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The Road to Green Technology

The electrification of India's railroads has reached the final stage
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Thus far, Indian Railways (IR) has electrified more than 58,000 km of its main line, accounting for 90% of its total length. In 2023, the Indian government has decided to allocate almost 27 billion euros for the final stage of the network’s electrification, said Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman back in February during a speech she made on the budget for 2023.

Every year, the country's cabinet sets a target for the railway management to electrify a certain track mileage. Before 2017, the achieved progress was failing to meet the targets that were set. Consequently, for the period 2021-2022 (in other words, the Indian financial year from April 1 to March 31), the IR was tasked with electrifying 6,000 kilometers of railway. In actual fact, they overachieved their goals, electrifying a total of 6.3 thousand kilometers.

In addition, Indian Railways succeeded in reaching its 2022-2023 electrification target of 6.5 thousand km in April this year. Thus, only about 6.4 thousand kilometers remain to be completed for the full electrification of the IR network.

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also spoke about the government's plans for the railroads electrification over the 2023-2024 period. To that end, the state has allocated about 27 billion euros, the highest figure ever allocated in the country’s history. The allocated funds are planned to potentially achieve what’s left of the railway network’s electrification by the end of this year.

The transition to renewable sources

India's cabinet expects to primarily use renewable energy sources, wind and solar power installations in particular, to power the railroad infrastructure. In 2022, India commissioned about 14 gigawatts of wind power and 1.8 GW of solar panels, up 17.5% and 26.6% respectively over 2021. The capacity of all types of renewable energy sources, excluding large hydroelectric power plants, reached 120.9 GW at the end of last year. This will consequently reduce the consumption of non-environmental as well as imported fuels in the railway sector.

In addition, switching to renewable energy sources will allow IR to achieve carbon neutrality much earlier than other modes of transportation and the country's economy as a whole, which will pave the way for green financing for the national carrier.

For his part, Dr. Abodh Kumar, Professor of Economic Research and Policy at the Central University of South Bihar and recipient of the President of India's Presidential Award, believes that electrification is accompanied by a number of challenges to India's ability to produce green energy.

According to him, despite the progress made so far, there are still challenges to be addressed. At the moment, solid fuels – coal, fuel oil, and other types of non-renewable sources, predominate in India’s power generation.

"A change in the situation requires careful planning and structural changes in the country's power generation mechanisms," the expert explained.

Specialized locomotives

Another challenge is the number of electric locomotives in the country and their production. India has three nationwide factories capable of assembling modern trains, but given the country’s current electrification rate, this falls short nonetheless.

The first major contract for 800 double-section electric locomotives was awarded in 2015 to Alstom for around €3.5 billion. As per the contract, the WAG-12B model locomotives are now being produced at the joint Alstom and IR plant located in Madhepura, Bihar, India. The plant has an installed production capacity of 120 locomotives per year. Thus far, Alstom has localized the production of electric locomotives in India by almost 90%.

In January this year, IR signed an agreement with Siemens Mobility for about 3 billion euros for a supply of 1,200 electric locomotives and maintenance for them for a period of 35 years. Their assembly will be performed at a plant in Dahod, Gujarat.

Furthermore, a number of Indian engineering plants have completely stopped producing diesel locomotives for domestic consumption, retaining only production for export. According to the Indian Railways Development Plan published in 2022, all passenger transportation is expected to be converted to electric traction by the end of 2026.

However, it is worth noting that IR believes it is important to procure diesel locomotives from their own companies. This is because they believe they may serve as a reserve if using trains on electric traction will for some reason prove impossible in the future.

Sergey Volkov

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