Journal of International Technology and Information Management

Document Type



The Indian Railway system is one of the largest socio-technical systems in the world. It has existed for over 160 years, starting from the British Colonial times. It continues to play a critical role in present-day India. It’s continued functioning is dependent not only on the personnel who are employed in the railways, but also the technologies that go into the system. A critical technology in the functioning of the railway system is information and communications technologies (ICTs). ICTs are deployed in almost every facet of the railway system. But these ICTs did not manifest themselves recently. They have been continuously deployed in some form or other since the inception of the railways. The systems and technologies have evolved, and there has been continuous diffusion of these technologies over the entire system. Their evolution has been based on the political economy, societal needs and pressures, and have thus been socially constructed. The technologies developed within one area of the railway system have been diffused and adapted into other areas. In this paper we study and analyze the adoption, adaptation, evolution, and diffusion of ICTs within the Indian Railway system over a period of 160 years. Our study shows that ICT evolution and diffusion in large socio-technical system is continuous and cyclical, and dictated by political exigencies, societal needs, regional politics, as well as resistance and public-relations considerations. The flow of power was often, if not always, bi-directional. These considerations have affected ICT evolution in Indian railways even more than the sophistication of the technologies themselves. Our study also shows how the adoption of ICTs follow cycles of rise and fall, even as they continue to grow in size overall, and offers lessons for other emerging economies on issues related to ICTs in large socio-technical systems.