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Indian Railways' 'net-zero' goals hinge on electrification, solar, storage

Hydrogen and Carbon capture technologies are other avenues to achieve goal, which will lead to a reduction of 60 million tonnes of emission a year

Indian Railways | Narendra Modi | solar energy

Twesh Mishra  |  New Delhi 

Indian Railways
According to latest data, 46,677 RKM of track electrification has been achieved of which 796 RKM has been undertaken during fiscal 2021-22

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the COP26 conference has once again brought the focus on the Indian Railway’s quest to become a net-zero carbon emitter.

“Passengers numbering more than the entire population of the world travel by every year. This huge railway system has set itself a target of making itself ‘net zero’ by 2030. This initiative alone will lead to a reduction of 60 million tonnes of annually,” PM Modi said at the COP26 conference.

This goal was spelled out by then Rail Minister Piyush Goyal in July 2020 as he rolled out plans to deploy solar power generation facilities at vacant railway land. The aim then was in line with India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets as per the COP23 commitments.

Later in August 2020, Goyal held a meeting and discussed the possible power procurement routes for achieving 20 Gw renewable energy target, set by the Indian Railways, to become the net zero carbon emitter by 2030. This has been a key area of concern and a tender for setting up 3 Gw of solar projects on vacant Railway land parcels and land parcels along the railway track has not gained much steam.

According to Manish Agarwal, infrastructure specialist and Co-Founder at, the goal of the to become net zero will depend on hydrogen and large-scale (electricity) storage becoming viable. Carbon capture technology, wherein an equipment is placed in the power plant in order to capture the carbon at the exhaust and store it, is also an option for the

“But each of these technologies raise the cost of power by 5-20 times. So essentially it will depend on the ability of Railways to pay for these presently expensive technologies unless their cost drops rapidly,” Agarwal added.

In August 2021, Indian Railways Organisation of Alternative Fuels (IROAF) invited bids for Hydrogen Fuel Cell based Train on Indian Railways Network. The project kicked off the concept of Hydrogen Mobility on railway tracks in the country. But IROAF was abruptly shut down in September 2021, raising suspicions on the seriousness of the Railway’s intentions.

A key corner stone in the net zero goal achievement of the Railways is 100 per cent electrification of all Broad-Gauge routes. Electrification of 68,155 route kilometre (RKM) broad gauge railway routes by December 2023 is nearing completion. According to an official release in September 2018, the electrification of sections covered under the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) decision was to result in net savings of Rs 3,793 crore annually.

In addition to the cost saving, there is significant saving to the environment too. The Indian Railways consumes about 3 per cent of India’s total diesel consumption, and any reduction here would be key to lowering

According to latest data, 46,677 RKM of track electrification has been achieved of which 796 RKM has been undertaken during fiscal 2021-22. The electrification target for the current financial year is 8,000 RKM (the highest ever). Of this, the Central Organisation for Railway Electrification (CORE) has been tasked with electrifying 6,000 RKM.

This is a taller target than before with electrification of 6,015 RKM being achieved in fiscal year 2021-21 and 5,276 RKM in 2019-20, an annual record being set in both years. If achieved, a new record would be attained this year too.

While there are other railway institutions that are also conducting the electrification, the largest share of this responsibility lies with CORE. “Nine of our project units are committed to achieve 100 per cent electrification of the Indian Railways network by December 2023,” Y P Singh, general manager of CORE, told Business Standard.

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First Published: Tue, November 02 2021. 18:26 IST