Of chargeable & actual distances; chainages on Indian Railways [Part I]

[This is Part 1 in a series on Chainages – a system of uniquely identifying every location on a railway route]

Vishal Kamat (name changed) is from Madgaon in Goa. He used to always wonder why Indian Railways charged him for 764 kilometres from Mumbai CSMT to Madgaon. This despite the kilometre marker at Madgaon station showing 442 km.

Snippet of Indian Railways’ Trains At A Glance timetable showing chargeable distance on Konkan Railway

He decided to find out the reason and spoke to a friend who was interested in reading railway time tables. He told Vishal that the Indian Railways inflated the actual distance by 40 per cent, and then charged passengers accordingly.

Doing a back of the envelope calculation, his friend explained that the distance was calculated thus: 144 km between CSMT and Roha + 140 % of distance he travelled on the Konkan Railway (442 km between Roha and Madgaon). This works out to 144 + 618.8 = 762.8, and is rounded off to 763 km.

Explaining further, Vishal’s friend told him that distances were inflated to recover the significantly higher construction, operation and maintenance costs of lines built on totally inhospitable terrain.

According to Konkan Railway Corporation’s website, chargeable distance for passengers between Roha and Madgaon is 619.44 km and for freight is 663.69 km. This corroborated his friend’s explanation.

Screenshot from KRCL website confirming inflation in distance and difference from actual chainage.

One other example Vishal’s friend gave was the 100 per cent inflation of the Subrahmanya – Sakleshpur ghat section. The actual distance in this case is 55 km. The chargeable distance is 110 km for both passengers and freight.

Why is Madgaon at 442 km?

The next question that immediately came to Vishal’s mind was; Why did the km marker at Madgaon show 442? To this, the friend observed that it was KRCL chainage, i.e. Madgaon is situated at 442 km from Roha, a station where Central Railway (CR) territory ends and Konkan Railway begins.

Konkan Railway Route Map

Hence, the 738 km rail route between Roha near Mumbai, and Thokur near Mangalore, better known as the Konkan Railway, actually charges passengers the equivalent of standard fares for 1033.82 km, and for freight: 1107.66 km.

The Zero KM marker for Konkan Railway is just outside Roha station, which in turn is about 140 km from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) Mumbai, the Zero KM for CR.


The distance of any point with reference to an originating location or zero point, but along the actual path taken, is known as Chainage.

The term is primarily used by the engineering department in Railways when surveying land and laid tracks. Chainage value is used to identify the exact location of various features in any topography, such as gradients, curves, rivers, streams etc. It also used to provide general description of the soil type in any region.

The survey report is used to fix the position of all bridges, level crossings, points where roads or waterways are to be diverted, layout of track, turnouts, crossovers, inter – track distances, curvature of tracks, elevation, detail of embankments, cuttings, signal positions, junction boxes, cabins, cable huts, station buildings, goods sheds etc.

Such detailing is used to prepare the working time table used by railway employees to ensure smooth working of trains on each section of the railways. Working Time Tables are used by the drivers, guards or station masters or their officers as a common reference for operations of trains.

Chainage is described by painting on telephone poles or using kilometre markers in non-electrified lines while electrical masts displayed the chainage in electrified lines.

Chainage markings on the white posts every 100 metres, Pole number markings can be seen on the OHE masts

Zero points

Cut to zero points of chainage. Railways in India were introduced from Mumbai (then known as Bombay), Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) and Chennai (then known as Madras) by railway companies incorporated in Britain in the 19th century.

Chainage for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR) started from Bombay VT (now CSMT), the zero point for CR. For Western Railway (WR), the chainage starts at Churchgate.

Interestingly, passenger timetables show the distance between Mumbai and Vadodara as 392 km, though the distance marker at Vadodara is 396. The difference of 4 km is due to the fact that long distance trains in WR originate from Mumbai Central, 4 km away from WR’s zero-point Churchgate. Only suburban trains operate from the latter.

Similarly, chainage at Eastern Railway (ER) starts at Howrah, the zone’s zero point. For Southern Railway (SR), it is Royapuram for the erstwhile MSMR (Madras Southern Maharatta Railway) line from Chennai Central towards Arakkonam and beyond. However, it is Chennai Beach for the former SIR (Chennai Beach towards Chengalpattu and beyond) line.

Finally, the honour of having the highest value in any chain on IR goes to Saharanpur Jn of Northern Railway (NR). Chainage at the station is 1591 km from Howrah via the main line passing through Bandel, Bardhaman, Jhajha, Patna, Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Jn, Varanasi, Rae Bareilly, Lucknow and Moradabad.

[With inputs from Sridhar Joshi and S. Aravind]

[Part II in this series to follow soon.]

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About the Author: Raghavendra Rao


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