Dedicated Freight Corridors: Paradigm Shift Coming in Indian Railways’ Freight Operations

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By Deepak Razdan

Freight operations on the Indian Railways are set to witness a paradigm shift with the stage-wise completion of its two dedicated freight corridors, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) and the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), over the next four years, beginning 2017-18.

Eighty-six per cent of the 10548 hectares land required has been acquired and most environmental clearances obtained for the projects passing through nine States and 61 districts. By the end of the current financial year (2015-16), or mid-2016, most contracts for the Rs 81,459 crore projects are planned to be awarded.

The commissioning of the two projects, spanning over 3360 route kms, will not only help the railways regain its market share of freight transport but guarantee, at the same time, an efficient, reliable, safe and cheaper system of goods movement. With the two freight corridors in operation, the railways’ freight operations will see a fundamental change brought about by reduction in unit cost of transportation, smaller organization and management cost, with higher efficiency and lower energy consumption.

Being executed by the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), a Special Purpose Vehicle set up under the Ministry of Railways in 2006, the two dedicated freight corridors will provide relief to the railways’ heavily congested Golden Quadrilateral along the western and eastern rail routes, and facilitate fresh industrial activity and multi-modal value-addition services hubs along the corridors.
The Indian Railways’ Golden Quadrilateral comprises the railways network linking the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Howrah, along with its two diagonals (Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Howrah), adding up to a total route length of 10,122 kms and carries more than 58 per cent of the railways’ revenue earning freight traffic.

The congestion on the Golden Quadrilateral is affecting railways’ efficiency and it is not able to retain or increase its share in the growing goods traffic resulting from the economic boom. A fundamental reason for this, the Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu, said in his Railway Budget 2015-16 speech, was “chronic underinvestment” in the railways. This had led to congestion and over-utilization, along with sub-optimal freight and passenger traffic and fewer financial resources.

To ease the situation on the saturated Golden Quadrilateral, the Government of India has, in the first phase, approved construction of the two corridors, the WDFC with a length of 1504 route kms and the EDFC with a length of 1856 route kms. The EDFC, starting from Dankuni in West Bengal will pass through the States of Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to terminate at Ludhiana in Punjab. The WDFC connecting Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai-Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT), will traverse through the National Capital Region and the States of Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The WDFC will join the EDFC at Dadri.

The sanctioned cost of WDFC is Rs 46,718 crore and that of the EDFC is Rs 26,674 crore. The entire cost of the capital expenditure is being financed by the Ministry of Railways through debt and equity. Debt will be financed through loans from multilateral leading agencies. The finalization of contracts has picked up. Contracts worth Rs.17,590 crores have been finalized in the last one year as against Rs 13,000 crore worth contracts in the last six years.

The WDFC has awarded civil work contracts worth Rs.11,028 crores for construction of 625 km long railway line from Rewari to Iqbalgarh in Phase I and 322 km from Vadodara to Vaitarna in Phase-II. Besides, Electrical & Signal & Telecommunication contracts worth Rs. 5,486 crores for 950 km in Phase-1 have also been awarded. The EDFC has awarded contract worth Rs 3300 crore for construction of 343 kms double track line between Kanpur and Khurja. Electrical & Signal & Telecommunication Contract for Kanpur to Khurja has also been awarded. In another contract, the EDFC has awarded contract worth Rs 5080 crore for construction of 402 kms double track line between Mughalsarai-New Bhaupur (Kanpur).

The Western Corridor comprising a 1504 km double line track from JNPT to Dadri has its alignment mostly parallel to the existing lines, except for detours, and entirely on a new alignment from Rewari to Dadri and from Sanand to Vadodara. The WDFC will have its links with the Indian Railway system at Dadri, Prithala, Rewari, Ateli, Phulera, Bangurgram, Marwar, Palanpur, Chatodar, Mehsana, Sanand (N), Sanand (S), Makarpura, Udhna, Kharbao and JNPT.

The WDFC will mainly benefit export-import container traffic, besides petroleum, oils and lubricants, imported fertilizers and coal, foodgrains, cement, salt, and iron and steel. The expected traffic over WDFC in 2021-22 is expected to be 152.24 million tones.

