SITTING in the office of Mr Keshav Chandra, Indian Railways board member mechanical, at IR's Rail Bhavan headquarters in Delhi, one cannot help but appreciate the history and traditions of Indian Railways.
Plaques to Chandra's predecessors as the board member for mechanical and chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers are fixed to the walls of the room while a fantastic model of a steam locomotive recalls a bygone era.
The present day is firmly brought into focus by the mountains of paper on Chandra's desk. It's budget time and everyone at IR is working frantically to submit their requests for 2013-14 to the Ministry of Railways ahead of the announcement to parliament at the end of February.
The budget is inevitably a huge undertaking for a railway that runs around 12,000 mainline passenger trains and 7000 freight trains every day, and owns 225,000 freight wagons, 50,000 passenger coaches, 5400 diesel and 4500 electric locomotives. Rs 601bn ($US 11.3bn) was allocated in 2012-13 and a slightly higher amount is expected to be spent again this year.
The vastness of IR's operations means that improving the efficiency of rolling stock, even through minor improvements, could offer huge potential economic savings to IR, which given its well-documented financial issues would be welcome indeed.
Inevitably the environment would also benefit from such undertakings which would go some way to achieving the pledges to improve its sustainability as highlighted in the Vision 2020 document issued by IR in 2009. However, overcoming a "this is the way it has always been done" attitude remains a major challenge for such a huge organisation (see below).
Chandra says that a great deal of his work is now focused on improving what IR already has while making sure replacement rolling stock is up to the improved standards demanded on the modern Indian railway network. As board member mechanical, he oversees all of the railway's rolling stock and is also responsible for research and development as well as procurement and inventory management.
The railway overhauls 40,000 freight wagons - about 18% of its fleet - every year at 12 major workshops, providing an opportunity approximately every four to five years to upgrade a single wagon to the latest standards.
Chandra says a major continuing project is to upgrade freight wagon bogies to accommodate axleloads of 25 tonnes and 32.5 tonnes which will be essential for the new Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) when operations begin in 2017. These track-friendly bogies must also be capable of operating at speeds of up to 100km/h and are currently being configured for use on a variety of wagons.
IR's Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) is working with Transportation Technology Center Incorporated (TTCI), and ARI, United States, on the project to develop prototype hopper, box and aluminium coal wagons. The first phase of the agreement with ARI comprised assessment trials on an existing open wagon from which 16,000km of load environment assessment data was collected. In addition, IR has entered into a technology transfer agreement and supply contract for 4000 new 25-tonne-axleload swing-motion bogies which are upgradable to 32.5 tonnes, as well as two instrumental wheelsets from Amsted to support these improved operations.
RDSO has also developed a modified suspension system for wagons now carrying greater volumes of iron-ore following an increase to the maximum axleload.
"Since we have increased our loading capacity on BOXN wagons operating on lines carrying iron-ore from 20.32 tonnes to 22.82 tonnes, we have had to reduce the speed of the wagons to 60km/h when loaded and 80km/h when the wagons are empty," Chandra says. "The improved suspension systems have helped us to increase speeds to 75km/h when loaded, and to 100km/h when empty."
Another major rolling stock development that will help to boost freight capacity is the introduction of a double-deck wagon for transporting cars. Suitable for any type of car, the wagon is longer than its predecessor and has a moveable middle deck and depressed floor. The result is an increase in capacity of up to 17% on previous models with a rake of new wagons now able to transport a maximum of 318 cars per train instead of up to 265 cars with existing wagons.
While significant progress is being made to improve wagon utilisation, a great deal of Chandra's focus is on improving the efficiency of diesel locomotives. "Diesel prices have shot up across the world in recent years, and as prices continue to remain unstable we must look at alternative fuels, particularly because IR remains so reliant on diesel traction," he says.
One of the solutions proposed is the development of compressed natural gas (CNG) diesel engines for locomotives. Already widely used on India's famous rickshaws, CNG is being adapted for use in 2.3MW locomotives. Trials are also underway with dmus which have been encouraging in their early stages.
