New Delhi: Despite having commissioned thousands of kilometres of railway routes as electrified track, the Modi government is not able to run electric locomotives on many of these lines.
Why? According to people with knowledge of the matter, traction substations (TSS), which are essential for running electric locomotives, are yet to come up along recently-converted electrified lines.
As a result, the trains on these routes are not hauled by electric locos but diesel ones, in a development that raises questions over the ‘Mission Electrification’ plan of the Indian Railways.
As of November 2018, many of these commissioned routes have only 2KV overhead electric wires – while they actually require a 25 KV line for hauling trains, for which you also need a dedicated TSS.
For instance, sections of the Bakhtiyarpur-Rajgir, Ramnagar-Mysore, Melargram-Renukut and Siripuram-Tamalacheruvu routes are a few lines among others which are shown in official railway records as ‘commissioned’ but are actually not yet ready for operating electric locomotives.
This, senior railways officials told The Wire, is adding further fuel to an already raging debate over the Indian Railways’ electrification programme.
As The Wire has extensively reported, even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has raised questions over the national transporter’s decision to electrify 100% of its network in the next four years, as it will require substantial investment to replace existing diesel locomotives and phase out the ones in use.
As a 2016 government press release pointed out, electrification of the Indian Railways is projected to result in thousands of crores in savings on fuel bills from 2020 onwards in addition to reducing the national transporter’s carbon footprint.
“Crores of rupees were spent on electrification project but then what is the use if the Railways is still unable to run electric locos on these electrified tracks,” a senior railways official says.
Other decisions that have been recently taken on electric locomotives are also puzzling, say officials. For instance, the state-owned Chittaranjan Locomotive Works recently produced a new electric loco, which is expected to travel at 200 kmph.
However, the ground reality is that nowhere in India is the rail track fit for 200 kmph. Barring the 90-km stretch between Palwal and Mathura, which has been upgraded to 160 kmph for Gatimaan Express, a train can go up to the maximum speed of 130 kmph only for the rest of the network.
According to railways data, 4,087 route-kilometres were commissioned last fiscal, which the national transporter claims is the highest-ever record. In the current fiscal, about 1,000 km has been commissioned till now, as against the target of 6,000 km.
TSS and power supply
Besides the absence of TSS-es, some electrified routes do not have the adequate power supply to ensure the operation of electric locomotives.
“Even where the power supply is ensured, railways do not have required number of electric locos,” said one official and added, “one needs industry support for rolling stock and state support for power supply without which commissioned track would not have any meaning.”
According to the rolling stock plan, the Indian Railways has to manufacture 725 electric locos every year for the next three years to cater to the growing demand for electric traction.
This places responsibility on several railways PSUs – Diesel Loco Works at Varanasi, Chittaranjan Loco Works at Chitaranjan and Diesel-Loco Modernisation at Patiala – to be able to manufacture these many locos to meet the target.
Acknowledging the problem, a senior official involved in the electrification work told The Wire that the construction of TSS involves issues of land acquisition, forest clearance and support from states for getting the adequate power supply.
There has been repeated correspondence between the railway minister and respective chief ministers of states to expedite the process of power supply, said the official quoted above.
Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are some of the states with which railways is taking up the issue.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.