Millennium Post

Efficient rails

Railways are a prime means of transportation within any nation, ascertaining faster delivery of goods from one place to another as also people. In the split purpose that it serves, convenient mobility of goods is essential for prosperous trade. And so, railways lines laid out across the land transport people and goods on the basis of which passenger and goods trains developed. Indian Railways, in fact, was developed in the colonial period as a cheap and easy system for the transportation of goods besides added provision for the mobilisation of British troops. However, the rapid mobilisation of goods and people has not been realised in the modern-day. It is for the fact that corridors developed in the late nineteen century and the start of the twentieth century largely define India's Railway network. Barring few more lines laid out, India has followed a comprehensive maintenance policy to ensure smooth functioning of all railway corridors. This lack of modernity has definitely caused an apparent stagnation in the system. When we can realise the full potential of our railway networks based on modern-day engines, the same has not been happening. A large part of that is due to the sharing of freight and passenger railway corridor. India's population explosion since independence has increased the frequency of passenger trains being run across the country, resulting in major occupations of railway corridors for swift transportation of passengers. That effect has reduced the freight share of Indian Railways down to 36 per cent from a handsome 86 per cent in 1950s. The fact sufficiently explains both the congestion pervasive in freight corridors, consequently increasing the goods transportation duration, and slower passenger trains — despite higher-speed travel capacity i.e., 100-110 km/h — because of slower goods trains running at an average speed of 25 km/h on the same corridor. The balance tipped by the dual purpose of railways requires modernisation. The entire premise explains India's requirement for dedicated freight corridors that transport goods on a separate corridor, decongesting the existing railway corridors as well as allowing passenger trains to travel at faster speeds. India's dedicated freight corridor is said to decongest around 70 per cent of Railways' goods traffic. The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL) is currently developing two dedicated freight corridors — the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) and the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC). The 1,856-km long EDFC will connect Ludhiana (Punjab) to Dankuni (West Bengal) while the 1,483 km-long WDFC will run from Rewari (Haryana) to Mumbai's Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. Both will be fully operational by December 2021, however, the nerve-centre of EDFC, touted as the World's second-biggest Operational Control Centre for goods train, at Prayagraj is ready to commence operations by end of February. A similar Control Centre will be set up for WDFC as well at Ahmedabad (Gujarat). Collectively, the two corridors are one of India's biggest infrastructure projects with a combined stretch of 3,360 kilometres. With these two dedicated freight corridors, the average speed of goods trains is set to increase from 25 km/h to 70 km/h, enabling faster mobility of goods across the states covered under the new corridors. It would be prudent on DFCCIL's part to include the transportation of green produces through these dedicated freight corridors. These perishables require swift delivery and dedicated corridors will serve well for the purpose of their unimpeded transportation. EDFC, in particular, can reduce the travel time for transportation of produces between breadbasket of Punjab and rice bowl of Bengal.

India's bid to build these corridors is increasingly prudent given the rising need for faster travel. While these two corridors will come up by December 2021, DFCCIL has also planned four additional corridors for future. A 2,000-km East-West Corridor traversing through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal; a 2,173-km North-South Corridor through Delhi, UP, MP, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu; a 1,100-km East-East Corridor along the eastern seaboard from West Bengal to Chennai; a South-South Corridor including the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa. All four additional corridors on top of the two aforementioned corridors will unlock the real potential of Indian Railways. Together, the six new dedicated freight corridors will account for a huge cut in the duration of goods mobility between places while providing faster access to Indian ports, thereby increasing the export capacity of goods, especially of perishable character. The nexus of new freight corridors will also make the existing ones free for faster travel by passenger trains that can open the window for more semi-high speed premium trains. While bringing in cutting-edge technology from Europe and Japan for high-speed rail lines that allow for 200-300 km/h average speed is an expected trend, reducing the freight load on current lines is a preferred initial step to allow the traditional system to reach its maximum utility.

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