Transport - UPSC Notes

Transport – Land, Water, Air, Railways, Ports – UPSC Notes – Indian Geography

The Transport system in India encompasses Rail transport, Road transport, Air transport, Water transport, and Portal connectivity. India boasts one of the largest road networks globally, the largest railway system in Asia, and the second-largest worldwide.

The use of transport and communication hinges on the need to move things from their place of availability to their place of use. Human-beings employ various methods to move goods, commodities, and ideas from one location to another.

The diagram below illustrates the major means of transportation.

Modes of transportation

  • India is a huge country with long distances between cities.
  • A dense and efficient transportation network is critical for promoting social cohesion, accelerating economic success, and ensuring security and territorial integrity.
  • There are three means of transportation: land, water, and air.
  • Each has its own perks and downsides and they compete with each other, but also complement one another, forming one integrated network.
  • Air travel is relatively new, while land and water transportation are as ancient as the nomadic man.
  • Land transportation includes road and rail transportation, with rail being the more recent.
  • Rail transportation is handy for transporting large things over great distances at a low cost. It’s convenient and cost-effective for long-distance travelers.
  • Road transportation is useful and convenient for transporting products and passengers over short distances. It allows for door-to-door delivery in a safe and cost-effective manner.
  • Water travel for people is less appealing but remains appropriate for transporting large and bulky products through navigable rivers and seas. Despite being slow, it’s the most affordable mode of transportation.
  • Air travel is popular for quick and short-notice travel. Despite high fares, it’s cost-effective due to time and energy savings.

Land Transportation

  • Since ancient times, India has utilized trails and unmetalled highways for movement.
  • Metalled roads and railroads were constructed as economic and technical development progressed to convey enormous volumes of goods and people.
  • Pipelines, ropeways, and cableways are among the recent advancements in inland transportation. Pipelines transport liquids like mineral oil, water, sludge, and sewerage.
  • Railways, ocean vessels, barges, boats, motor vehicles, and pipelines constitute the major modes of freight transportation.

Road Transport

  • India has a road network spanning over 56 lakh kilometers, making it one of the world’s second-largest.
  • Post-independence, a twenty-year road plan (1961) was executed to improve road conditions in India.
  • However, roads still primarily focus on metropolitan areas, leaving rural and distant locations with limited connectivity.
  • Roads are categorized as National Highways (NH), State Highways (SH), Major District Roads (MD), and Rural Roads (RR) for construction and maintenance purposes.

National Highways (NH)

  • National Highways (NH) are key roadways constructed and maintained by the Central Government.
  • They serve inter-state transportation and facilitate the movement of defense personnel and equipment in strategic areas.
  • NHs also connect state capitals, major cities, important ports, railway junctions, etc.
  • In 1995, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was established as a self-governing organization under the Ministry of Surface Transportation.
  • NHAI is responsible for building, maintaining, and operating National Highways, as well as enhancing their standards.
  • The Golden Quadrilateral project aims to construct a 5,846-kilometer-long corridor connecting India’s four major metropolises: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, with 4/6-lane, high-density traffic routes.

State Highways (SH)

  • State governments are responsible for creating and maintaining State Highways.
  • They connect state capitals, district headquarters, and other major cities.
  • Linked to the National Highway System.
  • Account for 4% of the total road length in the country.

Major District Roads (MD)

  • These roads connect District Headquarters with other important nodes in the district.
  • Account for 14% of the total road length in the country.

Rural Roads (RR)

  • Critical for connecting rural communities, constituting approximately 80% of India’s total road length.
  • Density varies by region, influenced by terrain characteristics.

Border Roads

  • The Border Road Organisation (BRO), established in May 1960, aims to advance economic growth and defense preparedness.
  • A diversified construction firm, responsible for road building, maintenance, and snow clearance in high-altitude areas.
  • Promotes harmonious relationships with neighboring countries by providing effective links with India.

Rail Transport

  • The Indian Railway was established in 1853 with a 34-kilometer line from Bombay to Thane.
  • The country’s largest government enterprise.
  • As of March 31, 2015, the network length was 66,030 kilometers.
  • Split into 16 zones due to its massive scale.
  • Underwent a massive conversion scheme from meter and narrow gauge to broad gauge.
  • Diesel and electric engines have largely replaced steam engines, boosting both speed and hauling capacity.
  • The replacement of coal-powered steam engines has benefited the environment at stations.

Metro Rail

  • Transformed metropolitan transportation systems in Kolkata and Delhi.

Air Pollution Reduction

  • Replacing diesel buses with CNG-powered vehicles and the introduction of metro systems are steps toward reducing air pollution in metropolitan areas.

Water Transport

  • In India, waterways play a crucial role in transportation for both passenger and commercial traffic.
  • It stands out as the least expensive mode of transportation, ideal for conveying large and bulky items.
  • Water transport is notably fuel-efficient and environmentally beneficial. It is categorized into two types: inland waterways and oceanic waterways.

