New Rail Corridors in India Cut Harmful Gasses While Boosting Speed

December 7, 2015

Photo: Smeet Chowdhury

  • A World Bank-supported project will help shift heavy freight off roads and on to rail in India.
  • Moving freight to rail will drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.
  • And state-of-the-art technology will speed trains while further cutting costs

Rail travel in India is a critical part of people’s daily lives and a backbone of the country’s economy. Indian Railways handles 23 million passengers and 3 million tons of freight daily. At 64,600 kilometers, it is the world’s fourth largest rail network.

The India government is keen to grow the share of railways in land transportation by increasing physical capacity and the quality of its rail system. It is also committed to cutting its transport GHG emissions.

The World Bank is supporting India’s objectives through the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor project, which is one of several corridors connecting the main centers of economic activity – New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Through a series of projects, the World Bank has provided the government of India with $US 2.725 in loans to build 1,176 kilometers of freight-only rail lines.

Through the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor project, rail lines that routinely carried 200 trains a day will carry 520. The lines will be able to carry heavy axle loads at higher speeds. Track speeds will more than double from the current 25 km an hour to an average of 60 km per hour.  Through investments in new track, state-of-the-art rolling stock, 178 high powered electric locomotives and 10,000 freight wagons, the project will create additional capacity of 600 metric tons. Reforms to the way the railways are managed and increased competition will also make service more reliable.

This new corridor is a freight-only rail line that will provide faster and more efficient movement of raw materials and finished goods between the northern and eastern parts of India. The corridor will also allow Indian Railways to free up space and better serve the large passenger market in this densely populated area.

Also of vital importance, over the next 30 years, the project will significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“The dedicated freight corridor project will contribute to reduction of 67 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2041-42,” explains Bernard Aritua, a senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank. Experts say the Eastern dedicated freight corridor is expected to generate about 10.48 million tons of GHG emissions by 2041-42, as against 23.29 million of GHG emissions without it. That’s a 55 percent reduction of GHG emissions.

  • Some of those reductions will come from moving freight off of roads and on to rail.
  • Some will come through improved, energy-efficient technologies embedded in the new rail system.
  •  And some will come from carbon offsets, via investments in solar and wind power.
  • The project includes a re-forestation program as well.

The Eastern Corridor freight lines mostly carry coal, iron and steel, which account for almost 65% of the freight greenhouse gas emissions in the corridor. Dedicated Freight Corridors are becoming more common across India. In the first phase, two corridors, the 1520 km Mumbai-Delhi or Western Dedicated Freight Corridor and the 1856 km Ludhiana-Dankuni, or Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor, are being constructed.

Some of the new technologies planned for the freight trains and tracks are cutting edge. 

  •  Regenerative braking uses an energy recovery mechanism to slow a train by converting its kinetic energy so it can be stored, or used immediately. This is in contrast to conventional braking, which simply wastes the excess kinetic energy that’s converted to heat by friction in the brakes. Regenerative braking improves overall efficiency and it eases wear and tear on brake parts.
  •  By using modern engineering, designers can build aerodynamic rolling stock that lessens wind and weather drag, saving time, money, and fuel.  
  • And on-board lubrication lessens the frictions between the train car wheels and the tracks, again saving money; the American Association of Railroads estimates the cost of such friction damage at more than $US 2 billion dollars every year.
  •  Other new technologies would improve communication and upgrade signaling systems.

The World Bank project is tailored to India’s specific needs and conditions, but is built on expertise gained from similar operations in China and the European Union.  As access to industrial hubs and markets improve, the rail lines will boost new regional and national development.

Planners and officials hope the project will be a catalyst for economic development in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, relatively poor and underdeveloped states in India.

“The direct impact on the lives of ordinary people will be felt in reduced congestion in the cities as more capacity is released from existing rail lines which currently have to carry both freight and passengers,” says Aritua. “This will lead to communities along the corridor having better access to employment opportunities, health, education and other social services.”