What Happened to the ‘Strategic Rethink’ of the Railways’ 100% Electrification Policy?

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New Delhi: The authorities’s determination for the cash-strapped Indian railways to electrify 100% of its community inside the subsequent three to 4 years has raised questions as it would require substantial funding to change the transport’s present diesel locomotives and part out the present ones in use.

The determination by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to go forward with 100% electrification comes six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally raised considerations over railway minister Piyush Goyal’s transfer to push by way of with the coverage.

As The Wire reported at the time, Modi red-flagged a couple of points in a high-level assembly, together with apprehensions over the untimely idling of “in-service rolling-stock assets from the diesel stable”.

Indeed, the determination to now formally go together with 100% electrification leaves many questions unanswered as to how the funds shall be organized to purchase up to 5,000 extra electrical locomotives to change the quantity of present diesel locomotives.  

Besides this, it’s unclear whether or not India’s present energy infrastructure is able to cater to the elevated demand for working electrical trains. While India’s electrical energy deficit has narrowed lately, an inside authorities estimate reckons that electrification of the railways’ remaining routes will spark a further demand of 2000 MW.

The CCEA this week accredited the proposal for electrification of stability un-electrified broad gauge routes comprising of 108 sections overlaying 13,675 route kilometres (16,540 monitor kilometres) at a price of Rs 12,134.50 crore.

While the electrification work is already sanctioned for 17,000 kilometres in the subsequent three years, with the 13,675 kilometres clearance by the CCEA the remaining half additionally bought lined now. The railways goals to full the electrification by 2021-22.

A expensive transition

However, a report submitted to the railways ministry earlier this 12 months by economist Bibek Debroy – titled “Mission 100% railway Electrification Need for a Strategic Re-Think” – which collated a set of considerations, has famous that the precise value of shifting to a 100% electrical community may very well be as excessive as Rs 1 lakh crore.

This determine consists of the value of route electrification, the prices of buying extra electrical locomotives to change the diesel fleet and the loss of the holding worth of the present diesel locomotive fleet (estimated at Rs 15,000 crore).

The Indian railways at the moment has about 5,800 diesel locomotives and about 5,300 electrical locos. Diesel traction has over the years helped the nationwide transporter attain areas the place electrical traction might have been in any other case troublesome. States and areas with troublesome and hilly terrains comparable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and West Rajasthan are examples.

It would value wherever between Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore to purchase new electrical locos. In addition to this, upkeep amenities will want to be created for added electrical locomotives whereas diesel loco sheds will want to be transformed into electrical ones which additionally contain expenditure.

Credit: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

For this expenditure, it’s potential that the Indian railways shall be required to elevate loans, which is able to lead to extra curiosity burden, in accordance to railway analysts The Wire spoke to.

One senior railway official, who didn’t want to be quoted for this story, identified that 100% electrification is just not required at this juncture as it’s a capital-intensive work which the nationwide transporter can unwell afford. The official believes that there ought to have been stability between each modes of traction system. “Who will pay for the additional loco cost and what will happen to the condemned locomotives,” the official mentioned. .

Another senior railway official, with data of the situation, instructed The Wire that main trunk routes and essential department strains must be electrified and relaxation must be left to diesel locos.

Goyal and railways defence

The nationwide transporter’s arguments in favour of 100% electrification in the end boil down to an assertion that 100% electrification will finally pay for itself. The ministry notes that the determination will scale back gas consumption value by just a little over Rs 13,000 crore each year. It can even lead to different advantages like de-carbonisation of railways, enhancement of railways’ haulage capability and velocity by upgrading to world class electrical traction know-how and eliminating diesel consumption. The final final result will scale back demand for crude oil and therefore scale back India’s import invoice.

In remarks made after the determination, Piyush Goyal defined that diesel engines wouldn’t be instantly be condemned however as an alternative might nonetheless be utilized in emergencies and for “strategic use”.

“We will need (diesel) engines for back-up whenever there is any problem in the electric system. We will need diesel engines in the border areas,” he mentioned. “We can look at exporting these engines also. So various opportunities and possibilities are there,” Goyal added, with out elaborating additional. It is essential to word that General Electric in late 2017 raised considerations over the electrification programme in gentle of its $2.6 billion contract to provide the railways with 1,000 diesel locomotives.

The ministry’s press launch additionally boasts of different benefits together with producing “direct employment of about 20.4 crore man days during the period of construction”.

Currently, the transporter plans on giving out bigger contracts, as an alternative of making an attempt to financially justify electrification of every particular person route, to huge firms by way of engineering procurement and building (EPC) packages.

However, it stays a incontrovertible fact that ‘Mission Electrification’ is a large strategic shift, provided that for years each diesel and electrical traction co-existed. As a consequence, substantial belongings pertaining to these traction applied sciences have been created over the pure course of time.These embody rolling inventory, manufacturing factories, upkeep workshops  and a nationwide provide chain ecosystem.

According to worldwide developments, freight dominated railway networks usually desire diesel, whereas passenger-dominated networks desire electrical.

In international locations the place freight site visitors dominates rail site visitors – like the US, Canada, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand – the most popular alternative is diesel. Other main rail networks comparable to China/Europe/Russia keep a combination of each diesel and electrical locos.

Emerging areas comparable to the Middle East and North Africa have dominant share of diesel traction.

Arun Kumar Das will be contacted at

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