The Local Train Service Serving Millions of Passengers Daily: Kolkata Suburban Railway

Exploring the History, Lines, Network, and Expansion of the Kolkata Suburban Railway

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The Kolkata Suburban train is a branch of the British-built second commuter train in India. The East Indian Railway (EIR) ran the first train between Howrah and Hooghly stations on August 15, 1854. On the same day, regular services on the 38.6 km route began, with stops at Bally, Serampore, and Chandannagore. The Tarkessur Railway Company inaugurated the broad gauge Sheoraphuli-Tarakeswar branch line on January 1, 1885.

All railway companies, zones, and divisions were integrated and recategorized in 1951. As a result, the Eastern Railway (ER) and South Eastern Railway (SER) zones were established. The Kolkata Suburban Railway is presently operated by these Indian Railways zones.

Eastern Railway Zone

On 14 April 1952, the East Indian Railway Company and the entire Bengal – Nagpur Railway (later formed the SER) merged to create the Eastern Railway zone. It is divided into four divisions, with Howrah and Sealdah divisions operating the system. Prior to the reclassification, the Sealdah division was part of the Eastern Bengal Railway. The ER zone’s Howrah division is the oldest.

EMU services were inaugurated on the Howrah – Bandel section of the Howrah division on February 1, 1957. In 1963, services were steadily extended to Barddhaman, and on the Sealdah Division of the Eastern Railway were introduced on the Sealdah – Ranaghat route. The Howrah-Barddhaman main and chord lines were changed from a 3000 V DC power supply to a 25 kV 50 Hz AC power supply in 1968. In 1957-58, the Howrah-Sheoraphuli-Tarakeswar route was electrified.

South Eastern Railway Zone

In 1887, the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) Company was established to take over the Nagpur Chhattisgarh Railway (NCR) and convert the route to broad gauge. The project was completed in 1888. By 1891, the main line extension from Nagpur to Asansol was completed. It later became the Eastern Railway zone. The former Bengal Nagpur Railway portion was split on August 1, 1955, and a new zone, the South Eastern Railway (SER), was established. The SER is divided into four divisions, with Kharagpur being the only one that operates the suburban train.

EMU service began in the SER zone on 1 May 1968 between Howrah and Mecheda in the Kharagpur division, and it was expanded to Kharagpur on 1 February 1969. By 2003, the services had been gradually expanded to eight other lines. By 1968, the system within this zone was totally electrified.

Lines & Network

In terms of size, Kolkata is the smallest of India’s six A-1 cities. However, in terms of track length and station count, the Kolkata Suburban Railway is India’s largest suburban railway network. The total track length is 1,501 km, with 458 stations. The system is run by two zonal divisions (under Indian Railways), Eastern Railways (ER) and South Eastern Railways (SER).

The fast commuter rail corridors on the Eastern and South Eastern Railways are shared with long-distance and freight trains, whereas inner suburban services run on separate parallel tracks. The South Eastern Line is operated by SER, while the Eastern Line, Circular Line, Chord Link Line, and Sealdah South routes are operated by ER.

  • Eastern Line: There are five corridors in the Howrah division of the Eastern line, which also bifurcates and extends into the northwestern suburbs. The first two corridors are the 107-kilometer-long Howrah-Bardhaman main route and the 94-kilometer-long chord line. 

On these two corridors, the Howrah-Tarakeswar branch line splits at Seoraphuli Junction and runs 39 kilometres to Tarakeswar, passing over the chord line at Kamarkundu. This route has now been extended from Tarakeswar to Goghat as the Tarakeswar – Bishnupur branch, as part of the Tarakeswar – Bishnupur rail project. The Bandel-Katwa line splits at Bandel Jn after 105 kilometres; the Bardhaman-Katwa branch line splits at Bardhaman Jn after 53 kilometres.

On the other side of the river, the Eastern line’s Sealdah division has seven corridors that split into branch lines to serve the northeastern suburbs. The 116-kilometer-long Sealdah-Gede line, designated a mainline, ends in Gede, a small town on the India-Bangladesh border. The first branch line on this route splits at Dum Dum Junction and runs for 70 kilometres to Bangaon Junction. The second branch line splits at Ranaghat Junction and runs for 33 kilometres to Bangaon Junction. The third branch line splits at Ranaghat Junction and terminates at Krishnanagar City Junction after passing through Kalinarayanpur Junction and Shantipur for a total length of 35 kilometres or by bypassing Shantipur and going only through Kalinarayanpur for a total length of 26 kilometres. There is also a 127-kilometer expansion of the third branch line, which runs from Krishnanagar City Junction to Lalgola. 

