Indian Railways (IR) has taken various initiatives to transform into a future-ready rail system by 2030. The initiatives include capacity creation ahead of demand, running freight trains at an average speed of 50 km per hour, 100 per cent electrification of the railway network by 2024, and increase in the speed of passenger trains to 130 km per hour on select routes.
The idea is to become more efficient, greener and modern, which will translate into a cheaper, safer and assured mode of transport for the common man, be it in the passenger or the freight segment.
Indian Infrastructure takes a look at some of the key developments in the past year…
Key developments and policy initiatives
- Budgetary allocation increased by 27.54 per cent: Under the Union Budget 2022-23, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) has received an allocation of Rs 1,403.67 billion (budget estimates). The allocation is 16.92 per cent
- higher than the revised estimate (Rs 1,200.56 billion) and 27.54 per cent higher than the budget estimate (Rs 1,100.55 billion) for 2021-22. Further, in 2021-22, the operating ratio is estimated to be 96.2 per cent. This is marginally better than the operating ratio of 98.4 per cent in 2019-20.
- Freight loading increased by 15 per cent: IR has successfully loaded freight goods to the tune of 1,416 million tonnes (mt) during 2021-22, 15 per cent higher than the loading in the corresponding period in the previous year (1,231 mt). This is the highest ever loading for IR in a financial year. The freight loading target for 2022-23 stands at 1,475 mt.
- Continuous increase in freight loading: IR recorded the highest ever monthly freight loading in July 2022 at 122.14 mt, 8.25 per cent higher than the freight loading in the corresponding period last year. With this, IR has recorded the highest ever monthly freight loading for 23 consecutive months. The cumulative freight loading from April 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022 has been 501.53 mt as against 452.13 mt achieved in the corresponding period of 2021-22, that is, incremental loading of 49.4 mt.
- New arm for Gati Shakti constituted: In a bid to regulate the administration of the Railway Board, a new arm has been constituted for overseeing the implementation of projects under the Gati Shakti Master Plan. Reportedly, the Gati Shakti directorate of IR will be headed by an official of the grade of additional member. The execution and implementation of the Gati Shakti programme’s railway portion will be prioritised by this directorate.
Mega programmes witness steady progress
- Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project makes significant progress: As of July 15, 2022, 90.56 per cent of the required land was acquired for the entire project. Further, in July 2022, pier work on a 75 km stretch under the project was completed. Further, 162 km of piling work has been completed. Work on all the eight stations in Gujarat is at various stages of construction. It is expected that a trial run between Vapi and Sabarmati may be conducted in 2026 and the Gujarat portion is likely to be fully operational the following year.
- Station redevelopment gets a shot in the arm: Many new revamped railway stations were inaugurated during 2021-22. The Gandhinagar railway station was inaugurated in July 2021 (investment of Rs 5.57 billion); Rani Kamalapati railway station, erstwhile Habibganj station, in November 2021 (investment of Rs 4.5 billion); and Sir M. Visvesvaraya Railway Terminal in June 2022 (investment of Rs 3.14 billion).
- Completion of dedicated freight corridor (DFC) delayed: The eastern DFC project and the western DFC project (WDFC) are expected to be completed by 2023 and 2024 respectively. In August 2022, the 62 km long New Palanpur-New Mahesana section of the WDFC commenced operations. IRCON International Limited completed 100 km track linking works in the Vaitarna-Sachin section of the WDFC. Besides, the 74 km Kharsia-Dharamjaygarh section of the project was commissioned on June 21, 2021.
Freight reforms in IR
- IR to set up cargo terminals: IR will construct around 500 multimodal cargo terminals, at an investment of Rs 500 billion, under the PM Gati Shakti programme in a bid to boost freight movement. It is expected to be completed in four to five years. The government intends to build 200 multimodal cargo terminals in the next three years. In March 2022, the Asansol division of IR successfully commissioned the first Gati Shakti cargo terminal in West Bengal.
