Decarbonization: Role Of Indian Railways – Analysis


Indian Railways (IR) is the world’s fourth largest railway network in terms of size and one of the largest electricity consumers in the country consuming approximately 18,410 million units (MU) for traction loads (trains) and 2,338 MU for non-traction loads (office, railway stations, etc) in 2020. IR transports 24 million passengers every day across the subcontinent on 13,000 trains covering approximately 67,956 km. In addition, 3.3 million tonnes of freight per day is transported. Hence the fuel requirements of IR are massive. At the same time, IR accounts for about 4 percent of total emissions.

Indian Railways is taking a multi-pronged approach to go green and decarbonizes — from increasing its sourcing of renewable energy (RE) to electrifying its traction network and reducing its energy consumption. The body’s goal is to become a ‘net-zero’ carbon emitter by 2030. And it has ambitious plans to accomplish this goal. The Railways’ current emphasis is on its share of freight and passenger transport on economic as well as environmental considerations. It has also formulated an ambitious investment programme that primarily focuses on network capacity enhancement and advancement of core assets, including tracks, network, and station redevelopment, and upgrading signalling and locomotives. The Railways plan to electrify its entire broad-gauge network by December 2023 to achieve the goal of ‘net-zero’ carbon emission by 2030. It is expected that reliance on fossil fuel-based power for the Indian Railways will be significantly reduced by 2030.

Indian Railways recently launched the National Rail plan where the primary objective is to develop capacity ahead of demand and enhance the rail freight share from 27 per cent to 45 per cent by 2030 through massive capital investment. The Railways is a major participant in the government’s Gati Shakti Programme, which is likely to become a game changer for the infrastructure and logistics scenario. In addition, the focus has been on making policy interventions like introduction of the new Gati Shakti Cargo Terminal Policy and better PPP model which has been recently launched for hybrid BOT (build-operate-transfer), which will be deployed for calling the bids for the Sonnagar-Gomoh section.
The Indian Railways can raise the official target of 50 percent freight share by 2030, up from its current share of 33 percent. By shifting freight to rail and optimizing truck use, India can reduce logistics costs from 14-10 percent of Gross Domestic Product and carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2050 compared to a business-as-usual scenario.


Increased Volume of Freight: Indian Railways to increase the amount of freight moved by it from about 35 percent in 2015 to 45 percent by 2030 to reduce overall emissions from transportation.

Complete Electrification: Complete electrification of Indian Railways is targeted by financial year 2024. It will be the world’s largest 100 percent electrified rail transportation system by then.

Use of Solar Power: Plans to install 20 GigaWatts (GW) of solar for both traction loads and non-traction loads.

During the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) built a 1.7-MW solar power plant in Bina, Madhya Pradesh, in July 2020. The project, established in collaboration with the state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), is the first solar energy plant in the world to directly power railway overhead lines, from which locomotives draw traction power.

Work on a third pilot with a capacity of 50 MW has begun in Bhilai (Chhattisgarh).

A 16-kW solar power plant has been installed as platform shelter at the Sahibabad Railway Station.

The railways ministry has installed solar panels at over 960 stations and is using solar power to meet railway station energy needs.

Participation of Private Sector: The ministry has included provisions for a Letter of Credit (LC) in the event of railway payment default, as well as a penalty for late payment in the model bidding document for solar power developers. This is to encourage the private sector to participate in the project.


No-objection certificate for open access: The No objection Certificate (NoC) for open access to electricity flow for railways in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Telangana has not been operationalised due to regulatory challenges that the railways are vigorously pursuing. If approval for procuring power through open access is granted in these states, solar deployment may increase.

Wheeling and banking provision: Full deployment of solar potential will become more feasible if states provide wheeling and banking arrangements.

Merger of solar purchase obligation and non-solar purchase obligation: The consolidation of solar and non-solar obligations will allow the railways to meet their Renewable Purchase Obligations.

Unrestricted net metering regulations: Unrestricted net metering for rooftop solar projects would hasten the deployment of railway solar plants.

With the target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030, the Indian Railways is also ideally suited to play a key role in sustainable transportation. The National Transport Development Policy Committee had proposed an increase in rail investment from 0.4 percent to 1.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030. Furthermore, the National Rail Plan has laid out an investment roadmap which could significantly boost railway capacity, including construction of dedicated freight corridors and high-speed rail. Moreover, the Railways will also need better marketing policies and more competitive tariffs, especially for its freight business.

The logistics sector is also characterized by obsolete vehicles and fragmented markets, leading to poor fuel economy, wasteful trips, and overloading. Streamlining logistics operations could lead to significant emission reductions. This will require investment in dedicated transport hubs and IT-enabled trip optimization. In the absence of clear technological frontrunners for trucks, the government incentives should focus on emission reduction without differentiating between technologies.

The country’s railway network is being electrified to reduce pollution and carry on transportation in an environment-friendly way. The Railways will attempt to reduce its carbon footprint primarily through sourcing of its energy requirements from renewable energy sources. Other strategies include taking a multi-pronged approach of electrification of its routes, shifting from diesel to electric traction, promotion of energy efficiency, construction of dedicated freight corridors, green certification of railway establishments etc.

By 2029-30, expected requirement of installation of renewable capacity would be about 30 GW. Indian Railways has up to August, 2022 installed 142 MW solar rooftop capacities and 103.4 MW of wind energy. The railways have electrified 52,508 RKM out of total BG network of 65,141 RKM (80.61 per cent). With 100 per cent electrification, the demand for electricity will go up to about 72 BUs by 2029-30 from 21 BUs in 2019-20. Carbon emission by 2029-30 as per Business As Usual (BAU) mode is estimated to be 60 million tons which would be offset by various measures planned by Indian Railways.

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is Founder–Director of Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies

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