A similar project is the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) turbine 8.9MW locomotive for heavy and long haul freight operations which could be used on the DFCs. The project has been undertaken in cooperation with Russian Railways (RZD) and Oboronprom, Russia, with the first locomotive currently undergoing testing as the technology is adapted to Indian climatic conditions. A tender for 100 additional LNG units is set to be announced shortly, which the Russian group is in pole position to secure.
"The emissions from the locomotives during tests have been shown to be negligible," Chandra says. "And it will cost up to 50% less to operate than a conventional locomotive."
He added that RDSO is also looking at adapting fuel cell hybrid technologies for locomotives which have the potential to dramatically reduce its fuel consumption.
One such technology is a fuel-cell-assisted auxiliary power unit (APU) which is a stand-alone unit that feeds air into the main air reservoir and charges the starting battery while the power unit is shut down. "This cuts down on locomotive idling and results in substantial fuel savings," Chandra says. "It also reduces emissions, improving the immediate environment around the locomotive, which is particularly helpful at stations. "IR's diesel locomotive rebuilding plant at Patiala has initiated procurement of an initial batch of 10 APUs for its overhaul programme.
RDSO is similarly working on a fuel-cell-assisted locomotive at IR's diesel locomotive manufacturing plant at Varanasi. The aim of the project is to develop a unit that does not rely on fossil fuels but uses hydrogen as its primary fuel source. It will use a 300kW fuel cell and battery pack and is designed primarily for low-powered locomotives.
While these technologies are a glimpse into the future of IR's locomotive operations and are developments which Chandra hopes "will provide Indian Railways with cutting-edge know-how and technology," he says that improving the efficiency of existing operations by adapting current technologies is another important element of the strategy.
Chandra says a Remote Monitoring of Locomotive and Trains (Remmlot) system which is GPS-enabled, has been installed on 370 locomotives. The system is currently monitoring the locomotives' location, speed and other critical parameters which aid maintenance. He adds that genset locomotives, in which a single large engine is replaced by two or three smaller engines, are another exciting development which will save fuel by allowing operators to shut down one or more engines when a train is only carrying a part load. Chandra says locomotives utilising this technology can reduce NOx and particulate emissions by 85-90% and reduce fuel consumption by 15-20% which could have a big impact on IR's carbon footprint.
"Around 500 or so of these genset locomotives in the 500kW - 2.7MW range are already operating in the United States and in the last year or so we have been working on the technology upgrades for our own network through a partnership with National Railway Equipment Company (NREC), United States," Chandra says. "The locomotives in this pilot project will have a 1790kW engine which will consist of three 600kW diesel units. The diesel locomotive modernisation workshop at Patiala will produce two of these locomotives this year and following successful completion of trials we propose to expand this technology to the rest of our locomotive fleet."
Chandra adds that while IR has worked with NREC on the project so far, it is important to not exclude other manufacturers from such initiatives. "We don't want to restrict ourselves to a single supplier when we are looking to introduce these locomotives, but remain open to solutions from three or four," he says.
Any passengers on long-distance trains in India will be familiar with the toilet situation. A hole from the bowl to the track is often the best one can hope for. Chandra says this has long been a problem, but is something that is finally being addressed through a new bio-friendly toilet solution that will be rolled out on 4000 passenger coaches year-on-year from 2016-17, and on all of India's 50,000 coaches in the next 10 years.
The solution consists of a stainless steel bio tank that sits under the coach. Here human waste is digested by a colony of bacteria and converted to water and a small quantity of CO2 and methane which is discharged. The effluent has been tested in laboratories and found to be safe for the environment. The system has been developed as a joint project between IR and India's Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The tanks will be used as standard on new coaches while a retrofitting programme is underway on existing stock. "This exercise is one of the biggest, greenest and cost effective technological innovations ever undertaken on IR's rolling stock," Chandra says.
