KNOW THE WAGONS –the bread earners for Indian Railways

The main business of Indian Railways (IR) is the transportation of freight and passengers. It recently joined the Billion tonnes club alongside the Us, Chinese and Russian Railways. We transported 1054 MT* of freight in 2013-14 and also carried about 8500 million passengers to various destinations across the length and breadth of the country.

IR earned about 72% of its revenue (about 83.5K crores) from freight traffic in 2012-13. The profits from the Freight business are used to subsidize the passenger business. During the year 2010-11 there was a loss of 20.50K Crores on the passenger business. In all IR carries about 35-36% of the modal freight share by mostly carrying bulk commodities like coal, steel, cement, fertilizer, POL and food grain. The operations are becoming more efficient with the average speed of the freight train at 25.5 Kmph in 2012-13 and the net load per train at 1732 tonnes.

What are freight wagons?

These are unpowered vehicles used for transporting cargo. These are fitted with standardized couplers, air brake hoses etc enabling different type of wagons to be coupled together in the form of a train. Most of the coal carrying trains have about 59 wagons and a brake van for the guard. The limitation in length is due to the length of the loop lines at stations.

Initially Railways had four wheeler wagons but with changes in technology increasing number of specialized wagons have been developed which have a higher payload to tare ratio. This signifies the weight of commodities carried by the wagon to its own weight. Since 1990 IR has stopped carrying single wagon consignments, these are carried mostly in containers.


Can you spot the different wagons?

Typical markings on the wagon help to identify its owning Zonal Railway as well as its commercial and maintenance details.
Wagons are normally classified in four categories:

Open Wagons:

  • BOX, High-sided Bogie Open wagons with side discharge arrangement for loading of Coal and other bulk traffic. A suffix N after BOX specifies air brakes. BOXNHA implies High-sided Bogie Open wagons with higher axle load.
  • BOY (Low sided Bogie Open wagons to load Iron Ore) and BOBS & BOBX (Bogie Open hopper wagons with bottom discharge arrangement to carry ballast, ores, etc.)
  • BFR / BRH (Bogie flat wagon),
  • BFU (Bogie flat well type wagon)
  • BLCA & BLCB Bogie Low Platform Container wagons.


Covered Wagons:

  • BCN/BCNA (Special type bogie covered wagon with higher CC and air brake
  • BCCN Double Decker Bogie Covered wagon for loading of automobile cars


Tank Wagons:

  • BTPN (Bogie Tank wagons for loading of Petrol, Naphtha & other Petroleum products)
  • TK (Tank wagon for kerosene loading),TG (Tank wagon suitable for bulk transportation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas)

Special Purpose wagons:

  • Milk wagon: The Horizontal Cylindrical insulated Rail Milk tanker of 40,000 litres capacity is suitable for transportation of chilled milk at 4 degree Celsius. The inside barrel is made of stainless steel and allows carrying of dairy milk without any contamination. The outside barrel is insulated thereby making the tanker safe for carrying chilled milk at high speed even attached to passenger trains.
  • Military consignments wagons
  • Aluminium & Cement wagons: These wagons are provided with two chambers at the bottom for discharge of the load by means of air fluidising system.


Most wagons today are manufactured by private firms such as CIMMCO, Texmaco, Besco, Titagarh etc and Public Sector units such as Burn Standard Co., Braithwaite, Jessops, Bharat Wagon and Engineering Company. A small fraction of the wagons come from Indian Railways workshops such as those at Golden Rock, Amritsar and Samastipur.

Why is Rail Transport good for the Country?

If we compare the energy efficiency of the different modes of transport railways is 75-90% more efficient in freight movement and about 5-21% in passenger transportation. Even though freight rates of IR are amongst the highest in the World yet it costs about two rupees less per net tonne Km in freight. Rail transport emits 17 gram and 28 gram CO2 equivalent per Passenger KM and NTKM as compared to 84 gram and 64 gram respectively by road. Railways are far safer than the road. For passenger and freight transport, road accident costs are 45 times and eight times higher than rail.



Since the freight and the passenger trains share the same network the slower moving freight trains have to give way to the faster passenger trains. This is more prevalent on the golden quadrilateral linking Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata which carries about 60% of the freight and passenger traffic. In order to bridge this gap IR has tried out running longer freight trains to reduce the number of trains in the sections, used technology such as distributed power and end of train telemetry and tried to  overpower the trains by using two or three locomotives. Apart from this IR is also running double stack container trains as these require one less train to run saving crucial line capacity, crew and are about 40% more fuel efficient per container KM. Another initiative in this direction is the freight corridor which will help speed up the passenger trains as well by shifting the freight traffic from this congested network.

As good citizens we should try and use more of the public transport preferably rail and should travel only when required. We should remember that the journey we undertake in the passenger train is being subsidized and it is our duty to reduce the overall footprint of our personal travel as well as the burden on the exchequer.


Source: (i) Figures are taken from Indian Railways Annual Report & Accounts 2012-13.

(ii) Images obtained from Google images and irfca

(iii) Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, date 11.04.2014 and report of NTDPC, Planning Commission.



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