Indian Railways (IR) has been the backbone of the country’s economy and social development since Independence. With the development of the road and civil aviation sectors, IR’s share in transportation witnessed a slump. The share of 80 per cent in freight traffic at the time of independence has declined to only 25-30 per cent at present.
With India’s focus on sustainability and the aim of a 30 per cent reduction of carbon emissions by 2030, the railway sector gained traction. After the release of the National Transport Development Policy Committee’s report in 2014, emphasis was laid on enhancing investments in railways. As a result, the sector has witnessed a steady increase in capex investments since then.
Indian Infrastructure provides a snapshot of the railway expansion, investment plans and overall outlook…
Expansion plans till 2024
With the aim of reducing pollution levels and improving the functioning and efficiency of the transportation system, IR is aiming to achieve 100 per cent electrification of railway lines by December 2023. Reportedly, 18,065 km of lines were electrified during the six-year span from 2014-15 to 2019-20, registering a 371 per cent increase as compared to the previous six-year period from 2008-09 to 2013-14. Meanwhile, the national transporter is planning to electrify 23,625 route km (rkm) of tracks between 2019-20 and 2023-24. As of October 2020, 5,642 rkm has already been commissioned. Of the 100 per cent electrification target, IR has electrified 62.65 per cent of its broad gauge network until now. For 2020-21, the electrification target is 6,000 rkm. It is expected that with the resumption of work after the nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19, IR will be able to achieve this target.
The distribution of railway traffic is extremely skewed, with nearly 50 per cent of the railway network carrying 96 per cent of the traffic. The remaining 50 per cent is highly under-utilised on account of the routes either being dead ends or dependent on local passenger traffic. As a part of its network expansion plans, IR is looking to invest in its highly utilised network, which includes the high density Golden Quadrilateral and the Golden Diagonal routes between the four metropolitan cities. IR has decided to proceed with the multi-tracking of this network along with modernising signalling installations along the routes.
By 2024, IR aims to achieve multi-tracking (doubling, tripling and quadrupling) of nearly 12,000 rkm of track length. It has targeted the doubling of 3,000 rkm in 2020-21. However, the progress of work till September 2020 was slow on account of the pandemic-induced lockdown. With the resumption of work, it is expected that IR will achieve nearly 70 per cent of the target and complete approximately 2,100 rkm.
Further, the transporter plans to upgrade the speed on the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah routes to 160 kmph. The upgradation will require upgradation of tracks, signalling and additional electrical installations for the smooth running of a high speed train. Moreover, IR plans on removing all the level crossings on the Golden Quadrilateral and Golden Diagonal routes by 2024. There is also huge investment planned for the development of road overbridges and road underbridges.
Meanwhile, it is expected that IR will be able to make up the work losses and the corridors will get commissioned by 2022. The progress of the dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) is being reviewed on a weekly as well as monthly basis to ensure timely completion.
Expansion plans after 2024
As part of its 10-year network expansion plan and in compliance with NITI Aayog’s climate and environmental commitments, IR is targeting an increase in its modal share to 45 per cent by 2030 (from 25-30 per cent at present). In order to achieve this target, IR plans to enhance it capacity so as to carry more passenger and freight traffic.
Further, IR is also planning the development of bypasses and flyovers at different locations. In addition to this, three new DFC corridors are planned along the east coast, the east-west corridor and the north-south corridor. It is also planning to develop seven new high speed rail corridors so as to provide faster transportation options to passengers. With more high speed rail routes being added to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor, the railway network is expected to become more profitable.
IR has also ramped up the production of electric locomotives and is planning to completely do away with diesel locomotives in the future. It expects to execute most of the infrastructure development on the public-private partnership model amd is working on formulating new policies to attract private investors in not just track work but also in station development.
IR has taken a number of initiatives to promote the deployment of solar energy. It is working to develop a total solar capacity of 500 MW through rooftop solar panels. As of July 2020, IR had commissioned 100 MW of solar plants on rooftops of various buildings including 900 railway stations.
Further, solar projects with a combined capacity of 400 MW are at different stages of execution. Tenders have been awarded for 245 MW and the projects are expected to be completed by December 2022. Moreover, IR is trying to produce power from land-based solar installations for running its trains. It has 51,000 hectares of land available for installing 20 GW of land-based solar projects. A 1.7 MW project at Bina, Madhya Pradesh, has also been completed in collaboration with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited.
Meanwhile, in the wind energy segment, 103 MW of wind-based power plants have already been commissioned – 26 MW in Rajasthan, 21 MW in Tamil Nadu and 56.4 MW in Maharashtra. IR is also planning to establish 200 MW of wind projects in the next two years in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
IR has also taken up other green initiatives such as 100 per cent LED illumination of buildings and stations. Moreover, it has fitted more than 244,000 bio-toilets in 69,000 coaches.
The road ahead
With the pace of infrastructure creation increasing, IR continues to take new and innovative initiatives to enhance its operational efficiency and overall passenger experience. To this end, it has laid out ambitious expansion and modernisation plans. To meet its targets, it has given special attention to electrification, the introduction of high speed trains, multi-tracking of railway lines and modernisation of railway terminals.
Going forward, it is expected that IR will increase its focus on the freight segment to cover the losses incurred due to reduced passenger traffic amidst Covid-19. Issues such as procedural delays and financial instability need to be addressed. A strong policy framework and new innovative sources of funding are required to boost infrastructure development in the sector. The digital and infrastructural transformation initiatives taken by IR are noteworthy and will help tremendously in improving the efficiency of the national transporter.