- Operationalisation of new trains: Northeast Frontier Railway has decided to operate a short distance parcel special train comprising 10 general class coaches. In January 2022, Manipur was successfully connected by freight train. Meanwhile, regular operation of freight trains through the Haldibari-Chilahati rail route was restored with effect from August 1, 2021. In October 2021, IR successfully operated two long-haul freight trains, Trishul and Garuda, in South Central Railway (SCR). IR has also conducted a test run of the 3.5 km long freight train, Super Vasuki, on August 15, 2022.
Developments in rolling stock
- Revisions under the coach production programme: IR has updated its coach production programme for 2022-23. As per the latest updates, IR plans to manufacture 8,429 train coaches and rakes, including 75 Vande Bharat Express trains, and 220 Tejas and 70 Vistadome coaches. The ministry has raised the production plan for 2022-23 by 878 units from the earlier planned 7,551.
- Locomotive production gets a boost: Chittaranjan Locomotive Works achieved a remarkable accomplishment and has produced record 486 locomotives in 2021-22. In a similar development, Banaras Locomotive Works has set a new record by manufacturing 367 locomotives, the highest number of locomotives, during 2021-22. Of the 367, 31 WAP7, 332 WAG9 and four Mozambique locomotives were manufactured.
- Development of fire-resistant coaches: The Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala, developed five coaches using fire-retardant materials and roof-mounted air-conditioning package units with the reverse cycle feature for heating arrangements as well as automatic smoke detection. After monitoring the performance of these coaches, further deployment would be carried out in other coaches.
IR’s commitment towards sustainability and digitalisation
- Mission electrification on the right track: IR is steadily progressing on its plan to electrify its entire network by 2023-24. The national transporter has successfully completed the electrification of 81 per cent of its track. In March 2022, work on the 741 km long Roha-Thokur railway line doubling-cum-electrification project was completed, thereby marking the electrification of the entire Konkan region. IR also achieved record electrification of 6,366 route km during 2021-22.
- Railway stations go green: Railway stations across the country are being acknowledged by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) for adopting sustainable green practices. In August 2021, Coimbatore Junction railway station in Tamil Nadu was awarded platinum rating by the IGBC. Earlier, in 2021, the IGBC recertified the New Delhi railway station with the Platinum Green Station rating and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station with gold certification. In February 2022, Malda station also received green rating.
- Railways utilises solar energy: As of October 2021, the Chennai railway station was able to meet its 100 per cent day energy requirement. SCR is the first zone under IR to come up with the concept of “energy-neutral” railway stations with the help of solar photovoltaic panels commissioned on about 13 station buildings. Northeast Frontier Railway is also installing solar power plants across the zone. IR is planning the installation of 71 MW of solar energy projects on unused vacant railway land. Southern Railway has saved Rs 549.9 million by harnessing alternative sources of energy.
- EV charging stations to be set up at railway stations: In January 2022, NITI Aayog prepared a draft policy for IR to set up electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure at railway stations across the country. The policy is still under discussion with the MoR. It has recommended that EV charging facilities should be installed at all stations in a phased manner by 2030.
- Digitalisation gains traction: The national transporter introduced a unified command and control centre in November 2021. The Mumbai Central Division of Western Railway launched the facility, which integrates information systems across the core function of IR operations and produces robust data-driven cross-functional visualisation tool kits for enhancing the immediate-, medium- and long-term all-round performance of the division. Other digital initiatives include provision of Wi-Fi facility at railway stations, video surveillance and cashless payments.
- IR gets smart coaches: In July 2021, IR started rolling out Rajdhani Express with upgraded Tejas coaches equipped with intelligent sensor-based systems. The new train will have special smart features for enhanced passenger safety and comfort. Smart coaches have also been introduced to operate the East Central Railway’s Rajendra Nagar (Patna)-New Delhi Rajdhani Express train.
- Wagon tracking under progress: IR is expected to install radio frequency (RF) identification tags in all wagons by the end of 2022. The RF tags clubbed with GPS are expected to reduce the scope of artificial shortage and lead to optimum utilisation.