Dedicated freight corridors: An upcoming freight solution in India

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The Indian Railways (IR) is one of the biggest railway systems in the world. It is transporting about 23 million passengers and 3.35 million tonnes of freight daily. Freight is mainly the goods transported in bulk quantities through various means of heavy transport systems. The freight services earn profits for IR, most of which are used to make up the losses incurred in passenger business. In fact, the existing trunk routes of Eastern and Western corridors were getting highly saturated. The utilization of the railway line went up to 150%.

Hence, there was a need for segregating the two paths of passenger and freight. So, the concept of Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) was brought up in 2006 to generate efficient capacity for freight traffic. This was done by developing separate tracks on some identified routes. The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL) was incorporated as a separate company under the Ministry of Railways, registered as a company under the Companies Act 1956.

Other objectives

Construction work of freight corridors
  1. To reduce the unit cost of transportation by speeding up freight train operations and achieve high productivity. Carbon emission reduction of 450 mi ton in 30 years from DFCs and help DFCCIL claim carbon credits.
  2. Segregation of passenger trains and freight. Existing railway route known as golden quadrilateral links Delhi, Mumbai, Howrah and Chennai with two diagonal routes. Here, 16% of the routes carried more than 52% passenger traffic. 58% of revenue earning was through freight only.
  3. Railway lost share from 85% to 35% from the period from 1950 to 2011. So, the need to increase these shares and customised logistics was required.
  4. To create additional service to cater high levels of transport demands.
  5. To introduce high end technology and IT packaging of freight services. Also, introduce the time tables freight services and guaranteed transit time.

Planned routes of DFCs

Under the Eleventh Five Year Plan of India (2007–12), the Ministry of Railways is constructing a new Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) in two long routes namely, the Eastern and Western freight corridors. The two routes cover a total length of 3,322 km, with the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (1839 km) stretching from Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal.

The Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (1483 km) from Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai (Maharashtra) to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. The Eastern DFC plan comprises the construction of over 104 bridges, 189 road-under-bridges (RUBs), 21 flyovers, and 368 road-over-bridges (ROBs). It plans to revamp 9 existing ROBs and further the extension of 10 existing RUBs. The Western DFC plan comprises of a 4km-long tunnel, 33 flyovers, 262 bridges, 505 ROBs, and 200 RUBs. The western corridor also plans to reconstruct the 24 existing ROBs and also will lengthen 10 existing RUBs. Around 211 bridges are completed. In fact, 145 were in progress till the end of November 2019. In addition, 271/562 RUBs were commissioned and the other 259 were in progress. Out of 296, 67 ROBs are completed and 138 are in progress.

Golden quadrilateral freight corridor (GQFC)

Upgrading of transportation technology, an increase in productivity, and a reduction in unit transportation cost are the focus areas for the project. They are also planning for a golden quadrilateral for the freight corridor (GQFC). It consists of 6 DFCs, 2 as western and eastern corridors which are being implemented, and the funding for the remaining 4 was approved in January 2018. The rail tracks will link the four largest metropolitan cities of DelhiMumbaiChennai, and Kolkata. Also, it will have two diagonals i.e., “North-South Dedicated Freight Corridor” (Delhi-Chennai) and “East-West Dedicated Freight Corridor” (Kolkata-Mumbai). These will help to carry 55% of the India Railway’s freight traffic over a total of 10,122 km route length. The high requirement for the power generation requiring heavy coal movement, booming infrastructure construction and growing international trade has led to the conception of the GQFCs.

Salient Features

DFCs adopt world-class and state-of-the-art technology with a maximum speed of 100 Kmph. There is automatic signaling with 2km space in between signals for both corridors. The Ludhiana-Khurja segment of the Eastern DFC has an additional feature of an “absolute block system”. Traffic control communications on both the corridors feature an independent OFC system. A GSM-R communication system is sanctioned for easy mobile train radio communication. The project uses single-stack containers like exiting railways on the Eastern DFC. The double-stack containers are provided for the Western DFC. The containers are operated by the electric locomotives on the Eastern DFC and diesel locomotives for the Western DFC.

How were the past issues with DFC implementation solved?

In the railway budget of the period 2016-17, the government had already proposed to take up 3 more freight corridors. But the infrastructure projects have a long “gestation period” and some DFCs take more than 10+ years due to issues of land acquisitions and the delay in sanctioning loans. The projects were to be financed through public-private partnerships (PPP) or by raising funds from foreign institutions.

Now, the project is financed in the debt to equity ratio of 2:1. 67% of construction cost needed for the Western corridor is given by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The remaining amount was funded through equity by Railway Ministries. Whereas, Eastern corridors are funded by World Bank and Railway Ministries. The total land needed for this project was 11k Ha. Initially, only 5k Ha land was allocated across 8 states. Railway Minister’s resolution informed the officials to not acquire the land forcibly. This hindered the project and DFCCIL was taken aback. The bidding proves for eastern corridors was postponed too. By end of Nov 2019, DFCCIL was able to acquire only 4.4k Ha land for Eastern Corridor and 6 Ha land for the western corridor.

The current state of the project

Astonishingly, despite the coronavirus pandemic, project completion is not delayed. As per DFCCIL, 56% of contractual work is completed on the Western DFC. Whereas, 60% of work is completed on the Eastern DFC. Also, they acquired 99% of the required land for this project. The full project will complete by December 2021. It will decongest the IR network by running 70% of the freights movement on these corridors. They have also kept laborers engaged in the construction and are providing basic amenities to them. This credibly justified that they are able to work safely without losing their job and not return to home in other states. The development work has slowed down a little but not stopped. It is proving beneficial for both the laborers and the department. The results of this project will definitely make Indian Railways more proud.

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