India’s rail network is one of the most densely-used in the world. In 2012-2013, it carried over 8.7 billion passengers and about 1 billion tons of freight.
Although rail transportation is more cost-effective and environment-friendly than road, especially for long distances, India’s railway network has seen little new investment.
Despite India’s growing economy and the attendant growth in the freight business, the railways have been losing market share to road transportation because of inadequate infrastructure and poor services, exacerbated by the need to fit freight trains into busy passenger service schedules. Today, 90% of India's passenger traffic and 65% of its freight uses road transportation. And these shares are growing.
Now, given India’s energy security issues and escalating concerns about the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with road transport, the Government of India is committed to increasing the share of rail transportation in the country.
It is seeking to restore the railways' competitive strengths by urgently adding dedicated freight-only lines along the four key transportation routes – known as the Golden Quadrilateral – which connect Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. These corridors carry the country's heaviest rail traffic and are highly congested; although they account for just 16% of India’s rail track they carry more than 60% of its railway freight.
The new electrified freight-only railway lines will allow trains to haul higher loads faster, cheaper, and more reliably than before, enabling the railways to make a quantum leap in their operations.
The first dedicated freight corridors (DFC) to be built are the Western (Delhi-Mumbai), and the Eastern Corridors (Ludhiana to Kolkata).
World Bank Support
The World Bank is financing 1,133 km of India’s 1,839 km Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (Ludhiana - Kolkata) through a series of three projects: Khurja – Kanpur; Kanpur – Mughal Sarai; and Ludhiana – Khurja. At completion, the program is expected to double the Indian Railways’ carrying capacity along the corridor.
The DFC will adopt proven international technologies and approaches and introduce a number of transformational advances in the way the Indian Railways organizes itself, constructs infrastructure, and operates its services.
It will also help develop the institutional capacity of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL) to build and maintain the infrastructure network.
By progressively extending the new technology and approaches to other important freight routes, the program will allow India to create one of the largest freight operations in the world.
It will also enable the Indian Railways to recapture the market share lost to the very competitive trucking sector, which has among the world’s lowest tariffs for road freight.
The project will benefit the critical power and heavy manufacturing industries in the northern and eastern states through which the corridor passes. These industries rely heavily on the railways to carry their raw materials and take part of their finished and semi-finished goods to both domestic markets as well as to maritime ports on the eastern seaboard.
By transferring freight to dedicated freight-only lines, congestion on railway tracks in the lower Ganges basin will ease, improving passenger rail services. The region is one of India's poorest and most densely populated and its citizens rely heavily on rail transport for affordable travel.
The project will also catalyze economic development in Uttar Pradesh by driving the establishment of industrial corridors and logistics parks along the route.
In the longer term, an improved eastern corridor will contribute to the development of the proposed Trans-Asian Railway involving infrastructure investments in India, Bangladesh, and countries further east.
A Green Project
Notably, the DFC is a green project as by shifting freight transportation from road to rail it will reduce energy consumption in India's transport sector. Moreover, unlike the existing rail network, which runs on a combination of diesel and electrical locomotives, the corridor will operate entirely through electric locomotives, reducing carbon emissions significantly. In fact, a carbon footprint analysis conducted by the Indian Railways finds that the DFC will generate 2.25 times less greenhouse gas emissions over a 30 year period compared to business as usual.