The fourth branch line splits at Kalyani Junction and runs for 5 kilometres to Kalyani Simanta. The fifth branch line splits at Barasat Junction and runs for 53 kilometres to Hasnabad. The Eastern line also contains an 8-kilometer connection from Bandel Junction to Naihati Junction, which serves as a vital link between the Howrah and Sealdah divisions.

  • South Eastern Line: The South Eastern line in Kolkata is made up of three main corridors that split into two branches as they approach the suburban satellite towns. Two lines, one local and one through, follow the South Eastern Railway for 128 kilometres from Howrah Junction to Midnapore. The mainline divides into two branch lines: the Panskura-Haldia line at Panskura Junction, 69 kilometres to the south-east, and the Santragachi-Amta line 45 kilometres to the north. The ‘main’ South Eastern route is comprised of these corridors. The South Eastern line also has two branch lines, 5 km and 94 km long, linking Santragachi to Shalimar and Tamluk to Digha, respectively.

At Howrah Junction, the South Eastern Line connects with the Eastern Line. The rolling stock comprises of both AC and dual-powered AC/DC EMUs. Tikiapara and Panskura have large car sheds on this line. On September 6, 2009, then-Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee declared the introduction of Ladies Special local trains, christened Matribhumi (meaning “motherland”), in the Kolkata suburban section. The first local Matribhumi Special local operated from Howrah to Kharagpur.

  • Sealdah South Lines: The Sealdah South line as an important link connects Kolkata to the Sundarbans in West Bengal. It is also a component of the Eastern Railway. This route has four corridors and splits into branch lines that connect Kolkata’s southern suburbs. The main line runs for 110 kilometres from Sealdah to Namkhana railway station. The main line is double-tracked until Lakshmikantapur railway station, and then it is single-tracked to Namkhana.

The first branch line of this corridor begins at Ballygunge Junction and runs for 19 kilometres to Budge Budge station. A 29-kilometer-long second branch line begins at Sonarpur Junction and ends at Canning. The third branch route, which is 35 kilometres long, begins at Baruipur Junction railway station and ends at Diamond Harbour railway station. Sonarpur is the only depot for this route. This route has three interchange stations: Majerhat and Park Circus with the Circular Railway, and Sealdah with the Eastern line.

  • Chord Link Line: Sealdah is linked to Dankuni Junction on the Howrah-Barddhaman Chord by the Chord link route. This line connects the Sealdah Division’s mainline to the Howrah-Bardhaman chord, which is mainly used by freight and passenger trains travelling to North India (The Howrah–Bardhaman chord is part of the Howrah–Delhi mainline and the Grand Chord). The Vivekananda Setu road-rail bridge spans the Hooghly River, allowing the Chord link to traverse it. The Dakshineswar Kali Temple, where Ramakrishna Paramhansa worked as a priest, is a popular tourist attraction along this corridor. It also features the Vivekananda Setu, also known as the Bally Bridge, a road-rail bridge. There are three interchange stations. Interchange is available at Dum Dum Junction for the Eastern line (Sealdah-Gede mainline), Dankuni Junction for the Eastern line (Howrah-Barddhaman Chord), and Bally Halt (above Bally station) for the Eastern Line. (Howrah–Barddhaman mainline). The extension of Kolkata Metro route 1 travels parallel to this route and will have interchange facilities at Dum Dum, Baranagar, and Dakshineswhar stations.
  • Circular Railway: The Kolkata Circular Railway corridor encircles the city’s inner-city areas. This 42-kilometre-long route, with 20 stations, is managed by Eastern Railway’s Sealdah Division. The route is double-tracked from Dum Dum Junction to Tala, but single-tracked from Tala to Majerhat. Running alongside the Hooghly River from Tala to Majerhat, it joins and travels parallel to the Sealdah South tracks after Majerhat and elevates at Park Circus to bypass Sealdah (which is a terminal station). After bypassing Sealdah, it rejoins the mainline at Bidhannagar Road before ending at Dum Dum Jn. The route is also referred to as the Chakra Rail. The circular line is a popular tourist attraction. It gives access to a scenic view for daily commuters and visitors as it passes under Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar Setu, and parallel to the Hooghly River, connecting numerous tourist places and ghats.


Network Extension

A 16-kilometre-long railway under the jurisdiction of the South Eastern Railway is being built between Amta and Bagnan, which was sanctioned in 2010-11. Another new route is being built between Dakshinbari and Tarakeswar, with the ER and SER working together.

