Railway infrastructure is rapidly evolving with several prospective and upcoming big-ticket projects in the pipeline. Projects such as high speed rail (HSR), dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) and regional rapid transit systems (RRTS) have paved the way for massive infrastructural development in the sector. Furthermore, the station redevelopment programme is using new and innovative approaches to improve passenger experience. The sector has been swamped with activity since the launch of big-ticket programmes and schemes.
Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the progress of mega infrastructure projects being undertaken in the railway sector…
Dedicated freight corridor
Freight traffic on the Indian Railways (IR) network is the fourth highest in the world. Launched in 2006, the key objectives of the ambitious project are increasing the share of rail in the overall freight market by providing customised logistics services, creating additional rail infrastructure to cater to high levels of transport demand, introducing time-tabled freight trains and guaranteed transit times, deploying high-end technology for freight services, segregating freight infrastructure for a focused approach on both the passenger and freight business, and reducing the unit cost of transportation by speeding up freight train operations and achieving higher productivity.
The western DFC will comprise 1,504 km of double-line electric (2×25 kV) track from the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. The western DFC entails a new single-line branch from Prithla in Palwal to Tughlakabad in Delhi, running parallel to the existing New Delhi-Faridabad-Palwal railway line. It will commence in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh (near Delhi), and will span a new section of railway line between Dadri and Rewari while running parallel to the existing railway line via Narnaul, Srimadhopur and Reengus.
The eastern DFC will cover a route length of 1,873 km consisting of two distinct segments – an electrified double-track segment between Dankuni in West Bengal and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh, and an electrified single-track segment of 447 km, connecting Ludhiana (Dhandarikalan), Khurja and Dadri in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, respectively. This corridor has a 46 km branch line that connects Khurja on the eastern DFC with Dadri on the western DFC. The 351 km-long Khurja-Bhaupur stretch is fully operational along with the new Dadri-Khurja 46 km-long track of the eastern DFC.
As of August 2021, construction works on both DFCs are in full swing, and both DFCs are projected to be completed by June 2022. As of July 2021, 99 per cent of the required land for these two DFCs has been acquired, and construction of 60 per cent of the western DFC and 30 per cent of the eastern DFC has been completed. Upon completion, the western DFC will connect the ports of Kandla, Mundra and Pipavav with the National Capital Region, thereby decongesting passenger traffic on already saturated sections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
High speed rail corridors
HSR projects have been a key focus area of IR for the past few years. Incorporated in 2016, the project is being implemented by National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), the special purpose vehicle incorporated by the central government and the Gujarat and Maharashtra state governments.
A total of 12 HSR corridors have been planned. The 508.09 km-long Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is the first HSR corridor taken up for implementation with technical and financial assistance from the Japanese government. NHSRCL is the nodal agency implementing the project. A total of 12 stations will be constructed under the project, of which all except Mumbai station, will be elevated. With regard to land acquisition for the project, as of October 2021, NHSRCL has paid Rs 70.27 billion for acquiring 80 per cent of the 1,025 hectares of private land that needs to be acquired. Of the Rs 70.27 billion compensation, 79 per cent (Rs 55.35 billion) has been given to private land owners in Gujarat while Rs 14.21 billion has been given in Maharashtra.
In order to give a push to the central government’s Make in India initiative, construction contracts for tracks, tunnels and steel fabrication of bridges have now been extended to Indian firms. While the project management consultant (PMC) for electrical, signalling and rolling stock works will be selected from a list of nominated Japanese firms, the civil construction PMC tender is available to Indian contractors as well.
IR hopes to change the traditional railway network by bringing world-class technology through the establishment of HSR corridors. The Japanese Shinkansen system will be used on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor, which has never had a fatal accident in its 60 years of service. In view of the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the slow pace of land acquisition, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR corridor is now expected to be completed by December 2027.
The other HSR corridors that have been identified for implementation are Delhi-Amritsar (459 km), Varanasi-Howrah, Chennai-Mysore (435 km), Mumbai-Nagpur (753 km), Mumbai-Hyderabad (711 km), Delhi-Ahmedabad (886 km) and Delhi-Varanasi (865 km).
Given that the majority of railway stations are in need of renovation, station infrastructure development has become an essential aspect of railway growth. IR has embarked on a mega transformation journey to create world-class railway stations. The Railway Station Redevelopment Programme aims to redevelop 400 railway stations across India at an investment of Rs 1 trillion through public-private partnership (PPP) mode. The programme focuses on improving passenger amenities by leveraging real estate available with railways to fund the development.
As of December 2021, 52 stations are being redeveloped under the programme. Of these, 44 projects are currently at the planning stage, five are in different phases of implementation and three projects have been completed. The Baiyappanahalli station got competed in September 2021, and the Rani Kamlapati (Habibganj) and Gandhinagar stations were inaugurated in November 2021 and July 2021 respectively. All three are the first air-conditioned railway terminals in the country.
In order to encourage private participation, the Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation has been mandated for facility management of stations on PPP basis for a concession period of 15 years. As many as 90 stations have already been identified for the same.
RRTS is a proposed semi-high speed, high capacity rail connecting Delhi with major centres of the NCR. The high-priority project aims to decongest the national capital’s transit system across all modes. The project is being implemented by the National Capital Region Transit Corporation, a joint venture between the central government and the state governments of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The project is being implemented in stages, with eight corridors being identified for development, three of which have been prioritised. These are the Delhi-Meerut, Delhi-Panipat and Delhi-Alwar stretches, which are about 350 km in length and are part of the first phase of the project. All three corridors will converge at Sarai Kale Khan and will be interoperable, providing seamless movement.
The Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut RRTS corridor is India’s first RRTS corridor. The stretch entails an investment of Rs 302.74 billion. The entire project will be completed by March 2025.
Suburban rail systems
The Bengaluru suburban rail system envisages four corridors and 57 suburban railway stations including 21 elevated stations. The project has been progressing well as 60 per cent of the geotechnical survey has been completed along with the alignment approval for the second corridor. Further, concept plans for basic K-RIDE stations have been finalised and marking of station footprint is in progress. K-RIDE floated the general consultancy tender in September 2021 and the first civil work tender for the 25-km Mallige line (Corridor 2) in November 2021.
The Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation is implementing the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) corridors. Upon completion of the project, passengers will be able to take suburban local trains between Panvel and Karjat without having to change trains at the Thane station. Currently, while MUTP I stands completed, works are on under MUTP Phases II and III .
The six stretches under MUTP III are expected to be completed by 2022-23 and 2023-24, and the 12 project stretches under MUTP IIIA are expected to be completed by 2024-25.
The way forward
Long-term prospects for the railway sector appear bright on the back of mega upcoming projects/programmes in the sector. While the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on short-term development initiatives, as the government opted to halt non-essential infrastructure projects in order to cut costs, the sector bounced back by covering for the Covid-led passenger traffic slowdown with increased focus on the freight segment.