Enhancing Energy Efficiency: Railway electrification plans and initiatives under way

Railway electrification plans and initiatives under way

With the aim of saving costs and reducing its carbon footprint, Indian Railways (IR) has made 100 per cent electrification a key priority. It has 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. In 2017-18, an all-time high level of electric traction was recorded with the commissioning of 4,087 rkm and, at present, electrification of around 20,000 rkm is in progress. In September 2018, the electrification of the balance 13,675 rkm of broad gauge routes was approved at an estimated cost of Rs 121.34 billion.

In a bid to reduce traction and non-traction bills, IR has taken initiatives such as the Energy Plan, 2015, and Mission 41K. Innovative energy efficient solutions and techniques are being deployed. IR is also implementing a number of measures and devising strategies to optimise its energy generation and utilisation, and minimise its energy bill. These include procuring cheaper power, adopting energy efficiency practices, stepping up its renewable energy capacity and engaging in power trade.

Energy conservation initiatives

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 for 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 measures to reduce its traction as well as non-traction electricity consumption. It has succeeded in achieving a cumulative saving of Rs 75.04 billion till May 2018. This is 15 per cent more than the target of Rs 64.96 billion envisaged under the mission. An annual saving of Rs 11 billion is expected following the adoption of LEDs, renewable energy and open access in non-traction areas.

Among the key measures adopted under Mission 41K is the procurement of electricity at cheaper rates through open market access instead of from state-owned electricity utilities. This partial migration (away from distribution companies) alone is estimated to save about a quarter of the total annual energy costs and, till July 2018, IR had saved Rs 81.35 billion.

As of October 2018, IR is drawing about 1,100 MW through open access, of a total requirement of about 2,000 MW. Open access has been granted in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and also by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) after the no-objection certificate was granted by the states. This has reduced the average cost of power in these states where power is flowing under open access to about Rs 5 from the earlier cost of over Rs 7 per unit. The remaining states are being pursued vigorously to achieve further savings.

Further, IR is setting up a 1,000 MW captive power plant in Nabinagar, Bihar, in joint venture with NTPC Limited. About 500 MW of capacity has already been commissioned and the other two units will be operationalised in a phased manner by end 2019. IR is also expanding its transmission network along the Golden Quadrilateral and Diamond Quadrilateral. Currently, it has its own transmission network of 600 km – Dadri-Kanpur (400 km) and Kanpur-Allahabad (200 km) – and around 2,000 km located on the Allahabad-Mughalsarai, Mughalsarai-Howrah, Mughalsarai-Sonnagar and Delhi-Bharuch routes is under construction. IR further aims to achieve a cumulative transmission network of 20,000 km, of which about 9,150 km will comprise the Golden Quadrilateral route (8,850 km) and the Dedicated Freight Corridor (300 km). The transmission lines along the Golden Quadrilateral route are expected be taken up on a public-private partnership basis. Meanwhile, an additional network of 500 km each has been proposed to be set up by South East Railway and South East Central Railway.

In a bid to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2030, IR is slowly expanding its use of renewable energy in its operations. The national transporter plans to use 1,000 MW of solar power by 2020. At present, 26 MW of wind projects have been installed at Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) and another 10.5 MW of wind projects at Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu). Both projects are supplying power for train operations. Moreover, 50.4 MW of wind projects at Sangli (Maharashtra) are under commissioning, and will also be used for train operations. The national transporter is also utilising unused land for renewable energy project development. So far, 3 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has been set up on its unused lands. Further, a 50 MW solar PV project at Bhilai (Madhya Pradesh) is also under implementation under West Central Railway along with a 2 MW solar PV project at Diwana (Haryana) under Northern Railway.

Recently, Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL) had invited bids to set up 140 MW of wind-solar hybrid projects. These projects will be set up under the nodal zonal railways of Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Northern Railway had also invited developers for setting up of 4.715 MW of rooftop installations. In March 2019, REMCL tendered 60.17 MW of rooftop solar PV capacity to be set up on the rooftops of offices, buildings and railway establishments across all the zonal railways. In January 2019, REMCL had invited bids for setting up of 2 MW of solar projects along the Delhi-Ambala railway track.

IR has also increased the production of electric locomotives. It has not only discontinued diesel locomotive production but will also convert most of the existing diesel locomotives to electric ones. The task of conversion is being carried out by the Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi. However, not all diesel locomotives will be converted, as some of them will be reserved for alternative arrangements and backup purposes.

Key initiatives for reducing traction and non-traction energy consumption

A number of initiatives have been taken on the traction side too. All new electric locomotives and electric multiple unit (EMU)/AC coaches are being produced with three-phase technology and regeneration capability; high efficiency 12,000 HP new-generation locomotives are also being produced; regular training is being provided to loco pilots to resort to maximum coasting and regenerative braking; and idling of electric locomotives in sheds and yards is being kept to a minimum. Loco pilots are advised to switch off blowers in case yard detention is more than 15 minutes and benchmarking of energy consumption is being carried out through microprocessor-based energy meters in all electric locomotives.

Capacitor banks have also been provided for power factor improvements and reduction of feeder current in Linke Hofmann Busch EOGs (also known as luggage brakes and generator cars), AC coaches and power cars. LED lights are being provided in all railway coaches/ EMUs. Power factors of over 0.95 are being maintained in traction substations. In addition, standby transformers are being switched off to save 0.3-0.5 per cent of the total annual traction energy consumption. By October 2019, IR also plans to operate over 5,000 coaches on the head-on generation technology.

IR’s electricity spending on non-traction applications is about Rs 17 billion per annum. This energy feeds the manufacturing workshops, maintenance depots, colonies, station areas and platforms. The consumption of non-traction energy has been largely static, especially from 2008-09 to 2018-19, as a result of IR’s energy conservation efforts. A key focus point has been the progressive deployment of LED-based lighting and energy efficient machines. To further enhance energy efficiency in non-traction applications, several initiatives have been taken including conducting energy audits of large load centres to assess the demand profile and actual end use, implementation of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for better control of the utility grid, creation of a viable gap funding model (under which the improvements are cost-neutral to IR), adoption of smart grid technologies, setting up of modern automation and control systems, and installation of smart meters for greater accountability.

Regenerative braking system

The country’s first electric locomotive with a regenerative system developed by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) was launched in February 2019. The regenerative technology helps avoid the loss of heat energy when brakes are applied and also feeds the energy back into overhead power lines. In contrast, in a dynamic braking system, the energy generated during the application of brakes gets wasted in the form of heat. According to the Ministry of Railways, this regenerative braking system in conventional direct current locomotives has been developed for the first time in the history of traction worldwide. A Make in India initiative, the project will lead to cost savings of Rs 2.5 million per locomotive per year.

This feature has been successfully incorporated in the WAG-9 and WAP-5 class of locomotives generating savings of up to 20 per cent, and on all new EMUs with savings of 30 per cent. It also increases the life of wheels and improves the availability of locomotives for running trains, thereby making electric traction more economical.


Going forward, IR’s electricity requirements will continue to grow as it pursues greater electrification. To support its increasing requirements, IR is upgrading its electrical infrastructure by setting up dedicated transmission lines, implementing SCADA and using better quality transformers. In order to achieve 100 per cent electrification as scheduled, deployment of mechanised technologies is expected to increase in the coming years. IR’s growing energy requirements and future plans present significant opportunities for power producers, renewable energy developers, technology providers, and manufacturers of rolling stock and electrical equipment.

Nikita Chhabra