A version of this blog originally appeared on Climate Home.
Ever since the historic first journey from erstwhile Bombay to Thane in 1853, Indian Railways have experienced an eventful trajectory. Currently the world’s seventh largest commercial employer, with over 1.3 million employees; Indian Railways has now evolved into the fourth largest rail network globally, boasting about 115,000 km of track length across more than 7000 stations. Every day, Railways touch the life of more than 23 million passengers a day, that’s equivalent to the entire population of Australia to put in perspective.
The behemoth operates both long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network; apart from owning coach and locomotive production facilities, captive power plants and large expanses of land across the length and breadth of the country. Railways manufacture much of its rolling stock, heavy engineering and critical components across its six manufacturing plants called Production Units, thereby achieving self-sufficiency as well as export potential to nearby countries.
Given its mammoth scale of operations, the Railways’ ability to influence and bring change is unparalleled. Its large appetite, if appropriately met – can drive an important chapter in India’s low carbon growth story. In FY2013 alone, Indian Railways consumed more than 17.5 billion KWh of electricity, that’s about 1.7 times of power consumed in the whole of Sri Lanka, our neighboring country. To add, Railways also consumed fuel equivalent to about 24.4 million tonnes of coal in the same period to support its traction and non-traction needs.
Nonetheless, Indian Railways realizes the potential for a continued low carbon and sustainable growth as it embarks on capacity additions, improvements in traction, energy efficiency for both mobile and stationary consumption, energy efficient lightings, roof-top solar etc. The ‘Vision 2020’ document aims at sourcing 10% of its energy use from renewable sources by the year 2020. This was later enhanced to 20% with a shift in focus to solar as compared to wind earlier. The enhancement plan was to install 500MW of solar power from roof-top solar installations on railway stations, administrative buildings and vacant land.
Building internal capacity to address key challenges has been an important feature of the transition that Railways is going through. Apart from the newly formed Environmental Management Cell, that closely works with the Rail Ministry and the Railways Board, a host of internal pivot’s are being promoted. An example is the establishment of the Rail Energy Management Company, a JV between RITES Ltd. and Indian Railways for undertaking renewable energy projects.
This is reflected in the comparative performance against international peers. The specific energy consumption and consequently GHG emissions per capita have been constantly declining as a result of increased electrification. As per the recent research by IEA and UIC, Rail in India accounts for approximately 11.5 gCO2e per passenger-km travelled and about 9.5 gCO2e per ton-km of freight transported. This is far lower than the world average specific emissions of 20 gCO2e per passenger-km and 14.5 gCO2e per ton-km freight. Even for China these numbers are a tad higher with 14.5 gCO2e per passenger-km and 10.5 gCO2e per ton-km of freight.
This re-emphasizes the role of Indian Railways as the primary mode of passenger transport and moving goods across the country, with road-ways filling in for the last mile connect. With exponential growth in the Indian Economy, transport has been viewed as one of the critical infrastructures; that facilitate economic growth. Indian Railways estimate the elasticity of transport demand to GDP at 1.25 – which means a projected GDP growth of 9% in India would result in an increased transport demand by more than 11%. Thus, there is an increased recognition that transport infrastructure could become a bottleneck, if not addressed appropriately.
The resultant focus on the development of Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) for long haul operations would lead to considerable savings in energy use and reduced GHG emissions. Recent report compiled by IIM Ahmedabad, as a case study to Delhi-Mumbai dedicated freight corridor suggest a potential to reduce cumulative emissions by nearly 170 million tCO2e over a period of 30 years within the Western Corridor, starting 2016-17. This is a significant 81% reduction by the year 2046-47 – a 100 years into independent India, as compared to business as usual.
Realizing the opportunity to bring in transformational change, Indian Railways in the short term has laid emphasis on improving its measurement and management capabilities. It has thus signed on to become an active participant on the India GHG Program, a voluntary industry led initiative that supports capacity building and improved GHG measurement/management practices. Railways, also participates in the program Advisory Board chaired by Mr. Jamshyd Godrej; along with other eminent businesses and public sector undertakings like NTPC Limited, Indian Oil and GAIL. As a part of its initial engagement, Railways is leading the work on standardizing carbon emission calculations arising out of rail transport in India, on similar lines to that of electricity emission calculations released by Central Electricity Authority (CEA), Ministry of Power, Government of India.
With strong in-house action, as well as initiatives to support other institutions by facilitating low carbon transport, the Indian Railways is truly greening the tracks for sustainable growth in India.