Efficiency Track

Indian Railways on a mission to reduce its energy footprint

With one of the largest rail networks in the world, Indian Railways is an energy-intensive sector. Reducing its energy footprint is one of the top priorities of the Ministry of Railways (MoR), which has set a goal of reducing the emission intensity by 33 per cent from the 2005 levels by 2030. To this end, the MoR launched “Mission 41k” in November 2016, which aims to save Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs by 2025.

Indian Railways is, therefore, sourcing power for electric traction directly from the market, using renewables extensively to reduce the cost of power, besides employing a series of energy efficiency measures. It is already working on the 1,000 MW by 2020 solar capacity target, and at the current momentum, Indian Railways is aiming to scale it up to 5 GW by 2025. Moreover, a part of the organisation’s contracted thermal power capacity is set to be replaced in 2019 and 2020, which will provide an opportunity to Indian Railways to reduce its emissions by switching to cleaner fuels.

A look at the Indian Railways’ plans and energy management initiatives…

Energy consumption trends

In the past five years, while the electric route kilometre (rkm) of Indian Railways has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.26 per cent from 23,541 km in 2012-13 to 30,012 km in 2016-17, its diesel route km has contracted from 42,376 km in 2012-13 to 36,674 km in 2016-17.

For the most part, Indian Railways’ energy bills mainly account for expenditure on electricity (35 per cent) and diesel (65 per cent). The traction energy consumption grew from 14.58 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 15.67 billion kWh in 2016-17, vis-à-vis the consumption of non-traction energy that reduced from 2.48 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 2.39 billion kWh in 2016-17. In 2016-17, Indian Railways’ total electricity bill stood at Rs 112.62 billion, of which Rs 94.75 billion was towards traction costs and Rs 17.87 billion was towards non-traction costs. During this period, diesel consumption followed an upward trend until 2015-16, after which it declined to reach 2.79 million kilolitres in 2016-17.

Key initiatives

Under Mission 41K, Indian Railways will focus on saving Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs, which it aims to achieve by 2025. This step is imperative in the backdrop of heightened electric fuel consumption and expenditure for traction in 2014-15 at 15.74 billion kWh and Rs 103.58 billion respectively. During the period April 2015 to October 2017, cumulative savings of Rs 56.36 billion was achieved. The prominent initiatives adopted by Indian Railways to reduce its energy bill are as follows:

Purchase from open market: One of the key measures that is being adopted towards shoring up the energy saving bill is the decision to shift to the open market from the state electricity boards for power procurement, in order to avail of cheaper electricity rates. This partial migration away from distribution companies is estimated to save about a quarter of the total annual costs on energy. As a deemed licensee under the Electricity Act, at least 640 MW of power has been procured through open access by the railways  in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. An additional ~1 GW of power was purchased directly from the market across the country, of which 400 MW was from the southern states.

Setting up of new CPPs: Indian Railways is also lowering its energy bills by setting up new captive power plants (CPPs). Bhartiya Rail Bijlee Company Limited (BRBCL), a joint venture (JV) of Indian Railways and NTPC, has set up a CPP at Nabinagar in Aurangabad district of Bihar, with a total installed capacity of 1,000 MW. The CPP is expected to result in annual savings of Rs 2 billion.

In another such JV, Indian Railways and NTPC are setting up a coal-based CPP at Adra, West Bengal. The plant will have a total installed capacity of 1,320 MW, comprising two units of 660 MW each. Around Rs 6 billion of savings are expected annually once the plant is commissioned.

Further, Indian Railways plans to set up a gas-based CPP at Thakurli in Maharashtra, which would help save around Rs 2 billion per annum in energy expenses.

Leveraging renewable energy: Indian Railways plans to set up about 1,000 MW of solar capacity by 2020, of which 500 MW will be deployed as rooftop solar on railway buildings and offices, and 500 MW of the capacity will be ground mounted to serve the traction load. Solar power will be procured through competitive bidding. As of March 2018, 50 MW of rooftop capacity has already been commissioned in various locations, and 115 MW of projects are under construction. While the results are awaited for a 32 MW tender invited by Railway Energy Management Company Limited, bids for another 100 MW have also been invited. To achieve its ground-mounted solar target for traction, 400 MW of capacity has been planned for procurement from the Rewa solar park, 50 MW of capacity will be developed on Indian Railways’ land in Chhattisgarh and projects for the remaining 50 MW will be developed at different suitable locations adjacent to the traction substations.

Indian Railways plans to procure about 200 MW of wind power by 2020. The organisation has commissioned a 10.5 MW plant (with banking facilities) at the Integral Coach Factory, Tamil Nadu, for non-traction use and 26 MW of wind capacity in Rajasthan for traction use. Wind power projects amounting to 16.5 MW (a 6 MW project in Maharashtra and a 10.5 MW project in Tamil Nadu) have been awarded and are under construction, as of March 2018.

With the 1 GW target for solar likely to be achieved, the railways is expected to achieve about 10 per cent of its electricity mix from renewables.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is now working with Indian Railways to meet the solar power target of 5 GW by 2025. Under Phase I of the project, the solar power potential has been assessed in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It entails the installation of solar power on platform sheds at over 8,500 stations and buildings (rooftop), apart from ground-mounted projects. Ground-mounted/Land-based projects will be spread over 65,000 km of track-side land, in addition to a land bank of 44,000 hectares.

Mission electrification: Indian Railways plans to electrify around 38,000 rkm between 2017-18 and 2021-22 to ensure 100 per cent electrification of its broad gauge routes. As of January 5, 2018, 37,844 rkm of broad gauge routes remain to be electrified. Hundred per cent electrification is estimated to entail a cost of around Rs 325.91 billion.

The year 2017 recorded an all-time high of electric traction commissioning of 2,367 rkm. Meanwhile, a target of 4,000 rkm of electrification has been set for 2017-18. Besides, the ministry plans to increase the pace of electrification to 6,000 rkm per annum in 2018-19.

Electric traction is much cheaper and more efficient than diesel traction. As per Edelweiss Research (dated September 28, 2017), around 65 per cent of Indian Railways’ freight traffic and around 51 per cent of passenger traffic is hauled through electric traction. Further, electricity forms only around 37 per cent of the total traction fuel cost, with diesel contributing the rest. Running trains on electric traction is around 50 per cent cheaper for coaching traffic and around 47 per cent cheaper for goods traffic. Rail operation on 100 per cent electric traction will reduce the energy bill from the current Rs 265 billion per annum (as of October 2017) to about Rs 160 billion per annum.

Others: Further, IR plans to expand its own transmission network of 600 km (Dadri-Kanpur [400 km] and Kanpur-Allahabad [200 km]) to 20,000 km, of which about 9,150 km will span the Golden Quadrilateral (8,850 km) and dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) (300 km).

IR is also deploying insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) systems with the regenerating braking feature for energy conservation. So far, more than 1,000 electric locomotives equipped with three-phase IGBT-type propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced. Besides, 200 electric multiple unit rakes with three-phase IGBT-based propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced in Mumbai. Further, the adoption of LED lamps across all its stations is another key initiative that is being implemented.


In summary, energy security is the key for transport security. As Indian Railways transitions from a conventional transport services provider to a low carbon sustainable mass transport system, as the single largest consumer of electricity, the various initiatives that are underway will help in meetng the country’s overall energy efficiency goals.


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