Purchasing new coaches and locomotives is a major part of IR's Vision 2020 strategy to replace its inefficient and life-expired rolling stock. Chandra says that he is extremely satisfied with the performance of new LHB air-conditioned coaches which are continuing to be rolled out on the network, and reports that IR is carrying out a mid-life rehabilitation on 800-1000 coaches every year.
In addition, new factories are being set up at Madehepura for high-power electric locomotives and Marhoura for diesel locomotives which will go a long way to serving IR's future traction needs, with IR estimated to require 2000 diesel locomotives, 2010 electric locomotives as well as 33,000 coaches over the next five years. These plants will be funded through a PPP financing structure with further details expected to be announced in the forthcoming budget ahead of a tender issue.
While precise details are still hazy until the budget is made public, it is clear that many of the new diesel units that will be built at Marhoura are likely to adopt the sustainable and green technologies which Chandra believes are now a crucial component of IR's rolling stock strategy.
Innovation key to sustainability
Despite its environmentally-friendly credentials, Indian Railways (IR) is losing market share to road and air. Sanjay Kumar, deputy chief vigilance officer with Northern Railway, says IR needs to innovate across its business to ensure the environmental sustainability of its operations.
IN its Vision 2020 strategy Indian Railways pledges to provide environmentally-friendly sustainable solutions to reduce its carbon footprint. But does the railway have the wherewithal to translate its vision into concrete plans? Does it have a baseline assessment of its total environmental carbon footprint, and does it have a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to them?
The answers to these questions are sadly no, which places a big question mark over how IR is going to honour its pledge to reduce its carbon footprint.
This is not to belittle IR's pioneering initiatives to reduce carbon emissions by adopting energy-efficient solutions. But considering its size and the environmental footprint of its operations, these measures are too small to make an impact. Most of these endeavours have been achieved by individuals, which go largely unnoticed by people within and outside IR. While it does show an abundance of green potential, it also shows a crying need for futuristic thinking, agile leadership and a supportive institutional framework to synergise the efforts of these individuals.
IR needs to internalise environmental and social concerns in its decision making. The vision statement should be supported by workable documents which recognise that sustainability is crucial to IR's competitiveness. Vision 2020 has flagged up the issue, but what next? IR needs clear sustainability objectives and targets in each area and a framework that mandates the inclusion of sustainability concerns in its projects and operations.
Given that nobody wants to increase the size of an already complex and plump railway bureaucracy, IR should select people within the organisation who have the appetite, inclination, education and experience of dealing with sustainability issues to form a sustainability division.
The division should set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainability managers should be included in IR's planning process and in project and operations executing teams.
Sustainability in IR has traditionally been associated with saving energy. While this is important, IR needs to look further and consider issues such as resource efficiency. One report states that Asian countries consume three to four times more resources to produce a unit of GDP than European countries. This shows the potential to reduce the consumption of resources with existing technology. The concept of green and lean manufacturing needs to be understood and applied to IR's manufacturing and repair activities. Sustainable procurement, which factors in environmental and social cost as well as economic costs, needs to be implemented immediately and then monitored at the highest level to achieve the best results.
IR employees need to be fully convinced of the necessity and urgency to integrate sustainability within operations and projects. To achieve this, sustainability needs to be included in training programmes for both new recruits and existing employees, and sustainability division staff need exposure to best practice both within and outside the railway.
As innovation in green technology is not something in which IR excels, it should consider entering into partnership with research and other organisations to transfer innovative environmentally-sustainable technology for use in its rolling stock and locomotives. Simultaneously, it should continue to lead in the development of environmental technologies appropriate to Indian conditions.
IR cannot shy away from its responsibility to make its operations carbon-neutral and contribute to India's climate change mitigation efforts. The integration of sustainability in IR would provide it with a competitive edge over road and air and help it regain lost market share. However, this will require a paradigm shift in decision making. Change cannot happen overnight and it will need investment in people, technology and the institution to make it happen.