Keeping Pace: Focus on network expansion and modernising systems

Focus on network expansion and modernising systems

In India, rail infrastructure forms the backbone of the country’s transportation system. Contributing to about 3 per cent of the total GDP, Indian Railways (IR) has been consistently working towards capacity expansion, efficiency enhancement, technological advancement, user-friendliness and environmental consciousness.

IR’s efforts towards modernisation and upscaling rail infrastructure were highlighted at the 13th International Railway Equipment Exhibition (IREE), held on October 22-24, 2019. With a wide array of domestic and foreign participants and exhibitors, emerging trends and equipment requirements in the sector were discussed. Future growth prospects were also highlighted. The main takeaways from the event…

Capacity building

Currently, India’s railway transportation needs are far from being fully met. Besides, traffic distribution is skewed to the Golden Quadrilateral network and its diagonals. The past few years have marked a shift in IR’s approach towards decongesting the existing network and laying new lines. Elaborate expansion plans have been chalked out and markets such as the north-eastern region that have remained under-penetrated for a long time are receiving the required attention. Overall, the government plans to invest Rs 50 trillion during 2018-30 for the development of railway infrastructure.

Network expansion and decongestion has been a key focus area with regard to capacity building. Over the past decade, there have been noteworthy improvements in track development that are reflected in the statistics – there has been about 60 per cent increase in the average pace of commissioning of new line/doubling/third and fourth line projects, from about 4 km per day during 2009-14 to 6-7 km per day during 2014-18. In fact, the highest ever doubling works of about 2,500 km were completed in the past fiscal year, during which 480 km of new lines were laid and about 600 km of length underwent gauge conversion.

Electrification is another area which is abuzz with activity. The target is to achieve 100 per cent electrification by 2021-22, translating to 28,000 km of broad gauge route km to be taken up for this purpose.

Station redevelopment is another fairly new initiative. With a long-term vision of redeveloping 400 stations across the country by encouraging private participation, progress has just begun to take place. At present, redevelopment works are under way at Gandhinagar station in Gujarat and Habibganj station in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Besides, similar contracts have been awarded for the Gomtinagar and Charbagh (both in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh) and Puducherry stations. Some preliminary works have already begun at the Gomtinagar and Charbagh stations.

Safety in train operations has been accorded top priority. Train collisions were brought down to zero in 2018-19. Further, improvement works are ongoing to reduce derailments. In 2016-17, 78 derailments were reported, and these were brought down to 46 in 2018-19. There is also an increasing switch from simple mechanical signalling systems to electronic interlocking systems. However, there is much scope for improvement in terms of upgradation of train protection systems, deployment of quality signalling cables, supply of materials for electronic interlocking systems, and provision of overall support to loco pilots.

Significant funds are being invested to enhance safety in rail operations. In 2018-19, IR allocated Rs 50 billion towards the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, and another Rs 200 billion was contributed by the centre. Advanced technologies are also being deployed for ensuring safety. IR has planned to install automatic train protection (ATP) systems conforming to European Train Control System level-2 standards on the entire IR broad gauge network. Besides, integrated security systems, web-enabled track management systems, reliability-centred maintenance, data loggers, etc., are also being adopted.

Meanwhile, big-ticket projects such as the dedicated freight corridor (DFC) and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail (HSR) are expected to offer huge opportunities to various stakeholders. The DFC is expected to enable faster, higher and longer heavy-haul transit and will thus result in a quantum jump in freight handling capacity. It will provide connectivity to private freight terminals, and major and non-major ports, in addition to saving 457 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. Advanced technologies such as drone-based project monitoring, GIS web-based systems, and fully mechanised predictive maintenance have been deployed to review the progress of the project.

Progress on these projects is moving ahead as per plans. The 1,504 km long Western DFC which will connect Delhi to Mumbai will be fully electrified with double-line operations. So far, construction works on the 450 km long Rewari-Madar stretch stand completed and trial runs are expected to commence by December 2019. For the 1,856 km Eastern DFC connecting Ludhiana and Dankuni, contracts worth $7.5 billion have been awarded. Besides, about 90 per cent works pertaining to the 351 km long Khurja-Bhaupur stretch and 80 per cent works pertaining to the 641 km long Rewari-Palanpur stretch are complete.

Meanwhile, four new corridors together entailing a length of over 6,600 km have been planned for the next phase of the DFC project.

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR project also holds a lot of promise. The first of its kind in the country, the project entails an investment of about Rs 1 trillion. The planned length of the HSR corridor is 508 km and it is slated for commissioning by 2023. The entire track length will be elevated, passing through a total of 12 stations. While the design speed is about 350 kmph, the operational speed is expected to be about 320 kmph.

With regard to the project’s progress, land survey, geotechnical investigation and utility mapping is complete. Besides, the manual on standardisation and specifications, and vertical and horizontal alignment has been finalised. Utilities that will have to be shifted have also been identified. Of the 27 contract packages, five have been awarded and for another seven, notices inviting tenders have been issued.

The HSR corridor’s operational control centre will be located in Sabarmati (Gujarat) for which 76 hectares of land has been acquired). Besides, the maintenance depot/workshop of rolling stock will be developed in Thane (Maharashtra), for which over 50 hectares of land has been acquired. To meet the power supply requirement of 1,100 MUs of electricity to run the high speed operations, 12 traction substations, two depot substations and 16 distribution substations will be set up. To ensure safety, state-of-the-art technologies, such as an early earthquake detection system, rail temperature monitoring sensors, wind velocity monitoring systems and rain gauges, will be deployed.

Deployment of new technologies

Worldwide, technology adoption is resulting in improved efficiency and safety in rail operations. IR too is following the trend. Solutions are being adopted to enhance safety, carry out infrastructure upgradation works, improve passenger experience and enhance capability.

Best practices such as deployment of high capacity wheel bearing systems and condition monitoring system hold much promise for Indian rail operations to reduce on-track failures and enable predictive maintenance. For safety, radio-based train control technologies have been proven and hold significant potential for application in the Indian scenario. Other global solutions that may be considered include on-board remote diagnostics and vision-based wayside monitoring systems.


IR is moving ahead to create infrastructure capacity that is ahead of demand over the next decade. In this direction, significant investments, participation of various stakeholders, skilled personnel and new business formats will be essential. The private sector, in particular, holds promise for the sector’s future growth. With regard to the speed of train operations, IR will eventually run two types of trains, one at 160 kmph, to be upgraded on the existing network in a phased manner, and those on a high speed network at 320 kmph for greenfield projects.

On the infrastructure front, while track development works are encouraging, the industry eagerly awaits the completion of big-ticket projects. These projects are expected to revive investor interest in the sector. Connectivity to new markets like the north-eastern region also bode well for the sector. Other important aspects such as safety and improvement in passenger experience also offer potential.

Net, net, for future growth, only the surface has been scratched so far. Government support in the form of right policies, roadmap and sound execution will be essential for growth. At the same time, key issues such as procedural delays and financial instability need to be addressed by policymakers in a time-bound and effective manner.