The EDFC with a route length of 1856 km will have an electrified single line segment of 447 km between Ludhiana-Khurja and Khurja-Dadri. The link points with the Indian Railways will include Chawapail, Sirhind, Tundla, Kanpur, Mughalsarai, Sonnagar and Dankuni. Traffic to benefit will include coal for power plants in the northern region from coalfields in Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal; finished steel, foodgrains and cement.
Referring to the railways’ falling share in the goods traffic, the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) said “the country transports nearly 57 per cent of the total goods by road, as compared to 22 per cent in China and 37 per cent in the US.” In contrast, the Indian railways transports only 36 per cent of the total goods traffic in the country, compared to the 48 per cent in the US and 47 per cent in China.

The Twelfth Plan pointed out how urgent investments in the railways were needed and said “If consistent growth of 7-10 per cent per annum is to be achieved over the next 20 years, there is a pressing need for unprecedented capacity expansion of the railways for both freight and passenger traffic in a manner that has not taken place since Independence.” The Twelfth Plan said the Indian Railway is the fourth largest railway network in the world, and had on 31 March, 2011 a total route length of 64,460 kms of which 21,034 kms is electrified. The total track length is 1,13,994 kms of which 1,02,680 kms is broad guage, 8,561 kms is meter guage and 2,753 kms is narrow guage. Considering the requirements of the economy and size of the country, the expansion of the railway network has been inadequate, though the Indian Railways have added 11,864 kms of new lines since Independence, the Twelfth Plan document says.

Referring to saturation of the capacity in different routes, the Railway Minister said in his Budget speech this year that “On a single track, the Indian Railways have to run fast express trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi, ordinary slow passenger trains as well as goods trains. Is it surprising that though Rajdhani and Shatabdi are capable of doing 130 km per hour, the average speed does not exceed 70? Is it surprising that the ordinary train or a goods train can not average more than around 25 km per hour.” It is noteworthy that the two dedicated freight corridors can allow train speed up to a maximum of 100 km per hour.

The major achievements for the two projects include completion of negotiation for EDFC-3 Project and loan amount of US$ 650 million sanctioned by World Bank on 30 June last year. Engine rolling of Sasaram-Durgawati section done on 30 June, 2015 after completion of track & OHE work. There has been tenfold increase in progress of earthwork and concreting in Rewari-Iqbalgarh section of WDFC in last eight months.

Similarly, there is threefold increase in progress of earthwork and concreting in Khurja-Kanpur section of EDFC in last eight months. Track linking with mechanized track laying machine started for the first time in India during June 2015 in EDFC. The first junction arrangement with Indian Railways commissioned in June, this year. The sleeper plant at Bhagega in WDFC has been commissioned and sleeper production in EDFC expedited from 1000 a day to 1500 a day. Coastal Regulatory Zone clearance in Thane and Raigarh districts have been received.

In the acquisition of land, the DFCCIL has implemented one of the best rehabilitation and resettlement packages for the people affected by the projects. More than three lakh people will be affected by the two projects. Land is being acquired under the Railway Amendment Act, 2008. Eighty-six per cent of the land has been acquired except the Sonnagar-Dankuni Section.

Compensation as per the new land acquisition Act has been started with effect from 1st January, 2015. Due to resistance from land losers, land acquisition is held up in 140 patches covering a length of 192 km in EDFC and in 231 patches covering a length of 183 km in WDFC. Regular meetings and interaction are being undertaken at Chief Secretary and other official levels of the State Government for resolution of issues. Out of more than 7000 arbitration cases and 1500 court cases pertaining to land acquisition, 3536 arbitration and 681court Cases have been finalized after consistent persuasion by DFCCIL.

In the execution of the two dedicated freight corridors, the DFCCIL aims to follow a low carbon path, adopting various technological options which can help them to operate with greater energy efficiency. As per a 30 year greenhouse gas (GHS) emission forecast, if there were no dedicated freight corridors, the GHG emissions would be 582 million ton CO2, while the emissions with the two DFCs in service would be less than one-fourth at 124.5 million ton CO2.

Ministry of Railways plans to have four more dedicated freight corridors and has assigned the DFCCIL to undertake preliminary engineering and traffic survey (PETS) for them. These additional corridors are East-West Corridor (Kolkata-Mumbai) approximately 2330 Kms; North-South Corridor (Delhi-Chennai) approximately 2343 Kms; East Coast Corridor (Kharagpur-Vijaywada) 1100 Kms; and the Southern Corridor (Chennai – Goa) approx 899 Kms.

(Deepak Razdan is Senior Journalist and former Research Associate, NITI Aayog, New Delhi)