With the aim of reducing its costs and carbon footprint, Indian Railways (IR) has made 100 per cent electrification of its network a key priority. It plans to electrify around 38,000 route km (rkm) between 2017-18 and 2021-22 to ensure 100 per cent electrification of its broad gauge rail network. The year 2017-18 recorded the commissioning of 4,087 rkm of electric traction, an all-time high. In 2018-19, the segment crossed its earlier record with about 5,200 km of railway route being electrified. The remaining 28,000 km is planned to be electrified over the next three years (7,000 km in 2019-20 and 10,500 km each in 2020-21 and 2021-22). This will entail a total investment of about $7 billion.
In order to achieve 100 per cent electrification as scheduled, IR is also making efforts to enhance private sector participation, improve contract management, convert all surplus diesel engines to electric ones, expand its transmission network and set up new solar and wind power plants. A number of mechanised technologies are being deployed to expedite electrification works. Besides, measures such as ramping up the production of three-phase locomotives with regenerative features and head-on generation trains and deploying new energy efficient rolling stock are also being taken.
Mission electrification – Existing electrified network
IR’s total network spans 67,368 rkm. As per tentative figures, till March 2019, close to 35,000 rkm had been commissioned on electric traction and work on the remaining routes is under way. Three zonal railways – East Coast Railway, South East Central Railway and South Eastern Railway – had achieved more than 85 per cent electrification till March 2019.
In line with IR’s vision of 100 per cent electrification, there will be a requirement of 2,173 electric locomotives between 2019-20 and 2021-22. The actual production for the period 2016-17 to 2018-19 stood at 1,296 electric locomotives. For the first time, IR has converted a diesel locomotive into an electric one at Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and it was flagged off in February 2019.
In January 2017, IR launched Mission 41K with a target of saving Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs by 2025. This initiative was launched in the backdrop of growing electricity consumption and expenditure on traction that peaked in 2014-15 at 15.74 billion kWh and Rs 103.58 billion respectively.
Over the past few years, IR has taken a number of initiatives to reduce its traction as well as non-traction electricity consumption. As a result, as of September 2018, its cumulative savings stood at about Rs 89.02 billion, which is 16 per cent more than the target of Rs 76.53 billion envisaged under the mission.
Energy requirement and supply sources
During 2017-18, IR consumed 18.8 billion units of electricity, resulting in a substantial Rs 117 billion as the expenditure on electricity. Currently, 2,000 MW of power is required for traction purposes. With the complete electrification of the network, this requirement is estimated to reach 3,000 MW. At present, the key sources of power for IR are Ratnagiri Gas Power and Private Limited, Bhartiya Rail Bijlee Company Limited (a joint venture between IR and NTPC Limited) and via open bidding.
According to Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL), solar rooftop plants of 50 MW have already been installed. Contracts for 157 MW of such projects have been awarded and 95 MW is at the tendering stage. A further capacity addition of 248 MW has been planned. As for ground-mounted solar projects, there are three in the pipeline – a 2 MW pilot project along the railway track on the Delhi-Ambala section of Northern Railway with direct connectivity to the traction system, 50 MW from installations on railway land in Chhattisgarh and 400 MW through REWA Ultra Mega Solar Limited. Besides, about 97.4 MW of wind energy projects have been commissioned, of which 47 MW has been commissioned under the engineering, procurement and construction mode and the remaining under the tariff-based bidding model.
Dedicated transmission network
To improve reliability of power supply, there is a need for a dedicated transmission network for IR. REMCL has initiated feasibility studies for two transmission line projects on the Mathura-Bharuch and Mughalsarai-Howrah routes. The key challenges in the implementation of transmission projects include delays in obtaining no-objection certificates from states for open access and Central Electricity Authority approvals for interstate transmission system connectivity of the proposed transmission system, and securing approvals from NITI Aayog for the development of the dedicated transmission system.
The railway sector will continue to witness strong growth over the next few years. Significant investments will be required for line electrification and manufacturing new electric locomotives. Since government funds are limited, IR plans to tap off-budget funding sources through low-cost pension and insurance funds for a 20-30-year period.
Going forward, IR’s electrification plans are expected to create huge opportunities for technology providers, manufacturers of rolling stock, renewable energy developers, and transmission and distribution equipment providers.