Hemant Biswas, a locomotive driver with nearly two decades of experience aboard freight trains gently puts his hand out of the moving train to feel the raging wind which is also tossing his hair all over his face. The houses, fields, cattle and hills are going past him much faster today vis-à-vis earlier times and seem that he is flying - the entire experience feels surreal for this experienced driver.
The major change today is that Hemant is running his freight train at an incredible speed of about 90-km per hour - in comparison to the sluggish 25-km per hour all these years. This has been possible due to the Dedicated Freight Corridors being built across the length and breadth of the nation.
Earlier the passenger and freight movement used to happen on the same railway lines which gave passenger movement priority over freight. This unfair treatment of freight movement and congestion across the railway network meant that freight movement across the railway network was slow and costly.
This led to an undesirable situation wherein trucks were being largely used for freight movement across India. In addition to rising fuel consumption to run these thousands of trucks nationwide – it led to road congestion, foreign exchange outflow for fuel purchase, rising pollution and slow movement of freight.
In fact a few years ago while visiting Chicago – I realized the city had no unnecessary truck movement and therefore roads were congestion free. This was possible because the vast majority of freight traffic movement happens via America’s robust rail network.
The central government has planned a “Make in India” campaign but it needs to be supported by a robust transportation network to transport parts, components and other raw materials in a cost-efficient, eco-friendly and quick manner.
For example, a single car has nearly thirty thousand parts – if one counts even the smallest screw. These parts need to be transported from various suppliers to the car manufacturing facility. If transportation costs are lower - Indian companies can manufacture more efficiently and price goods competitively to successfully compete in the global marketplace.
Just imagine a scenario wherein a Bengali family residing in Delhi can get their favourite Hilsa fish within eight hours from Bengal rather than the current nearly three-day wait endured in transportation. It isn’t merely about costs but also the freshness of the product – in this case, the lip-smacking Hilsa fish.
Or even delicious red Apples from the hilly orchards of Himachal or Kashmir can be moved much faster via a dedicated freight rail network thereby increasing its market and spurring prosperity in those hilly marginalized areas. The possibilities are unlimited – the benefits of dedicated freight corridors can not only improve lives but uplift entire communities.
India is the fourth largest railway system worldwide both in terms of the Railway Network & freight traffic carried. An increase of about 750 MT of rail freight has been witnessed in the last 18 years.
The Ministry of Railways in a release had earlier informed that during the financial year 2020-21, the Indian Railways transported loading of 1,232.64 Million Tonnes (MT) which was its highest loading in freight transportation.
But India's rail freight quantum as part of its total freight movement – including air, water and road is only 36 per cent vis-a-vis China's 47 per cent and the United States' 48 per cent.
In addition, the routes along the Golden Quadrilateral and its diagonals which comprise merely 16 per cent of India’s rail route length carry about 52 per cent of the nation’s passengers and 58 per cent of freight. The national highways along these corridors are less than 0.5 per cent of India’s highway network but carry 40 per cent of the nation’s road freight. It shows that these particular rail and road stretches are overloaded thereby leading to congestion and delays.
To manage this congestion, especially surge in rail freight – the central government has planned the Golden Quadrilateral Freight Corridor (GQFC) which has six Dedicated Freight Corridors. Out of these two – Western Dedicated Freight Corridor and Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor are being executed while the remaining four will be taken up later.
The planning and construction of these Dedicated Freight Corridors are herculean tasks but a necessary step to provide an impetus to the nation’s economic growth, provide employment, spur industrial activity and uplift local communities. In addition, these Dedicated Freight Corridors have environmental benefits that will provide a respite, especially to our polluted urban areas.
It’s a new chapter in our nation’s developmental journey – wherein freight movement via railways will once again become the preferred mode of transportation due to costs and time benefits which cannot be matched by road transportation.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that on 16th April 1853, the nation’s first passenger train ran between Bori Bunder (then Bombay) and Thane - a distance of merely 34-km but it transformed India’s passenger transportation scenario. As the nation now plans and executes these Dedicated Freight Corridors – we once more move towards a momentous juncture in our nation’s developmental journey, especially in the rail freight transportation scenario.
- By Vivek Gautam, COO, Tata Projects Ltd