The railway sector has been on a high-growth trajectory since the past few years. Projects such as dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) high speed rail (HSR), and regional rapid transit systems (RRTSs) have paved the way for massive infrastructural development in the sector. These projects are expected to provide immense opportunities in the coming years.
The commissioning of the ongoing DFCs is expected to enhance the profitability of Indian Railways’ (IR) freight business. The total length of eastern DFC and western DFC is 2,843 km (except the Sonnagar-Dankuni section) and their combined cost is Rs 1.8 trillion. All contracts of both corridors worth Rs 574.41 billion have been awarded. As of November 2021, the cumulative contractual progress is Rs 449.44 billion (78 per cent). As of December 2021, land acquisition is almost complete for western DFC. This corridor will cover a distance of 1,506 km. Recently, the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a loan agreement with the government to extend about Rs 75.17 billion the western DFC.
The Ministry of Railways (MoR) has sanctioned the preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for new DFCs on three routes, including the east coast corridor-Kharagpur-Vijayawada (1,115 km). According to the ministry, the outcome of the DPRs would be the primary basis for arriving at an investment decision as the reports would essentially bring out key data such as alignment, technical feasibility, major streams of freight and growth potential of key sectors along the corridor, financial internal rate of return, economic internal rate of return and other relevant details.
HSR corridor project
Another ambitious plan for future growth includes the development of the HSR corridor. The MoR has undertaken the survey and preparation of DPRs for the following HSR corridors – Delhi-Varanasi, Delhi-Ahmedabad, Mumbai-Nagpur, Mumbai-Hyderabad, Chennai-Mysore, Delhi-Amritsar and Varanasi-Howrah.
The government had sanctioned the first bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in December 2015. The total estimated cost of this 508 km project is about Rs 1.08 trillion. So far, out of the total land requirement of approximately 1,396 hectares, about 1,248 hectares land has been acquired. The entire project has been divided into 27 contract packages, including a training institute at Vadodara. Thus far, 13 packages have been awarded, three are under evaluation and tenders have been invited for two packages. The project has been delayed due to hindrance in land acquisition in Maharashtra, contract finalisation and the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now expected to be completed by 2026-27. The bullet train will be provided with various modern passenger aircraft-like features such as overhead baggage racks, LED lighting, and reading lamps in the first class and business class. Moreover, the bullet train coaches will be fitted with an enhanced passenger information system for regular communication with onboard commuters.
According to reports, under the National Rail Plan, IR is planning to add four new bullet train corridors that will connect nine more cities to the HSR network. The corridors to be proposed include a 618 km long corridor between Hyderabad and Bengaluru, an 855 km long route between Nagpur and Varanasi, an 850 km long route between Patna and Guwahati and a 190 km long corridor connecting Amritsar, Pathankot and Jammu.
The RRTS in the National Capital Region (NCR) is a proposed semi-high speed, high capacity rail connecting Delhi with major centres of the NCR. RRTS stations have been planned and designed to ensure multimodal integration with other modes of public transport in a way that it will eliminate the need for commuters to step out on roads for switching from one public transport to another.
As of February 28, 2022, the Delhi-Meerut RRTS (82 km) corridor has achieved physical progress of 24.8 per cent. In March 2022, the National Capital Region Transport Corporation unveiled the coaches to be used in the Delhi-Meerut rapid rail corridor. The delivery of these semi-high speed aerodynamic train sets, with distributed power, will start soon. The corridor is expected commence to services by 2023.
Railway station redevelopment programme
The MoR is expected to award around 40 stations for redevelopment in 2022-23. A total of 32 stations will be redeveloped by the different zones of IR while eight stations will be developed by the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA). The RLDA is taking various steps/initiatives to develop railway stations under different models. The Gandhinagar station (Gujarat) and Rani Kamalapati Railway Station (Madhya Pradesh) have been developed and commissioned. Also, the Sir M. Visvesvaraya Terminal (Bengaluru) is ready for commissioning. Further, work is in progress at five stations – Ayodhya, Safdarjung, Bijwasan, Gomtinagar and Ajni. The ministry is exploring possibilities to develop railway stations under different models based on techno-economic feasibility studies. Six stations in West Bengal, 12 stations in Uttar Pradesh and four stations in Punjab have been entrusted by the authority for conducting technoeconomic feasibility studies.
Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Limited has been mandated by the union cabinet for facility management of stations on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis for a concession period of 15 years. As many as 90 stations have already been identified for this. The focus will be on low-cost upgradation of stations. The PPP model aims to bring in the efficiency of the private sector, capital resources, flexible operations and enhanced services.
Suburban railway systems
The upcoming suburban railway systems in Mumbai and Bengaluru are also expected to offer new opportunities. The expected construction period for Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTPs) 3, MUTP 3A and Bengaluru suburban rail projects will be five-six years.
An amount of Rs 5.78 billion has been allocated in the Union Budget 2022-23 for carrying out various ambitious railway infrastructure projects under the MUTP in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The projects under the MUTP include the procurement and introduction of 247 AC local trains, a commutation-based control system, and new corridors in Navi Mumbai and Palghar.
The Bengaluru Suburban Rail System spanning 148 km will include four corridors and 57 suburban railway stations including 21 elevated stations. The project will be the country’s first modern suburban train system. Commuter trains on the proposed network will be similar to these of the metro. The estimated expenditure for the project will be about Rs 1.53 billion. In November 2021, the first civil work tender was floated by Rail Infrastructure Development Enterprises (Karnataka) Limited (K-RIDE) for the construction of an 8 km elevated viaduct as a part of the 25 km Mallige Line (Corridor 2) of the Bengaluru Suburban Rail Project between Benniganahalli and Chikkabanavara.
The Bengaluru Suburban Rail System aims to link Bengaluru with its satellite townships, suburbs and surrounding rural areas by a rail-based rapid transit system. Reportedly, the process has been initiated to take up the project in four corridors – Bengaluru City to Yelahanka to Devanahalli, Baiyappanhalli to Chikkabanavara, Kengeri to Whitefield, and Heelalige to Rajanakunte.
The long-term prospects appear bright on the back of upcoming projects under mega programmes in the railway sector. Going forward, significant opportunities exist for engineering, procurement and construction players, rolling stock providers, signalling and telecom players, electrification equipment manufacturers and consultants. In addition, there will be demand for technology and equipment providers. The mega programmes will also open up more opportunities for the private sector, spanning the development of private freight terminals, rail-based logistics parks, and private rail sidings, etc. Further, opportunities exist in station and commercial development around stations, real estate development, multimodal transit hubs, etc.