Views of Hari Mohan Gupta: “The part-commissioning of DFCs has significantly boosted freight transportation”

Hari Mohan Gupta, director (infrastructure), Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL)

The dedicated freight corridor (DFC) project is seen as a veritable game changer for rail freight movement in India. These corridors will play a pivotal role in increasing the modal share of rail in the country’s overall freight movement from the current 26 per cent to a targeted 45 per cent in 2051. At a recent conference organised by Indian Infrastructure, Hari Mohan Gupta, director (infrastructure), Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), spoke about the progress so far and the future plans. Edited excerpts…

Currently, two DFCs are under construction in India, with a total length of about 3,300 km. The western DFC (WDFC) will connect Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to the Ja­waharlal Nehru Port Authority in Maha­ra­sh­tra, spanning 1,506 km and pa­­ss­ing through Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Raja­s­than, Gu­ja­rat and Ma­ha­rashtra. Meanwhile, the eastern DFC (EDFC) will connect Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal, covering 1,875 km (1,337 km + 538 km) and passing through Punjab, Har­yana, Uttar Pra­de­sh, Bihar, Jharkh­and and West Bengal.

The progress so far

The EDFC’s 351 km long New Bhaupur-New Khurja section commenced operations in Dec­em­ber 2020, followed by the inauguration of the WDFC’s 306 km long New Rewari-New Madar section in January 2021. As of September 2023, 1,046 km has been commissioned under the WDFC, including the Dadri-Sanand section (938 km) and the Bhestan-Sanjan section (108 km). Meanwhile, a 1,150 km long stretch has been commissioned under the EDFC, including the Sah­newal-Shambhu (80 km), Khatauli-Khurja (134 km) and Dadri-Khurja-Bhaupur-DDU-Son­nagar (936 km) sections. The commissioned stretches together constitute nearly 77 per cent of the total project length. The entire DFC project is expected to be completed by December 2024.

The part-commissioning of these DFCs has significantly boosted freight transportation, with the average speed on the DFC tracks being 50-55 km per hour. The number of operational trai­ns per day has increased by 25-30 per cent ow­ing to the creation of new routes. Prior to this, the number of double-stack trains operating per day was 19; this has now inc­rea­sed to 29, thereby substantially increasing freight loading. New ter­minals have been es­tablished, improving service reliability and the customer experience. Ad­d­itio­nally, operations and maintenan­ce costs ha­ve been reduced. Fur­ther­more, passenger train operati­on has become congestion-free due to the increased capacity.

Challenges and mitigation strategies

The key implementation-challenges of the two ongoing DFCs include the finalisation of alignments, land acquisition, statutory and forest clearances, archaeological and local resistance, and rehabilitation. Further, utility shifting has been a key challenge, as national highways, pi­pelines (gas, drinking water, and sewer), electrical telecommunication and railway utilities had to be shifted. In a bid to tackle these issues, DFCCIL has deployed several strategies. These include the for­mation of a land acquisition team consisting of revenue officials in each district, regular meetings with state government of­fi­ci­als, strategically placed project offices to ensure better coordination with state governments and zonal railways, empowering field units for faster decision-making, and leveraging digital technology for project monitoring. Functional independence was given to contractors to ensure timely project completion by proposing the most optimal de­signs, adopting global standards, and globally prevalent construction methods. DFCCIL has ensured quick design approval, im­proved cash flows for contractors, factory acceptance tests of imported items through vi­deo-conferencing, and expedited re­solution of variatio­ns, disputes and arbitratio­ns to ensure that project execution is not stalled.

Implementation of new technology

Some of the key technological solutions deploy­ed during project execution include surveys through global coordinate systems, mechanised earthwork methods, 100 per cent ready mix concrete, and mechanised blanketing and ballasting. DFCCIL can lay 1.4 km per day by machine, a first for Indian Rail­ways. Ot­her key deployments include sleeper manufacturing using the long line me­thod, rail welding by flash butt welding ma­chines, rail de-stressing with super pullers, cr­eation of over-head equipment foundations by machi­n­es and OHE wire laying by wiring trains. DFC also incorporates a modern automatic signalling system with the upcoming train protection system in WDFC along with a diagnostic system. Also, the GSMR system has been commissioned in WDFC.

Future plans

Feasibility studies have been planned for three new DFCs with a total length of 4,399 km – an East Co­a­st DFC of 1,149 km, an East-West DFC of 2,328 km, and a North-South DFC of 922 km. The DRRs are being prepared and are expected to be finalised by the end of  2023. All the ports along In­dia’s eastern coast will be connected by the Ea­st Coast corridor, which will greatly im­prove port connectivity and cargo throughput.