Different Modes of Transport

Our environment consists of land, air, and water. These media have provided scope for three modes of transport-land transport, air transport and water transport. Rail transport and road transport are the two components of land transport. Each mode of transport, depending upon its various characteristics, has intrinsic strengths and weaknesses and can be best used for a particular type of traffic as given below.

Rail transport Owing to the heavy expenditure on the basic infrastructure required, rail transport is best suited for carrying bulk commodities and a large number of passengers over long distances.

Road transport Owing to flexibility of operation and the ability to provide door-to-door service, road transport is ideally suited for carrying light commodities and a small number of passengers over short distances.

Air transport Owing to the heavy expenditure on the sophisticated equipment required and the high fuel costs, air transport is better suited for carrying passengers or goods that have to reach their destinations in a very short period of time.

Water transport Owing to low cost of infrastructure and relatively slow speeds, water transport is best suited for carrying heavy and bulky goods over long distances, provided there is no consideration of the time factor.

Railway as a Mode of Land Transport

There are two modes of land transport, railways and roads, and each has its relative advantages and disadvantages. These have been summarized in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2 Rail transport versus road transport


Rail transport

Road transport

Tractive resistance

The movement of steel wheels on steel rails has the basic advantage of low rolling resistance. This reduces haulage costs because of low tractive resistance.

The tractive resistance of a pneumatic tyre on metalled roads is almost five times compared to that of wheels on rails.

Right of way

A railway track is defined on two rails and is within protected limits. Trains work as per a prescribed schedule and no other vehicle has the right of way except at specified level crossings.

Roads, though having well-defined limits, can be used by any vehicular traffic and even by pedestrians they are open to all.

Cost analysis

Owing to the heavy infrastructure, the initial as well as maintenance cost of a railway line is high

The cost of construction and maintenance of roads is comparatively cheaper.

Gradients and

The gradients of railways tracks

Roads are constructed normally


are flatter (normally not more than 1 in 100) and curves are limited up to only 10° on broad gauge.

with steeper gradients of up to 1 in 30 and relatively much sharper curves.

Flexibility of

Due to the defined routes and

Road transports have much


facilities required for the reception and dispatch of trains, railways can be used only between fixed points.

more flexibility in movement and can provide door-to-door services.


Railways have minimum

Road transport creates


adverse effects on the environment.

comparatively greater pollution than the railways.

Organization and

Railways are government

Barring member state


undertakings, with their own organization.

government transport, road transport is managed by the private sector.


Railways are best suited for carrying heavy goods and large numbers of passengers over long distances.

Road transport is best suited for carrying lighter goods and smaller numbers of passengers over shorter distances.

Role of Indian Railways

Since its inception, Indian Railways has successfully played the role of the prime carrier of goods and passengers in the Indian subcontinent. As the principal constituent of the nation's transport infrastructure, the Railways has an important role to play.

(a) It helps integrate fragmented markets and thereby stimulate the emergence of a modern market economy.

(b) It connects industrial production centres with markets as well as sources of raw material and thereby facilitates industrial development.

(c) It links agricultural production centres with distant markets as well as sources of essential inputs, thereby promoting rapid agricultural growth.

(d) It provides rapid, reliable, and cost-effective bulk transportation to the energy sector; for example, to move coal from the coalfield to power plants and petroleum products from refineries to consumption centres.

(e) It links people with places, enabling large-scale, rapid, and low-cost movement of people across the length and breadth of the country.

(f) In the process, Indian Railways has become a symbol of national integration and a strategic instrument for enhancing our defence preparedness.

Developments in Indian Railways | RAILWAY ENGINEERING - Contents | Organization of Indian Railways