Network Expansion: Snapshot of tracks and bridges in the railway sector

Snapshot of tracks and bridges in the railway sector

Over the years, Indian Railways (IR) has made significant progress in strengthening its track and bridge network. While the pace of implementation has been sluggish, the plans on paper are vast, especially with respect to laying tracks. With an increased focus on railway safety, the elimination of level crossings has gained momentum. Going forward, the targets are enormous and what is required is the timely implementation of projects.

Roundup: Tracks

From 2013-14 to 2017-18, the track network has expanded at a CAGR of 0.82 per cent, growing from 65,808 route km in 2013-14 to 68,312 route km in 2017-18. Though the track network in terms of route km has been increasing, year-on-year growth reveals an inverted U- shaped trend peaking in 2016-17.

As per the five-year achievement and initiatives report of the Ministry of Railways (MoR), there has been a 59 per cent increase in the average pace of commissioning of new line and line doubling projects from 4.1 km per day in 2009-14 to 6.53 km per day in 2014-18. The target for 2019-20 has been set at 15.34 km per day.

In order to ensure safety of running of trains, track renewal works are planned in advance. For 2018-19, a target of 4,400 km in complete track renewal (CTR) units was set with a budget outlay of Rs 114.5 billion. Till October 31, 2018, 2,361 km of CTR units has already been renewed. In a separate development, the Railway Board approved a project under which IR will make use of its linear land along the tracks for the purpose of installing solar panels. A pilot project is likely to be initiated first.

Roundup: Bridges

The number of bridges on IR’s network has increased from 136,720 in 2013-14 to 147,523 in 2017-18. Lauded as the longest rail-road bridge, the 4.94 km Bogibeel bridge in Assam, completed at an approximate cost of Rs 58.20 billion, was operationalised in December 2018. The upper deck of the bridge is a three-lane roadway and the lower deck is a two-line broad gauge railway. With the completion of the bridge, the travel time for the journey from Itanagar to Dibrugarh has reduced from two days to only five hours. Further, South Western Railway has reached a milestone by eliminating all unmanned level crossing gates along its route. As of mid-March 2019, seven RoBs and 59 RuBs have been constructed.

For the construction of RoBs/RuBs, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) launched Setu Bharatam programme. Under the programme 174 stand-alone RoBs/RuBs are to be developed with the aim of making all national highways free of railway level crossings by 2019. Till date, 93 RoBs/RuBs have been sanctioned under Setu Bharatam.

IR also undertakes repair, strengthening, rehabilitation and rebuilding of bridges as and when warranted by their physical condition. From 2014-15 to 2018-19 (till January 2019), a total of 3,753 bridges have been repaired/ strengthened/rehabilitated/rebuilt by IR.

Bridge upgradation is required for running higher axle load trains and high horsepower locomotives. For this, an assessment methodology for checking the design of existing bridges has been developed. With an increase in axle loads, high-powered locomotives are required for hauling trains. These locomotives have higher tractive effort and braking force, causing greater longitudinal force on bridges. Therefore, IR is considering permitting higher longitudinal forces on substructures of bridges through modification of bearings and provision of shock transmission units or similar suitable technologies.

To enhance the reliability of IR’s bridge assets, new codes for seismic design of bridges are being prepared in line with international codes, a new formula for scour estimation is being finalised, a continuous monitoring system for scour measurement is being developed, and a painting technology with a longer life for steel girders is being deployed.

Future outlook

Track infrastructure and bridge construction are expected to gain momentum in the years to come. The expansive pipeline of new line projects and big-ticket programmes for the development of dedicated freight corridors augur well for these segments. However, the completion of projects pertaining to tracks is conditional upon receiving requisite clearances from various state government departments and ministries. This  could become obstacles in the timely completion of projects. In order to deal with this issue, IR plans to conduct regular meetings with the concerned stakeholders.

With the launch of high speed rail projects, IR has taken up works to study the coefficient of dynamic augment (CDA) of steel bridges for speeds of more than 160 km per hour. However, further work is required to study the CDA for concrete bridges as well.

Due to an ever-increasing thrust on railway safety and elimination of all unmanned level crossings by the MoR, the RoB/RuB segment will certainly see a surge in activity in the coming years. That said, besides the development of new railway bridges, there is a need for constant monitoring and upgradation of bridges across the country.