Hole in Railways’ pocket spurs ‘Innovation’

New Delhi: Facing financial crunch, the Indian Railways is exploring several possibilities to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel which not only jacks up import bills but also adversely impact the environment.

In a move to adopt environment friendly and cost effective alternate fuel, the Indian Railways has taken up various projects on utilisation of natural gas as fuel for its fleet of diesel locomotives.

The Research Design & Standard Organisation (RDSO), a research wing of the Ministry of Railways based at Lucknow, is actively working on development of a prototype of locomotive based on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Once the prototype is proven on field, Indian Railways plan to build another 20 LNG based locomotives on the same concept.

With the introduction of such technology, there is going to be 50 per cent reduction in operating cost of locomotives even with the recently enhanced LNG prices.

In addition, there is an elimination of visible smoke from these locomotives and significant reductions in other regulated and unregulated emissions like NOx.

Once Indian Railways switches over completely to natural gas as fuel for its diesel locomotives, it would amount to only 2.2per cent of India’s annual natural gas consumption of 81 million tons. It will therefore be commercially feasible option.

At present, Indian Railways are running its fleet of locomotives on predominantly two fuels, that is, diesel and electricity.

Prices of both these fuels have been rising rapidly due to increasing prices of crude oil or imported coal and the devaluation of the Rupee.

Natural gas is emerging as a promising fuel of the future.

This natural gas is available in the form of conventional natural gas, shale gas and gas hydrates.
With the introduction of economical processes of extraction of shale gas, exploitation of shale gas reserves has become a commercial reality.

India also has substantial reserves of natural gas in the form of conventional natural gas, shale gas and gas hydrates.

According to an estimate, India has 1241 billion cubic metres of conventional gas, 7462.5 billion cubic metres of recoverable shale gas reserves and 1890 trillion cubic metres of gas hydrates.

USA and Canada have become the world’s highest exporters of natural gas on account of their shale gas reserves.

To make use of global reserves of natural gas, India is setting up infrastructure for import of LNG into the country. Even LNG terminals are in various stages of being set up on the east and west coasts of India, all with railway connectivity.

The IR foots an annual of Rs.16000 crore each year on diesel and Rs.9000 crore on electricity bills.