On the Eastern Railways’ southern side, there is a 42-kilometer extension of the railway between Canning and Jharkhali. The second 5 km extension is between Kakdwip railway station and Budhakhali. It stretches all the way to Sagar Island in the Hooghly River estuary. The island can only be reached by boat; expanding this line will benefit the island’s residents by providing greater connectivity. The third expansion, between Namkhana and Bakkhali, is 31 kilometres long, and the fourth, between Kulpi train station and Bahrarat, is 38 kilometres long.


Rolling Stock & Signalling

The Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Perambur, constructed the Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) for the Kolkata suburban services; the first EMU rolled out in September 1962.

Eastern Railways’ Howrah division operates 12-coach EMUs manufactured by Jessop, ICF, and Titagarh Wagons. BEML EMUs have been bought and are now in service. A few BEML stainless steel EMUs are also in use. A 12-coach Siemens EMU fleet is also in operation. MEMU Rakes from the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala (RCF) and ICF Diesel Multiple Units (DEMUs) are in operation. There are 61 12-car rakes in the Howrah section. Sealdah’s rolling equipment includes nine and 12-coach EMUs manufactured by Jessop, ICF, and Titagarh Wagons. There is also a small fleet of Siemens 12-coach EMUs in operation. BEML EMUs have been purchased and are in service, as well as a limited number of unique BEML stainless steel EMUs. DEMU trains manufactured by ICF and MEMU trains manufactured by Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala (RCF), are in operation. Sealdah division has 49 and 66 9-car and 12-car EMU rakes, respectively. There are also two Mainline Electric Multiple Unit (MEMU) rakes.

kolkata suburban railway

South Eastern Railways operates 12-coach EMUs manufactured by Jessop, Siemens, Titagarh Wagons, and ICF. BEML EMUs have been bought and are now in operation. A few one-of-a-kind BEML stainless steel EMUs are also in use. The ICF Medha 3-phase rakes were used for the first time in West Bengal by SER. ICF DEMU rakes and RCF MEMU rakes are in operation. Medha ICF Rakes were introduced by SER on the Howrah-Kharagpur line in February 2018, and Eastern Railway began using them on the Howrah-Bandel route on April 15, 2018. The SER operates 30 12-car EMU rakes.

The Kolkata Suburban Railway is quickly replacing its old Jessop and ICF EMUs with the latest Medha 3-phase EMU rakes manufactured by ICF in collaboration with Bombardier Transportation. Almost all of the Kolkata Suburban Railway’s EMU Units have been fitted with a GPS-based passenger tracking system. Some EMUs that were previously in service with the Mumbai Suburban Railway’s Western Line were subsequently shifted to Kolkata for service.

The most common signalling method is electronic interlocking, which has largely replaced the old lever frames/panel interlocking system. Automatic signalling is being used to improve sectional capacity and efficiency. This is regulated by AC/DC track circuits, axle counters, and others. The axle counter system detects the existence of a train in an absolute block section, a station’s point zone area, and level crossings.

The backbone of a telecommunications network is an optical fibre communication infrastructure. The telecommunications facility is an omnibus circuit that connects Sealdah and Howrah stations to the central control centre. Mobile Train Radio transmission (MTRC) is used for ground-based mobile transmission.


The Kolkata Suburban Railway (also known as Kolkata local trains or simply locals) is a suburban rail system that serves the Kolkata metropolitan region and its surrounding areas. It is the country’s biggest suburban railway network, with the highest number of stations. It is also the world’s seventh-biggest suburban rail system. There are five main routes and nineteen branch lines. It has over 1,500 services and carries 3.5 million people every day with nearly 1.2 billion people annually. It operates from 03:00 a.m. to 02:00 a.m., with prices ranging from Rs.5 to Rs.25. The system operates on 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) broad gauge track and is powered by a 25 kV 50 Hz AC power supply. It has interchange stations with the Kolkata Metro at different places.

The Kolkata Suburban Railway is part of the second commuter railway built in British India in the mid-nineteenth century. The first train operated between Howrah and Hooghly stations. Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) services commenced a century after the initial run. With 458 stations and a track length of 1,501 km, it is India’s biggest suburban railway network in terms of track length and number of stations.

The suburban system is run by two Indian Railways zones: the Eastern Railway zone and the South Eastern Railway zone. These zones are further subdivided into the Eastern Railway’s Howrah and Sealdah divisions and the South Eastern Railway’s Kharagpur division. The three major terminals servicing the city’s network are Howrah, Sealdah and Kolkata. Santragachi and Shalimar are also the termini stations for mail/express trains as well as passenger/fast passenger trains.



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