Indian Railways has set a target of going completely green by becoming a ‘net zero’ carbon emitter by 2030 through various initiatives, including electrification of broad gauge, improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable sources. It has also set a goal of electrification of all routes on broad gauge by December 2023. Railway electrification, improving energy efficiency of locomotives and trains and fixed installations, green certification for installations/stations, fitting bio-toilets in coaches and switching to renewable sources of energy are part of its strategy of achieving this net zero carbon emission.
Recently addressing the captains of Indian industry, Minister of Railways, Piyush Goyal said “Railways will move to 100 per cent electrification in the next 3.5 years and 100 per cent Net Zero operator in the next 9-10 years. By 2030, each one of us will be a proud citizen, owning the world’s first large Clean Railways. Prime Minister has promoted—‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’. India is taking the lead role in the International Renewable Community. Transitioning into the international solar grid is something we are all working on. ”
Railways, besides possessing remarkable resource mobilisation capabilities and disciplined manpower, have demonstrated agility and ingenuity to cater to completely new requirements that arose in India’s fight against COVID-19. It played a crucial part in maintaining the supply of essential items and helping livelihoods by stepping up the transportation of goods – such as foodgrains, milk and dairy products, farm produce and medicines by changing the traditional traffic routes, wherever required; aggregating small parcels and operating parcel cargo trains; and transporting critical medical equipment and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Indian Railways has leveraged its resources and demonstrated the capability to manufacture PPE, ventilators, hospital beds and COVID-19 isolation coaches. It has also used its outreach to distribute food and rations in far flung regions. The ingenuity came alive in operating ‘Anaconda’ trains, which are thrice the standard length, and the launch of ‘SETU’ – a one stop helpline for parcel traffic to bridge the gaps in the supply chain. It has helped that Indian Rail to remain ahead of others on the IT curve, with almost all of its freight and passenger operations, as well as customer service, being completely online.
For the Indian Railways, one of the largest organisations in the country operating not just trains for passengers and freight, but also social institutions such as hospitals and schools, it represents a radical change. According to World Bank, in 2018 India had 68,443 route kilometres of railways network. It is among the four largest rail networks in the world, along with the United States, China, and Russia, although every kilometre of track in India covers geographical area much less than Germany, Russia, China or Canada, indicating scope for expansion. Train services operated by Indian Railways cover several classes of passengers, meeting the social service obligation to connect remote locations, and adopting the philosophy of cross-subsidy for passengers in low-cost trains through higher freight tariffs. Indian Railways has completed electrification of more than 40,000 Route Kilometres (RKM). It is working to harness the potential of 500 Mega Watt (MW) energy through roof -top solar panels.
Indian Railways has decided to leverage new technology to improve the efficiency of the system in order to run more trains. One such initiative is a Real Time Train Information System (RTIS), which is used to track the location of trains in real-time through GPS devices installed in the locomotives. Recently, Indian Railways has decided to invite private sector participation in running passenger trains. Indian Railways has launched the process of opening up train operations to private entities on 109 origin destination (OD) pairs of routes using 151 modern trains. It has invited Request for Qualifications proposal, for scrutiny of vendor capabilities, from those who can bring modern trains for operations on existing rail infrastructure. The present move takes another step towards competing passenger train operations, bringing new-generation trains and attracting investments of an estimated INR 30 billion.
Script: Yogesh Sood, Journalist