The dedicated freight corridor (DFC) project is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by Indian Railways (IR). It is being developed along the Golden Quadrilateral to link the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, and the two diagonals of the quadrilateral they form (Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Kolkata). At present, the Golden Quadrilateral accounts for about 16 per cent of IR’s total route length, carrying over 52 per cent of its passenger traffic and 58 per cent of its freight traffic. This has resulted in excessive traffic congestion and increased turnaround time.
In a bid to address these issues and reduce the freight traffic on some of the busiest rail routes of the country, the western and eastern DFCs are being developed. Launched in 2006, the project aims to increase the rail share in the freight market by providing customised logistics services, creating additional rail infrastructure to cater to high levels of transport demand, and introducing timetabled freight trains and guaranteed transit times. It also targets the introduction of high-end technology and IT packing of freight services, segregation of freight infrastructure for a focused approach on both the passenger and freight businesses, and reduction in the unit cost of transportation by speeding up freight train operations and boosting productivity. For project implementation, a concession agreement has been signed between the Ministry of Railways (MoR) and the special purpose vehicle, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), for a period of 30 years.
The DFCs are proposed to adopt world-class, state-of-the-art technology. Significant improvement is proposed to be made in the existing carrying capacity through modification of basic design features. The permanent corridors will be constructed with significantly better design features that will enable them to withstand heavier loads at higher speeds. Simultaneously, in order to optimise productive use of the right of way, the dimensions of the rolling stock are proposed to be enlarged. Both these improvements will allow longer and heavier trains to ply on the DFCs.
The DFC project involves two freight corridors – the western DFC and the eastern DFC. The western DFC will be a 1,504 km long stretch of double-line electric (2×25 kV) track from the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. This includes 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. Previously, the western DFC was slated for completion by June 2022, but is now expected to be completed by December 2022. It will not only decongest the existing IR network, but will also help the national transporter free up the current tracks to run additional passenger trains on the current Mumbai-Delhi routes. Meanwhile, the eastern DFC will cover a route length of 1,875 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 includes a 46 km branch line connecting Khurja on the eastern DFC with Dadri on the western DFC.
As per revised figures, the total estimated investment required for the project is Rs 1,240.05 billion. Of this, Rs 218.46 billion is the land cost and Rs 1,021.59 billion is the hard and soft cost. As of October 2021, the cumulative capex of the project is Rs 806.2 billion, and the project has achieved financial progress of 78 per cent. The World Bank is providing Rs 124.53 billion in funding for the eastern DFC, while the Japan International Cooperation Agency is providing Rs 387.22 billion for the western DFC.
Progress so far
As of November 2021, construction works on both DFCs are in full swing. During 2021-22 (till November 2021), 466 km and 266 km of track linking and overhead equipment works, respectively, were completed. Other than this, 329 (out of 540) major bridges, 1,149 (out of 1,590) road under bridges and 113 (out of 304) road over bridges have also been completed. All contracts for both the eastern DFC and the western DFC, worth Rs 574.41 billion, have been awarded, and the cumulative contractual progress as of November 2021 is Rs 449.44 billion (78 per cent).
As of October 2021, the national transporter is conducting trial runs of trains with trucks between New Rewari station in Haryana and New Palanpur station in Gujarat. Over 99 per cent of the land acquisition is complete across five states, namely, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. However, there are certain issues pertaining to land acquisition, owing to which four patches affecting a length of 0.94 km for the eastern DFC and five patches affecting a length of 6.634 km for the western DFC have not been acquired yet. Apart from this, out of 3,215 project-affected families in the Mumbai sector, only 923 remain. Rehabilitation work for 2,292 project-affected people has already been completed.
In a notable development, the 351 km long New Bhaupur-New Khurja stretch of the eastern DFC was inaugurated on December 29, 2020. Further, the eastern DFC’s operation control centre at Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, was also inaugurated. In another important development, the central government inaugurated the 306 km long Rewari-Madar section of the western DFC on January 7, 2021. The newly inaugurated section is situated in the Mahendragarh and Rewari districts of Haryana (approximately 79 km), and in the Jaipur, Ajmer, Sikar, Nagaur and Alwar districts of Rajasthan (approximately 227 km).
The road ahead
With IR on the cusp of completing significant parts of the DFC in the east and the west, DFCCIL is now seeking additional dedicated freight and high speed lines. This will help decongest the train network and lower logistics costs. The MoR is preparing a detailed project report for the east-coast corridor, the east west sub-corridor, and the north-south sub-corridor, which are three new DFCs. The east-coast corridor is expected to entail an investment of Rs 405.44 billion, while the east west sub-corridor will cost nearly Rs 868.05 billion. Meanwhile, the north-south sub-corridor will require an investment to the tune of Rs 895.79 billion.