Views of Ashwini Vaishnaw: “The aim is to develop infrastructure for the next 50 years”

Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister, Ministry of Railways

The railways play a critical role in India’s transportation sector. The country’s rail network is one of the largest, most extensive and busiest in the world. Over the years, several key reforms and initiatives have been taken to upgrade and modernise the network and make it more efficient, safe and sustainable. Digitalisation has become central to all passenger operations and services. Indigeni­sation has emerged as another key focus area, especially with the launch of the Vande Bharat trains. There is a growing focus on reviving freight movement through the rail network and developing significant infrastructure such as dedicated freight corridors and multimodal parks. At a recent industry conclave, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and In­for­mation Technology, shared his views on the transformation journey of the railway sector and the ministry’s key priorities for the future. Edited excerpts…

India has a massive network that caters to nearly 8 billion passengers in a year. Further, more than 22,000 trains are operational, connecting nearly 7,300 stations. The transformation of a network of this magnitude is complex and involves several as­pects. Be­sides developing rail infrastructure, Indian Railways is committed to improving the passenger experience. Enhancing the passenger experience encompasses a more advanced ticketing system, better quality of tra­ins, and world-class amenities at stations, etc.

“As a part of the National Rail Plan for 2030, Indian Railways will work towards creating a future-ready railway system.”

Development of world-class railway infrastructure: Focus on station redevelopment

In a bid to enhance the passenger experience, Indian Railways is working towards upgradation, modernisation and redevelopment of stations. A dedicated station redevelopment programme has been launched to transform the existing stations into city centres. Under this, plans are being made to create urban spaces on station platforms, which can be used as roof plazas and be integrated with road, metro and bus services, thereby developing a seamless system of travel. So far, three stations have been transfor­m­ed into world-class stations under the programme. The first one to be redeveloped was the Rani Kamalapati Station in Bhopal, which was a complex project. A huge roof plaza has been created where people can wait comfortably. Gandhinagar is another successfully redeveloped station where a hotel property has been built within the station complex. Building upon the experience and learnings from developing these stations, particularly in terms of design and project execution, Indian Railways now aims to scale up the programme and redevelop more than 1,300 stations. The aim is to develop infrastructure for the next 50 years and thus, the key focus will be on creating urban spaces, integrating all modes of transport within the station and developing the station as a city centre.

Some of the designs for under-construction and planned stations have proved to be phenomenal. For instance, as part of the redevelopment of New Delhi railway station, a huge urban space of nearly 50 ac­res will be created. So far, over 100 permits have be­en secured for redevelopment works. Further, an elevated approach is being planned to ensure that the arrival and departure areas are separate. The idea is to decongest the station as much as possible as it is accessed by millions of passengers.

“A dedicated station redevelopment programme has been launched to transform the existing stations into city centres.”

The Ahmedabad station is another iconic station that caters to more than 10 million passengers every year. The pre-construction activities for its redevelopment are nearing completion and all operational decisions for redevelopment works have been undertaken. The station has been designed with a modular appro­ach to construction, with features such as a roof plaza and elevated transport corridors around the station. Nearly 15 acres of new urban space is being created.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminal is one of the heritage terminals of the country. While preparing redesign proposals for the station, care has been taken to preserve each and every heritage element.

Other important stations that are being redeveloped are Kanpur, Jaipur, Gwalior, Pra­ya­­g­­raj, Bengaluru, Visakhapatnam, Chandi­ga­rh, Delhi Cantt, Jammu Tawi and Rameshwa­ram. Overall, construction work has started on 49 stations.

For station redevelopment, Indian Rail­ways is going for a complete master plan over­ha­ul, focused on urban space creation, multi­mo­­dal integration, separation of departure and arrival areas wherever needed, and elevated routes to reach and exit the station. One of the biggest challenges while executing the station redevelopment projects is to avoid/mi­ni­mise traffic disruptions.

“The launch of the Vande Bharat Express trains is India’s big step towards the indigenisation of complex semi-high speed rail systems.”

Modern trains for enhanced comfort and speed levels: Focus on Vande Bharat Express

The Vande Bharat Express trains have been launched with a focus on improving the pass­­e­n­ger experience. It is also India’s big step towards the indigenisation of complex semi-high-speed rail systems. The first version of Va­n­de Bharat – India’s first semi-high-speed train – was launched in February 2019, with the aim of matching the speed and comfort levels of European train systems. These modern trains are a huge success.

The design elements of these trains are extremely complex owing to the aging tracks in the country. Despite this, our engineers have designed a train that is being tested for speeds of up to 180 km per hour. Further, in these tr­ains, beneath each coach lies a very complex piece of machinery comprising wheels, gears, tra­ction components, a bull gear and a motor. It has been designed with extreme precision. In­dian Railways has successfully created a system that is lower in cost and better in quality as compared to global standards.

Towards better engineering

Globally, the European Train Control System (ETCS) is being deployed in rail safety systems. Owing to its very complex nature, it was decided that Indian Railways will design and develop its own safety system that is less complex and can be easily replicated across systems. Thus, the concept of KAVACH was introduced. This indigenously developed automatic protection technology allows trains to automatically halt at 400 metres in a situation where a head-on collision could occur. Our KAVACH is better than the ETCS Level Two and is at par with the ETCS Level Three.

A total of Rs 3.51 billion has been spent on its implementation so far. At present, 121 locomotives (including electric multiple unit rakes) have been equipped with KAVACH across the Secunderabad division (30), Hyderabad division (56), Guntakal division (28) and Vijaywada division (7) of South Central Railways. The tra­ins hauled by KAVACH-fitted locomotives chan­ge according to the operational requirements of Indian Railways as per loco links.

The bullet train between Mumbai and Ah­medabad, once operational, will be another engineering marvel. Despite having a very complex design, the project has witnessed phenomenal progress. As of February 2023, nearly 149 km of pillars have been completed. The Ja­panese are keen on replicating some of In­dian Railways’ innovations such as the full sp­an casting yard for construction. Further, the use of methods such as launching girders has fast-tracked construction. The construction of bridges over rivers and station development with­in the project are also fast paced. Mean­whi­le, owing to these innovations, India now has export orders for casting equipment, which was initially imported by us. Within a short period, Indian Railways has exported nearly 80 consignments of this equipment.

Going forward

The focus now is on the creation and expansion of dedicated freight corridors and high-speed rail in order to improve the railways’ load carrying capacity and reduce logistics costs. Going forward, as a part of the National Rail Plan for 2030, Indian Railways will work towards creating a future-ready railway system.