IR aims for electrification of 90 per cent of all broad-gauge routes by fiscal 2021

Currently, 67 per cent of freight traffic and 50 per cent of passenger traffic is hauled on electric traction. Yet, electricity forms 37 per cent of total traction fuel cost.

NEW DELHI: Indian Railways is well on track to achieve its goals of reducing fuel costs and carbon footprint through electrification of routes. Should the targeted timelines be met, 90 per cent of all broad-gauge routes would be electrified by fiscal 2021.

Sample the aggression: As on April 1, 2016, at 28,000 route kilometres (rkm), the level of electrification was less than half of the broad-gauge network of 59,000 rkm, with the target for electrification at 18,000 rkm over fiscal 2016-20. In November 2016, an action plan prepared by IR raised this target to 24,000 rkm in 5 years (fiscal 2017-21). In line with this, the proposed physical target for fiscal 2018 has been ramped up to 4,000 rkm (up from 2,000 rkm targeted in fiscal 2017 and 1,730 km commissioned in fiscal 2016). The plan, thereafter, is to touch 6,000 km every year.

The push has been supported by a sharp revision in allocations — with the latest Union Budget revising the targeted spend for fiscal 2017 to Rs 3,500 crore from Rs 2,800 crore and proposing a similar outlay for fiscal 2018. For scale, the outlay is 55 per cent higher than the spend in fiscal 2016 and almost three times the average spend over fiscal 2013-15.

Moreover, for accelerated execution, electrification projects are being funded under EBR (institutional finance). Also, IR has joined hands with three public sector undertakings — IRCON, RITES and PGCIL — and expects to reduce its fuel bill by Rs 10,000 crore annually through electrification of major routes.

Still, CRISIL believes the ramp-up would be slightly slower, as contractors would need some time to scale up. Also, the upward bias to electrification outlook is subject to availability of funds and electric locomotive capacity. State-owned electric locomotive manufacturer Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, which is currently operating at a utilisation of over 100 per cent, manufactures only 280 units per annum. Alstom, which will only manufacture 12,000-hp electric locomotives, is expected to start production from 2020 and will slowly ramp up from 30 units initially to 100 units per annum.

CRISIL expects 15,500-16,000 rkm to be electrified between fiscals 2016 and 2020 at a total outlay of Rs 19,000 crore (with the cost of electrifying a double line at Rs 1.2 crore per km). This would be below the target, and could stretch the timeline to 2023, but impressive nonetheless considering the achievement in the preceding five years was 6,182 rkm, with the outlay at Rs 5,100 crore.

DFCs to operate with electrified lines

The two dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) on which work is currently underway will both sport electrified lines. The Western DFC will cover 1,504 km of a double-line electric (2 x 25 KV) track from Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Maharashtra to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh (UP) via the Vadodara-Ahmedabad-Palanpur-Phulera-Rewari route. The Eastern DFC will cover a route length of 1,856 km, including an electrified double track of 1,409 km between Dankuni in West Bengal and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh, and an electrified single track of 447 km between Ludhiana (Dhandarikalan) in Punjab and Dadri in UP.

Cost economics favour electrification

The reason for the push is not far to seek. Electric traction is much cheaper and efficient compared with diesel traction. Currently, 67 per cent of freight traffic and 50 per cent of passenger traffic is hauled on electric traction. Yet, electricity forms 37 per cent of total traction fuel cost.

As such, running trains on electric traction is 50 per cent cheaper than diesel. A CRISIL Research estimate shows that after considering a capital expenditure cost for electrification spread over 6 years, the internal rate of return considering cost savings over the next 10 years works out to be over 25 per cent.

Among other factors in favour of electrification, electric multiple units (EMUs) are ideal for suburban services, which require higher acceleration and braking features for frequent starts and stops. The speed and throughput are also better and electrification generates 12-19 per cent of additional line capacity, owing to faster speeds. Then, there are advantages such as haulage of heavier freight and longer passenger trains at higher speeds, higher payload-to-tare ratio, integration of non-electrified routes with electrified ones for seamless movement, modernisation in areas such as signalling and telecom. To top it all, the carbon footprint is smaller.