a region that has complex and unstable geology.

Several trains previously running to Jammu have been extended to Katra while the Qazigund - Banihal section has a couple of passenger trains operating.