One of the most ambitious projects of Indian Railways (IR), the dedicated freight corridor (DFC) project is being developed along the Golden Quadrilateral to link the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and two diagonals of the quadrilateral they form (Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Kolkata). Currently, the Golden Quadrilateral accounts for about 16 per cent of IR’s total route length, carrying over 52 per cent of its passenger traffic and 58 per cent of freight traffic. This has resulted in excessive traffic congestion and increased turnaround time. To address these issues, IR is developing two corridors – the Eastern DFC and the Western DFC. For project implementation, a concession agreement has been signed between the Ministry of Railways (MoR) and the special purpose vehicle – Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) – for a period of 30 years.
Project scope and features
The DFC project is being executed in phases. In Phase I, the eastern corridor (Ludhiana to Dankuni) and the western corridor (Dadri to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust [JNPT]) will be constructed. The western corridor involves a total length of 1,504 km covering three stretches – Rewari-Vadodara (947 km), Vadodara-JNPT (430 km) and Rewari-Dadri (127 km). The eastern corridor involves a total length of 1,856 km and covers six stretches – Khurja-Bhaupur (343 km), Bhaupur-Mughalsarai (402 km), Khurja-Ludhiana (400 km), Khurja-Dadri (47 km), Mughalsarai-Sonnagar (126 km) and Sonnagar-Dankuni (538 km). The Sonnagar-Dankuni (538 km) stretch of the eastern DFC is been planned to be executed on a public-private partnership basis.
IR has introduced a number of modifications in the key features of the DFC as against the conventional design. For instance, the average speed of freight trains on the DFCs has been increased from 26 km per hour (kmph) to 70 kmph. Further, modern technologies such as mechanised track laying have been deployed to achieve higher productivity and obtain superior quality. Double-stack containers have been designed for the western corridor to provide a quantum jump in transportation capacity. To enhance the throughput per train, a longer container length of 1,500 metres and broader width of 3.66 metres has been introduced. The train load has also increased from 5,000 tonnes to 13,000 tonnes.
In the past few years, the DFC project has made significant headway. A cumulative expenditure of Rs 316.65 billion has been incurred on the project till 2016-17. So far, 94 per cent of the total tenders involving a total investment of
Rs 49.04 billion have been awarded. Moreover, all the contracts of the Western DFC have been finalised. Of the total 10,587 hectares of land required for the project, 97 per cent has been acquired. At present, the 56 km Durgawati-Sasaram section has been completed and 756 km of mechanised tracks have been laid.
Role of DFC
Once implemented, the DFC will play a pivotal role in increasing IR’s freight revenue. It will assist in augmenting the modal share of IR in freight transport from 30 per cent to about 45 per cent. Another significant contribution will be in improving asset productivity by reducing the cost of freight. Further, the project will play a key role in the implementation and success of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Amritsar-Kolkata Industrial Corridor. These corridors will also provide connectivity to industrial hubs and ports in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
For the shipping industry, the DFC project will act as a catalyst by assisting in faster transit of goods. Further, the development of logistics parks will facilitate seamless movement of goods by providing last-mile connectivity.
In addition, the DFC will be an eco-friendly energy-efficient transportation system. It is expected to prevent 457 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over a period of 30 years. These corridors will also help save precious imported fossil fuel.
Key issues and challenges
Even though the construction of the DFCs is in progress, there are numerous challenges that need to be addressed. Chief among these are the difficulty in eliminating level crossing gates by diverting traffic, delays in obtaining clearance and right of way, and changes in legal provisions. A lack of resources for meeting working capital requirements is another major challenge being faced by IR.
Meanwhile, other key issues which arise during the operations phase include the lack of freight terminals, inadequate logistics connectivity, and difficulty in scheduling of trains. Further, reviewing and reworking pricing strategies is an arduous task affecting the successful implementation of the project.
Based on a presentation by H.D. Gujrati, director, operations and business development, DFCCIL, at a recent India Infrastructure conference