Growing Network: Progress and experience in track construction

Progress and experience in track construction

Indian Railways (IR) is the third largest rail network in the world under a single management, covering over 68,103 route km (rkm). It strives to provide safe, efficient, competitive and world-class transport system to citizens of the country. Despite facing unprecedented challen­ges amidst the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, IR has been able to not only move milli­ons of people and increase its freight loading over this two-year period but also keep the na­tional supply chains running.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the track construction activities being undertaken by IR…

Sector overview and trends 

Railway tracks play an important role in accelerating the economic growth of a country. They enable seamless transportation of freight and passenger traffic as well as revenue generation. The railway sector has been growing stea­di­ly over the past few years, in terms of both in­frastructure and investment. During the period 2016-17 to 2020-21, the track network has

gr­­o­wn at a compound annual growth rate of 0.44 per cent, from 66,918 rkm in 2016-17 to 68,103 rkm in 2020-21. During the period 2014-21, a total length of 17,720 km (3,681 km of new lines, 4,871 km of gauge conversion and 9,168 km of line doubling) has been commissioned by IR, at an average of 2,531 km per year, which is 67 per cent higher than the average commissioned during 2009-14 (1,520 km per year). In 2020-21 alone, 286 km of new lines, 470 km of gauge conversion and 1,614 km of line doubling have been achieved.

As on April 1, 2021, 484 railway projects, co­­mprising 51,165 km of length and entailing an investment of about Rs 7.53 trillion, are at di­fferent stages of planning/sanction/execution. Of this, 10,638 km length has been commissi­oned and an expenditure of nearly Rs 2.14 trillion has been incurred up to March 2021. Of the 484 projects, 187 new line proje­cts compri­sing 21,037 km length, with an ap­p­roximate in­vestment of Rs 4.06 trillion (of which 2,621 km has been commissioned at an investment of ap­proximately Rs 1.06 trillion as of March 2021) and 46 gauge conversion pro­jects of 6,213 km length and involving an investment of Rs 531.71 billion (of which 3,587 km has been commissioned at an in­vestment of approxima­tely Rs 221.84 billion as of March 2021) are in the pipeline. This also includes the development of 251 doubling projects of 23,915 km length, with an investment of nearly Rs 2.93 trillion (of which 4,430 km has been commissio­n­ed at an investment of approximately Rs 860.41 billion as of March 2021).

Key developments in 2021-22

In a notable milestone, IR achieved its highest ever commissioning (excluding dedicated frei­ght corridors) in 2021-22.  In new lines/doubl­ing/ gauge conversions, it completed a total of 2,904 km against a target of 2,400 km and against 2,361 km in 2020-21. This is 23 per cent higher than that achieved in 2020-21. Fur­ther, a record electrification of 6,366 rkm was achieved for the first time in the history of IR during 2021-22. The previous highest elec­tri­fication achieved was 6,015 rkm during 2020-21. As on March 31, 2022, out of 65,141 rkm of IR’s broad gauge network (including Konkan Railway), 52,247 rkm was electrified. This comprises 80.2 per cent of the total broad gauge network. In 2022-23, the target of commissioning 3,000 km of rail net­work is expected to be achieved. Meanwhile, IR has set a target of 100 per cent electrification by 2023. This will make IR the first major railway in the world to have a fully electrified broad gauge railway network of such a size.

South Central Railway has scaled new hei­ghts in 2021-22 with a record addition of 344 track km to the zone’s rail network. The sp­e­cial thrust given to speedy completion of ongoing projects, combined with the meticulous planning and effective implementation of scheduled works, has resulted in this achieve­me­nt.  The construction and completion of 83 km of new lines, 197 km of double lines and 64 km of third lines, amounting to an addition of 344 track km to the rail network during 2021-22, is the highest ever in any financial year since the inception of the zone.

During 2021-22 (up to September 2021), 92 track machines were added to IR’s fleet of track maintenance machines, taking the total to 1,178. This was done despite the restrictions in manufacturing due to the pandemic. In Un­ion Bu­dget 2022-23, Rs 252.43 billion has been allocated for new lines, Rs 28.5 billion for gauge co­nversion, Rs 121.08 billion for doubling wor­ks, Rs 133.35 billion for track rene­wals and Rs 9.4 billion for bridges, tunnel works and appro­aches for infrastructure development.

The road ahead

Railway infrastructure is witnessing rapid development, with various upcoming and ongoing me­­ga projects such as high speed rail corridors and dedicated freight corridors in the pipeline. Construction work on these projects has been pro­gressing in full swing after overcoming the im­pediments caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The projects have also opened up several ave­nues of investment for stakeholders.

The completion of any railway work is dep­endent largely on factors such as quick land ac­quisition, forest clearances, deposit of cost sh­are by state governments in cost-sharing projects, priority of projects, shifting of infringing utilities, statutory clearances from various au­tho­rities, geological and topographical conditions of the area, the law and order situation in the project area, the number of working months in a year for a particular project site due to climatic co­nditions, etc. Various steps have been undertaken by the government for effective and spee­dy implementation of rail projects, including prioritisation of projects, a substantial increase in the allocation of funds for priority projects, and improved monitoring and follow-ups.

Going forward, IR has identified and prioritised a large number of projects, which have been designated as supercritical, critical and coal/port connectivity, for completion as per the Vision 2024 document, which is a subset of the National Rail Plan. About 58 supercritical projects with a total length of 3,750 km and costing Rs 396.63 billion and 68 critical projects with a total length of 6,913 km, costing Rs 757.36 billion, have been identified for completion by 2024. These projects are focused on in­creasing capacity on routes that serve major mineral and industrial hubs along with ports and major consumption centres.