Inland waterways

  • Prior to the development of railways, inland waterways served as the primary form of transportation, facing competition from road and rail.
  • Challenges such as river water diversion for agriculture often rendered them impassable in major sections.
  • India boasts 14,500 km of navigable rivers, comprising about 1% of the country’s transportation network, including rivers, canals, backwaters, and streams.

Oceanic waterways

  • India’s 7,517-kilometer-long coastline, including islands, supports oceanic waterways.
  • Twelve major and 185 smaller ports provide infrastructure support.
  • Oceanic routes are vital for India’s economy, facilitating transportation industry.
  • Around 95% of India’s overseas commerce by volume and 70% by value is conducted via maritime channels.
  • These routes are crucial for transit between islands and the mainland, as well as for international trade.

Major Sea Ports

India boasts a long coastline spanning approximately 7,516.6 km and is home to 12 major and around 200 non-major ports. Major ports handle about 95 percent of the country’s foreign trade.

  • Kandla in Kuchchh, also known as Deendayal Port, was the first port to be established post-independence.
  • Mumbai is the largest port with a spacious and secure harbor.
  • Marmagao port in Goa is the principal iron ore commerce port, exporting half of India’s iron ore.
  • Mangalore port in Mysore specializes in iron minerals merchandise.
  • Kochi is a southwestern port located at the entrance of a lagoon with a natural harbor.
  • Tuticorin port in the southeast is one of India’s oldest established artificial ports.
  • Chennai is another artificial port ranking next to Mumbai in trade volume.
  • Vishakhapatnam is a deep inland and well-protected port.
  • Paradip port in Odisha focuses on iron ore exports.
  • Kolkata serves as an inland riverine port, catering to the vast hinterland of the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin. Constant dredging of the Hoogly river is required due to its tidal nature.
  • Haldia port was developed as a subsidiary port to ease pressure on Kolkata port.

Air Transportation

  • Air travel is the quickest mode of transportation, reducing travel time and cutting distances significantly.
  • In a vast country like India, where distances are substantial and topography and climatic conditions vary greatly, air travel is critical.
  • Air India oversees air travel operations in India, while numerous private firms now offer passenger transportation services.
  • Air India provides international air services for both passengers and cargo, linking all continents worldwide.
  • Some private enterprises have also initiated operations in other nations.
  • In 2010, domestic air travel involved 520.21 lakh passengers and approximately 23 lakh metric tonnes of cargo movement.


Pipelines are a recent addition to India’s transport network. They are utilized for transporting unrefined crude oil, oil-based commodities, and flammable gas from oil and gas fields to processing plants, fertilizer factories, and large nuclear power stations. Additionally, solids can be transported via pipelines once converted into a suspension, and water can be moved between various cities.

The interior locations of refineries such as Barauni, Mathura, and Panipat, along with other gas-based fertilizer plants, rely heavily on pipelines. While the cost of laying pipelines is high, their operating costs are minimal, with no provision for trans-shipment losses or delays.

There are three key pipelines in the country:

  1. A gas pipeline from Hazira in Gujarat to Jagdishpur in Uttar Pradesh, passing through Vijaipur in Madhya Pradesh. It branches to Kota in Rajasthan, Shahajahanpur, Bab-rala, and other locations in the state, covering a distance of 1,700 km.
  2. A pipeline from Salaya in Gujarat to Jalandhar in Punjab, via Viramgam, Mathura, Delhi, and Sonipat. Its branches connect Koyali (near Vadodara, Gujarat) and Chakshu among other locations.
  3. Another pipeline runs from oil fields in Upper Assam to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, passing through Guwahati, Barauni, and Allahabad. Branches extend from Barauni to Haldia via Raj-bandh, Raj-bandh to Mauri-gram, and Guwahati to Siliguri.

Overall, India’s gas pipeline infrastructure has expanded from 1,700 km to 18,500 km.


The importance and significance of Transport in India are as follows:

  • Economic Growth: An efficient form of communication facilitates the movement of goods, services, and people.
  • Accessibility and Connectivity: A well-developed transportation system aids in connecting remote areas.
  • Employment Generation: The transport sector plays a pivotal role in creating both direct and indirect employment opportunities.
  • Trade and Commerce: Transport infrastructure ensures the smooth functioning of goods and trade.

FAQs on Transport

What is the primary mode of transportation in India?

The main mode of transportation in India is roadways.

Why is transportation important in a country like India?

Transportation plays a crucial role in enhancing connectivity between different states. In a vast country like India, it enables people to access opportunities in jobs and education by facilitating movement from one place to another.

How many types of transportation are there in India?

The transportation system in India comprises rail transport, road transport, air transport, water transport, and portal connectivity.

What is India’s rank in terms of transportation?

India ranks 2nd globally with a transportation network spanning 6.70 million kilometers.

Which state in India has the best transportation infrastructure?

Kerala and Tamil Nadu are recognized for having the most efficient transportation infrastructure among Indian states.

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