With the long-term objective of increasing its modal share in freight traffic, Indian Railways (IR) has conceived a plan to develop dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) on the Golden Quadrilateral route. The Golden Quadrilateral will connect the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. According to the latest estimates, this route covers about 16 per cent of IR’s total route length and carries over 52 per cent of its passenger traffic and 58 per cent of freight traffic, leading to heavy congestion and slow train running speeds of about 33 km per hour (kmph) for goods trains and 40-45 kmph for express trains.
Under its flagship DFC programme, IR decided to develop two corridors – the Eastern DFC (from Ludhiana to Dankuni) and the Western DFC (from Dadri to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust [JNPT]) to segregate the rail freight portion from passenger operations. So far, nearly 99 per cent of the requisite land has been acquired. About 800 km of the double-stack line from Khurja to Kanpur on the Eastern DFC and Rewari to Marwar on the Western DFC is planned to be completed by the end of 2018-19. Meanwhile, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) is expected to issue tenders for the implementation of the Sonnagar-Dankuni section on the Eastern DFC by January 2019.
Upon completion, the DFC will play a pivotal role in the transformation of the logistics industry. It will provide industry players with a cost-effective option to transport freight at faster speeds with greater operational efficiency and timely delivery of goods. It will also help in improving the punctuality of passenger trains by network augmentation and increased speeds.
The two corridors cover a distance of approximately 3,360 km with the Eastern and Western DFCs spanning a length of 1,856 km and 1,504 km respectively. Overall the project is estimated to entail an investment of about Rs 800 billion and is being executed through equity from IR and loans from multilateral agencies with a debt-equity ratio of 3:1.
The Eastern DFC is being developed in 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). Of these, the Khurja-Bhaupur and Khurja-Dadri, Bhaupur-Mughalsarai and Ludhiana-Khurja stretches are being funded with the help of a loan from the World Bank while the Sonnagar-Dankuni stretch is planned to be executed on a public-private partnership basis.
The Western DFC comprises three stretches – Rewari-Vadodara (947 km), Vadadora-JNPT (430 km) and Rewari-Dadri (127 km). This corridor is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
New technologies and systems
IR has adopted world-class technology for developing the DFC. As against the conventional features, the DFC will comprise a 2×25 kV traction system and an automatic signalling system at a distance of every 2 km and a station distance of about 40 km. It is being built to have a carrying capacity of 32.5 tonnes of axle load, in comparison to the existing capacity of only 22.5 tonnes. With advanced mobile train radio communication systems and enhanced train protection and warning systems, it will have an average speed of about 100 kmph and a headway of 10-15 minutes, enabling IR to run 120 trains each way with each wagon having a carrying capacity of about 100 tonnes.
Other features include mechanised track laying by NTC machines, the use of canted turnouts to ensure smooth riding and lower rolling contact fatigue, the use of long flash butt welded panels of up to 260 metres for laying tracks, high-rise overhead electrification for double-stack operations and centralised operation and control centres at Allahabad and Ahmedabad for the Eastern DFC and Western DFC respectively.
Opportunities and the way forward
The DFC project offers great opportunities for stakeholders in the construction, equipment and machinery segments. The two corridors require about 350 million cubic metres (cum) of earthwork, 20 million cum of stone ballast for track laying, 7.8 million cum of reinforced concrete and prestressed concrete sleepers and over 11 million cum of concrete sleepers. Besides, a huge requirement of about 7,000 km of rails also exists. This is being procured through Steel Authority of India Limited, Jindal Steel and Power Limited and imports from other countries.
In addition, DFCCIL is also working in collaboration with the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation for the development of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, in liaison with the Western DFC and the Amritsar-Kolkata industrial corridor adjoining the Eastern DFC. Besides, to ensure full utilisation of the corridors, the development of logistics parks and private freight terminals has also been planned, which will generate more freight traffic for IR.
With works progressing at a fast pace, the two corridors are expected to commence operations by 2020-21. Upon completion, DFCCIL will be able to tap 30 per cent of the freight traffic, which is currently handled by IR. Besides, the corporation is also considering a proposal to carry cement on the routes and is assessing the feasibility of developing facilities in Rajasthan for cement throughput.
Besides, IR has planned another two dedicated freight corridors on its network – the East Coast Corridor, spanning a length of 762 km from Kharagpur to Vizianagaram, and the East-West Corridor, from Kharagpur to Mumbai, with Phase I covering a distance of 1,142 km from Kharagpur to Nagpur. Preliminary surveys for the two additional DFCs have already been completed and the two corridors are expected to be proposed in Railway Budget 2019-20.
The introduction of DFCs is expected to change the scenario of freight transportation in the country, leading to a more efficient and cost-effective system, and will help IR in tapping its full capacity and improving operational efficiency for both passenger as well as goods trains.
Going forward, the DFC will emerge as an environment-friendly and energy efficient transportation system. According to current estimates, the system is expected to save about 2.5 times the carbon emissions on the Eastern DFC and about six times the carbon emissions on the Western DFC over a period of 30 years, as compared to freight transported by road. It is also supporting the Make in India initiative of the government. Other benefits include connectivity to JNPT in Maharashtra and the major ports in Gujarat, strengthening of feeder routes, significant employment generation (with about 42,000 jobs created during the construction phase till now), and open access to private operators to run private freight trains.