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Recent developments in the railway sector

The railway sector has undergone many transformations in the past year. With digital interventions and enhanced investments in infrastructure creation, Indian Railways (IR) took a series of initiatives in its fight against Covid-19.

Indian Infrastructure provides a snapshot of the key sector developments in the past year…

Policy moves and major developments

  • Under the Union Budget 2021-22, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) received an allocation of Rs 1,100.55 billion (budget estimates). Further, IR has issued the draft final report of the National Rail Plan 2030, with the aim of creating a future-ready railway system in the country. It aims to enhance its infrastructural capacity in a bid to increase its share in freight transportation from the present 27 per cent to 45 per cent by 2030. IR was also allotted the highest-ever total plan capex of Rs 2,150.58 billion in 2021-22. Of this, Rs 75 billion is from internal sources, Rs 1,002.58 billion from extrabudgetary resources and Rs 1,071 billion is the capital expenditure allocated in the Union Budget 2021-22.
  • The mega programmes under IR have also made considerable progress in the past year. IR logged the highest-ever electrification of sections covering 6,015 rkm during 2020-21. Despite the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has surpassed the previous highest electrification of 5,276 rkm achieved in 2018-19. As of March 31, 2021, IR had electrified 71 per cent (45,881 rkm) of its total broad gauge network (64,689 rkm including Konkan Railway). IR also commissioned a record 56 traction substations during 2020-21.
  • Meanwhile, National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited has completed the final location survey and geotechnical investigation works for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail (HSR) corridor project. It has also constructed its first full-height pier near Vapi in August 2021. The project’s deadline has been pushed to 2027 on account of land acquisition issues.
  • In December 2020, the 351 km New Bhaupur-New Khurja stretch of the eastern dedicated freight corridor (eDFC) was inaugurated. Further, the eastern DFC’s operation control centre at Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, has been inaugurated. The central government also inaugurated the 306 km long Rewari-Madar section of the western DFC project on January 7, 2021. Reportedly, IR is planning to complete most of the sections of the DFC by end 2021.
  • In terms of station redevelopment, significant progress has been made with the redevelopment of the Gandhinagar railway station in July 2021. The project involved station redevelopment; development of a hotel; and operation and maintenance of the station, hotel, existing convention centre (Mahatma Mandir) and exhibition centre (Helipad exhibition grounds) facility at Gandhinagar in Gujarat. It entailed an investment of Rs 5.57 billion. However, the construction work for the redevelopment of the Habibganj railway station was severely impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
  • IR has achieved a major landmark by enhancing the maximum train speed to 130 km per hour on the Golden Quadrilateral-Golden Diagonal (GQ-GD) route. The new speed has been achieved for 1,280 km route length out of the total 1,612 km GQ-GD route length. In a similar development, freight trains have attained top speeds of over 90 km per hour on the newly inaugurated New Khurja-New Bhaupur section of eastern DFC.
  • IR improved its operating ratio in 2020-21. Reportedly, the operating ratio for 2020-21 stands at 97.45 per cent as compared to 98.36 per cent in the corresponding period of 2019-20. A lower operating ratio implies that there are higher financial resources available for expansion and growth.
  •  Various policy initiatives have also been taken by IR in the past year. In September 2020, it rolled out a user depot manual digitally across all user depots of Western Railway. Reportedly, the system will be implemented shortly across all zones of IR. Meanwhile, according to a policy document released by IR on October 14, 2020, the national transporter plans to set up new goods shed facilities and develop the existing goods sheds on a public-private partnership basis.

Technology thrust

  • IR is improving the digital infrastructure at railway stations by providing Wi-Fi facility at all stations except halt stations. As of July 28, 2021, the Wi-Fi facility has been provided at 6,045 stations. Other digital initiatives include the installation of internet-based video surveillance systems and IP-based CCTV surveillance cameras. Further, the allotment of 5 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band to IR has been approved for public safety and security services at stations and in trains.
  • In February 2021, IR decided to reactivate the UTS ON MOBILE app in zones where unreserved train services had been reintroduced. This was done to avoid any inconvenience to passengers in booking unreserved tickets and to ensure that social distancing norms were followed at booking counters.
  • IR rolled out an application called “overhead equipment (OHE) inspection” to ensure quick detection of any technical defects during the train journey. The app has been rolled out on a pan-India basis with features such as GPS-based tracking of patrol men, real-time capturing of OHE defects, and provision for taking photographs.

Freight segment initiatives

  • In April 2021, Gateway Rail Freight Limited and Ocean Network Express operated the first double stack train from the ICD, Gurugram, to APM Terminals Pipavav. Further, in line with the “freight on priority” policy, IR launched the Freight Business Development Portal on January 5, 2021. The portal offers the best services to customers and is expected to ensure ease of doing business with the railways. IR is also working on modernising and computerising its parcel management system.
  • In December 2020, the MoR introduced a policy regarding premium indent with the aim of facilitating freight customers. Under the policy, the allotment of rakes will be given priority on two days if a customer places a request for premium indent. The days will be notified under the Preferential Traffic Order issued by the Traffic Transportation Directorate of the Railway Board from time to time. At present, the days notified are Monday and Friday. On all other days, the regular order of priority of indents will be followed.
  • To improve revenues from the freight segment, IR is planning to almost double its freight loading capacity by 2024. In order to double the loading, the railway board has taken multiple measures including doubling of tracks on the 11,000 km high density network (HDN) and 23,000 km on the highly utilised network, and tripling and quadrupling of 3,000 route km on the HDN.

Developments in rolling stock

  • In another development, the entire rolling stock for the Delhi-Meerut HSR corridor will be manufactured in India with almost 80 per cent local content, as reported by an official from the National Capital Region Transport Corporation. In July 2021, Alstom started local manufacturing of technologically advanced train cars for the Delhi-Meerut HSR corridor.
  • In a notable development, IR introduced its first air-conditioned (AC) three-tier economy class coach on February 10, 2021. It is expected to be synonymous with the cheapest and best AC travel in the world. The coaches will be economical, and between the current AC three-tier and non-AC sleeper class.
  • In December 2020, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited commissioned the Marathwada Rail Coach Factory in Latur, Maharashtra, despite the nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19. The factory has started production of the first coach shell. It has been designed with an initial capacity of manufacturing 250 mainline electric multiple unit/electric multiple-unit/LHB-type advance coaches annually.

Others

  • In April 2021, IR commenced operations of “Oxygen Express” to meet the increased oxygen demand amid the surge of Covid-19 cases. More than 35,000 mt of oxygen was transported across the country and nearly 480 Oxygen Expresses were operationalised.
  • In a major employment drive, IR recorded more than 640,000 man-days of work in six states (Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) under the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abiyan scheme in August 2020.
  • In November 2020, a first-of-its-kind solar energy-driven miniature train was inaugurated at the Veli tourist village in Kerala. The train was a part of a string of projects worth Rs 600 million taken up to elevate the facilities to international standards. The miniature rail has all the features of a fully equipped rail system, including a tunnel, a station and a ticket office.
  • IR recorded the highest-ever scrap sale in the financial year 2020-21. Through this sale, IR earned a total of Rs 45.73 billion during 2020-21, 5.5 per cent higher than the earnings in the corresponding period of the previous year (Rs 43.33 billion).

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