PM Modi’s Vision To Herald A New Era For India’s Rail Freight Network

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unveiling his ambitious plans for transforming the Indian rail sector, has declared that “the coming five years will give a new height to India’s infrastructure. The coming five years will be of Indian Railways revolution,” under his leadership.

Speaking at an event in Delhi, PM Modi emphasized his commitment to modernizing and revolutionizing the country’s rail network and promised to share detailed information about these development plans.

The PM’s emphasis on the revolutionization of the Indian railways has sparked curiosity and hope among industry stakeholders about the revamp and modernization of the nation’s vast rail network.

While we await to hear about the further revamp and modernization plans for the Indian Rail network, let’s take a look at the substantial transformation that the Indian Railway’s has undergone in the last few years, especially in terms of freight transportation.

Hungry for Cargo

The Indian Railways “Hungry for Cargo” motto aims at improving the new traffic coming to railways from both conventional and non-conventional commodity streams. Under this, the Indian Railways has made sustained efforts to improve the ease of doing business and the delivery of service at competitive prices.

In line with its “Hungry for Cargo” mantra, the Indian Railways has accomplished a cumulative freight loading of 1434.01 million metric tons (MT) between April 2023 and February 2024, surpassing last year’s loading of 1367.5 MT by approximately 66.51 MT, a significant improvement over the corresponding period of the previous year.

Moreover, Railways recorded earnings of Rs. 1,55,557.1 crore during this period, marking an increase of approximately Rs. 6,468.17 crore compared to the same period last year.

Infrastructure

Significant investments have been made to modernize and improve the railway infrastructure to improve the efficiency of freight transport. Improving the facilities of existing and new railway stations, the Indian Railways has an ambitious plan to redevelop 123 stations to convert them into Railopolis or 24×7 multimodal hubs. The first phase of redevelopment covers 50 stations at an estimated cost of Rs 50,000 crore.

Indian Railways also aim to build more terminals under the Gati Shakti policy; investing in special types of wagons and sending goods by rail as aggregators, especially consumer goods, will further improve the freight services of India Railways. Special wagons are designed to help carry vehicles, SUVs, etc., thus helping automakers. One can also hope that railways will start working on the cold chain since a few pilot projects were done.

The Indian Railways is also enhancing its wagon availability. It has placed an order for 84,000 wagons, the highest in the national transporter’s history.

Moreover, Railways is now planning to deploy more than one lakh aluminum wagons in the coming years. Due to its lighter weight, the lifetime carbon savings is eight to 10 tons, which means savings of more than 14,500 tons of carbon for a single rake.

Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC)

The DFC project aims to construct six freight corridors across the country to provide safe and efficient freight transportation.

Of the two crucial Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs), the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), spanning 1337 km from Ludhiana to Sonnagar, has reached completion, marking a major milestone in the government’s infrastructure development agenda. Whereas the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC), extending from Jawaharlal Nehru Port Terminal (JNPT) to Dadri and covering a vast distance of 1506 km, with 1220 km of it already completed, now has train operations underway in the finished sections, bringing tangible benefits to the transportation network.

With the ambitious goal of reducing logistics costs to less than 10% of GDP, as outlined in the National Logistics Policy, DFCs play a pivotal role in realizing India’s economic potential.

By augmenting rail infrastructure and optimizing freight movement, DFCs not only enhance efficiency and reduce transit times but also spur economic growth, foster trade, and generate employment opportunities. Moreover, with the shift of freight trains from Indian Railway tracks to DFC tracks, the capacity augmentation allows for the operation of more passenger trains, benefiting local communities.

Collaborations

The Indian Railways has been fostering collaborations with industries and businesses to foster mutually beneficial relationships. These have helped the railways serve customers better by enhancing last- and first-mile connectivity and efficiency.

Railways, under its collaboration with India Post, have announced the launch of a new product, allowing customers to receive door-to-door services. Both the railways and the postal service will provide middle- and first-mile services.

Recently, in February, the Indian Railways joined hands with a Swiss firm for tunneling works on multiple projects, including the Rishikesh-Karna Prayag New Railway Line and the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link, as per information shared by Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha. The collaboration between Indian Railways and Swiss firms will encompass various areas such as rolling stock, railway infrastructure, rail safety, train scheduling and operation improvement, multimodal transport, new technology, and innovation, as well as any other area mutually identified.

In other collaborations, Indian Railways has joined hands with USAID to reduce the carbon footprint of Indian Railways and work towards achieving the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030. The Indian Railway also signed an MoU with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to reduce energy and water consumption, lowering GHG emissions.

Sustainability

Indian Railways aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions, for which it is looking into railway electrification, enhancing the energy efficiency of locomotives and trains, green certification for stations, and shifting towards renewable energy sources. It is estimated to ensure savings on fuel and energy bills, amounting to around Rs. 14,500 crores per annum; from an environmental protection perspective, that is a big step in the right direction. Also, electric locomotives are faster, lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain, leading to reduced track maintenance costs. Not only is it pollution-free, but it also produces less noise and heat compared to a diesel locomotive. Only in very inclement weather and in far-flung areas where electric overhead lines are harder to maintain do diesel locomotives make sense. Over 24000 km of Indian Railways’ route has been electrified in the last seven years. Besides, development work on line doubling and laying new rail lines is progressing quickly. 85% of the electrification is already complete, and the plan is to complete 100% electrification by the end of the current financial year 2023.

Overall, the Indian Railways has made significant strides in terms of modernizing the network. Looking ahead, we believe it is poised for even greater accomplishments, especially in the freight sector.

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