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FEATURE STORY January 21, 2021

India Takes a Quantum Leap in Building New Freight Corridors


Photo Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank


  • India’s Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor is a world-class, freight-only railway line that is part of India’s most ambitious railway project since independence.
  • State-of-the-art technologies have been deployed along the corridor, marking a quantum leap for the traditionally labor-intensive railways sector.
  • The initiative will lower India’s logistics costs, support industrial zones along the route, free up existing tracks for passenger trains and move the country onto a greener growth path.

Glance out of a train window as it whistles across the Gangetic plain and an unusual sight confronts you. Huge yellow gantries rise up amidst the tranquil countryside, and massive machines lumber alongside, placing new tracks at a speed and scale never seen in India before.    


On December 29, 2020, Prime Minister Modi flagged off the Khurja-Bhaupur stretch of the track, the first section of the 1,856 km long EDFC that will run between the industrial hub of Ludhiana in Punjab and Dankuni near Kolkata in West Bengal.

The electrified railway line will allow freight trains to travel three times faster while pulling heavier loads. The quicker, cheaper, and more reliable movement of goods will contribute to reducing India’s inordinately high logistics costs and help bind the country into a single market.

The corridor will also drive the establishment of industrial zones at junction points along the way, breathing new energy into one of India's poorest, most densely populated and least industrialized regions.

At the same time,  

It has the potential to make India a front-runner in rail freight operations, boosting the competitive edge of its manufacturers and producers,” said Martha Lawrence, who leads Railway Solutions at the World Bank.

"This pioneering initiative will be a game changer for India’s transport sector, moving India onto a greener growth path. It has the potential to make India a front-runner in rail freight operations, boosting the competitive edge of its manufacturers and producers."
Martha Lawrence
Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank


VIDEO May 23, 2016

Green Signal for Faster Development: India’s New Freight Corridor

All around the world, moving freight by rail is far quicker, cheaper and greener than sending it by road. Not so much in India where rail freight is slow and unpredictable. Now, new world-class freight corridors will ease pressure on existing tracks and help boost trade and growth along some of India’s busiest routes.

Building a world-class system

The project has not only been a landmark for the Indian Railways, it has also ushered in a quantum leap in technology for the traditionally labor-intensive railways sector.

“With 7,000 km of world-class freight tracks to be built within a tight budget and schedule, we needed the latest equipment, modern construction techniques, and the best expertise from all over the world,” said Mr. Ravindra Kumar Jain, MD of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL). “This, along with the necessary transfer of technology would enable us to move towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat,” he added, citing India’s policy of forging a competitive and self-reliant economy. DFCCIL is a corporate entity created by the Government of India to execute this mammoth task.

“The project was the first major expansion of the Indian Railways, marking a bold new chapter for the railways sector,” said Atul Agarwal, the World Bank’s Senior Transport Specialist. “It creates a new model for the railways and brings in the flexibility to introduce innovations.”

Not surprisingly, the initiative has seen many firsts. As the Indian Railways’ first turnkey project, DFCCIL brought in teams of international experts to help with design, execution and procurement.

Old methods were replaced with modern ones. Track laying was fully automated and towering yellow gantries placed each quarter km-long rail with precision. What’s more, the work was completed five times faster, and with a three times smaller workforce. Overhead wiring, signaling and telecommunications works were also mechanized, and drones were deployed to monitor construction.

For the first time, operations will no longer be controlled by station masters along the route. Instead, signaling along the entire length of the EDFC will be managed by a state-of-the-art Operations Control Center at Prayagraj, one of the world’s largest such centers.

Furthermore, in  a major ‘Make in India’ enterprise, powerful new locomotives that can pull the 6,000 tonne freight trains at 75-100 km/hour are now being manufactured in Madhepura, Bihar, in collaboration with the French company Alstom.

The initiative has also opened new vistas for Indian construction companies. Their exposure to new technology and investment in state-of-the-art machinery has equipped them to take on further projects and expand their operations overseas.

Mechanized methods in both track laying and overhead wiring have increased productivity and significantly reduced safety risks that are typical of conventional methods,” said Rajeev Jyoti, Chief Executive of Larsen & Toubro’s Railway Business. “Moreover, the project has adopted international contracting documentation and provides a fair balance of risk between the client and the contractor.” 

Photo Credit: World Bank


All told, the corridors will have significant economic, environmental and social impact.

They will help India reduce its unduly high logistics costs from some 13-15 percent of GDP, helping it move towards the target of 8 percent, bringing them more in line with global standards.

In addition, each kilometer-long freight train on the EDFC will replace some 72 trucks on average. This will ease congestion on India’s overcrowded roads and highways, which carry an overwhelming 60 percent of the country’s freight, and make the roads safer.

Besides, the move from diesel-operated trucks to electrified rail, together with the shift from older railway lines to the energy-efficient corridor, will reduce India’s fossil fuel consumption and lower its carbon footprint.

For instance, the recently opened Khurja - Bhaupur section alone will decrease the country’s CO2 emissions by some 4.2 million tonnes between 2022 and 2052 and make a significant dent in air pollution.

The decongestion of roads along this stretch will also save India some Rs 4.9 billion in logistics costs, with additional benefits of Rs 2.4 billion accruing from reduced pollution.

Significantly, the dedicated freight corridors will bring about a paradigm shift in rail services, enabling multiple freight operators to use the tracks by 2022.

Going forward, India’s railway authorities plan to extend these corridors along the Golden Quadrilateral, and the diagonals between them, linking the country from east to west, and north to south. Feasibility studies of Kharagpur-Vijayawada, Vijayawada-Itarsi, Bhusawal-Dankuni, and Rajkharswam-Andal sections (about 4,000 km) will be conducted in 2021.