Union Minister for Railways, Ashwini Vaishnaw unveiled a five-element transformation plan to cater to Indian Railways' strategy of moving a billion people safely and sustainably in the coming years. The Minister was addressing the Mint Mobility Conclave on Thursday (28 July).
Here is an overview of the five elements in the transformation plan, which have been identified with a 25-year target of 2047 when India celebrates her hundredth Independence Day.
1. World Class Stations
The Minster said that the ambitious redevelopment programme of railway stations to world class standards envisages making them city centre and unify the city. Plans are also in the offing to create urban spaces over these platforms which would be known as roof plazas and integrate them with various modes viz; road, metro and bus services.
A total of 46 tenders have been issued, 53 designs approved and 386 master plans are under preparation, according to the Minister.
2. Modern Trains for Comfort and Speed
Indian Railways rolled out India's first Semi High Speed Train, "Vande Bharat Express" in February 2019, with an aim to provide rail travellers, the speed and comfort of train similar to European standards.
Designed and manufactured in India, the Vande Bharat 1.0 is currently running on two routes New Delhi-Vaishno Devi Mata, Katra and New Delhi-Varanasi and has collectively traversed a distance of 18 lakh kms since the inaugural run.
The Minister in his presentation emphasised on Railway’s plan to improve ride quality in future version of Vande Bharat trains. Ride quality is measured by Ride Index - a typical Ride Index in Indian Railway System ranges between 3.5 to 4, which is much higher, compared to 2-2.5 in European Railways and 1.5-2 in Shinkansen Rail in Japan.
One such improvement has been the use of air springs in train bogey - air suspension has many advantages over conventional steel spring suspension.
Vande 2.0 which is ready to be rolled out from Integral Coach Factory, Chennai in next few weeks, will offer better ride quality with a Ride Index of 2.5-3, better seating and interiors and shall have a top speed of 180 kmph, according to the Minister.
The Railways has already finalised the design for Vande Bharat 3.0, designed for a top speed of 220 kmph. The Minister said that tenders for the third generation Vande Bharat trains are likely to be finalised by December 2022 and expressed hope that Railways would be able to roll out the Vande 3.0 by 2025.
To achieve the ambitions plan of rolling out 75 such trains by August 2023, 300 trains by 2028, the Railways has effected a massive structural and organisational change. These include life cycle cost based tenders, and Independent Safety Assessment (ISA) of design, safety and quality control.
3. Automatic Train Protection Using KAVACH Technology
KAVACH has been developed indigenously by Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) in association with three Indian vendors and has been adopted as our National Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System.
It activates the train braking system automatically if the driver fails to control the train as per the speed restrictions. In addition, it prevents collision between two Locomotives equipped with a functional KAVACH system.
The Minister shared his experience of the trial run of the system - on 4 March 2022, the successful trial of KAVACH was conducted between Gullaguda – Chitgidda Railway stations of South Central Railway, during which a Head-on-collision situation was created with two locomotives moving towards each other.
Railways have issued tenders for installing the system on 300 km route length. Further the Minister elaborated on the steps taken for capacity building for successful implementation of ATP system – about 500 engineers have been trained on the system and another 1,000 industry professionals shall be trained at IRISET, Secunderabad.
4. More Cargo For Reducing Logistics Cost
The Minister highlighted that share of railways in overall transportation of goods in the country had been falling since 1950 which is the prime cause of rising cost of logistics in the country.
However, the Minister noted that the Railways have been able to reverse the trend. He stressed that India has to shift away from road transport to railways if it wants affordable logistics.
"After almost 70 years, the share of railways has increased from 27 per cent to 28 per cent. The number will go to 32 per cent in a few years which will reduce the cost of logistics. So if we are able to increase the railway share from 28 per cent to 50 per cent and decrease the road share from 70 per cent to 50 per cent, then our logistics cost will come down to 11 per cent of the economy," Vaishnaw added.
To increase the modal share of railways, Railways have embarked on plan to induct 9,000 and 12,000 HP locomotives, which shall roll out of Dahod and Varanasi respectively by the year 2024. .
The Minister, further, added that plans have been finalised to increase the share of small parcels in the overall cargo carrying capacity of the network. To address this segment, Railways will roll out freight EMU - a high speed freight train designed exclusively for small parcels - by the end of December 2022. The pilot of freight EMU train between Surat-Varanasi has given encouraging results.
Railways is also working on Hybrid freight and passenger train to increase the cargo loading. The multi-deck train will carry passengers on upper deck and cargo on the lower deck and is expected to roll out by 2023.
5. Bullet Train – New Way Of Construction
Using advanced construction technology, pillars have been erected on a route length of 75 km in Gujarat portion of Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train project.
In an effort to expedite the construction of Bullet Train project, the implementing agency National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHRCL) is adopting new and advanced construction technique, the Full Span Launching Method (FSLM). Straddle carrier is used to handle the Full Span Precast Box Girders.
The tyre- mounted self-propelled Straddle Carrier weighs has a lifting capacity of 1,100MT. The Straddle Carrier lifts the girder from casting bed and transport it till the stacking yard. Further, it feeds the girder from stacking yard to bridge gantry for erection over piers.
Once ready for passenger services, the country's first bullet train will operate at a speed of 320 km per hour and cover the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in roughly three hours.
In a Q&A session, the Minister outlined the status of various other dimensions of Railway operations. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Wagon intake
The Railways has placed an order for 75,000 wagons – a record for the national transporter. According to the Minster, 1,500 new wagons are being currently inducted every month into the network.
The mammoth induction has translated into a record 181 million tonnes of additional cargo transported by Indian Railways in the year 2021 and is expected to increase to 200 million tonnes by 2022.
The Minister said that the Indian Railways has floated a tender seeking 10-year supply of forged wheels. Railways require close to 160,000 wheels every year.
“The wheels that we manufacture in India are good for speeds below 120 kmph. Now we have to move above 120 kmph. Earlier these wheels used to be imported from Ukraine and Russia. Now we will start manufacturing them in India," Vaishnaw added.
Indian Railways’ move to electrify the country’s broad-gauge network by 2023-24 is nearing completion. Further, the Railway recently directed that all electrification would be sanctioned with 2×25 kV traction system only, an upgrade from the 1×25 kV traction system in place.
While all new electrification work will be completed on 2×25 kV traction, previously electrified routes will also be upgraded to the new standard in a phased manner.
4. Private Passenger Trains
Indian Railways is currently proving a concession of 55 per cent on every passenger ticket. The Minister expressed concern at financial unviability of private passenger train operations as they cannot provide such a huge concession and said that further evaluation would be required in this regard.
The Minister said that there should be more investment in the rail network of the country. The Indian Railways saw a 14 per cent jump in capital expenditure to Rs 2.45 lakh crore in financial year 2022-23, a far cry from Rs 9 lakh crore capital investment by the competing economies for the last 30 years.
“India should be investing significantly more into Railways. We have to invest Rs 3 lakh crore consistently to meet the aspiration of the people and lower logistics cost in the country," Vaishnaw said.
Vaishnaw said India's first hydrogen train could be operational by 15 August next year, and mentioned that Railways was doubling new track laying to 12 km/day from 4-5 km/day with higher capex investment in place.
“The merger of the Railway budget with the general budget was a right move and because of this move, average investment which used to be Rs 40,000-45,000 crore per annum has gone up to Rs 90,000 crore…We have increased the absorption capacity and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given us capital investment of Rs 1.37 lakh crore," the Minister further added.
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