The Indian Railways is working at a breakneck speed to transition into one of the largest green railways network in the world. It is implementing several strategies such as widespread electrification and water/paper conservation to reduce its carbon footprint. The Ministry of Railways has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. This initiative will support the government’s commitments such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Sustainable Development Goals and National Disaster Management Plans. The initiative is also guided by the vision of transforming Indian Railways into a cost-effective, efficient, punctual and modern carrier of passengers and freight.
The railways has conducted extensive research to identify areas where carbon footprint can be decreased and has sought feasible ways to deploy green initiatives. It published the Environment Sustainability Reports in collaboration with subsidiary units of the Indian Railways to outline a framework of strategies and points of focus for addressing climate change. Acquisition of green certifications and implementation of environment management systems are a core part of its strategy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
In addition, it has conducted focus group discussions with various stakeholders to incorporate climate change features in its risk assessments and disaster management protocols.
The Ministry of Railways has set a target of transforming the Indian Railways into the “World’s Largest Green Railways Network” by 2030. To achieve this, it has adopted several strategies to mitigate the impact of global warming and combat climate change. Largely, all strategies and initiatives undertaken by the ministry have a singular focal point – efficient use of energy. This is a two-pronged agenda involving transition to renewable sources of energy and an overall increase in energy-conservation efforts.
The electrification initiative aims to reduce carbon emissions produced by using fuels to power locomotive engines. The shift from fuel to electric engines has been underway since 2009. The Indian Railways completed electrification of 21,395 kms of broad-gauge routes between 2009 and 2014, and an additional 18,605 kms of broad-gauge routes between 2014 and 2020. The ministry plans to achieve 100% electrification of the remaining 23,495 kms of broad-gauge routes by December 2023. For 2020-21, the ministry has set a target of 7,000 kms of railway electrification. In addition, there is an increased focus on electrification of last-mile connectivity and missing links beyond the broad-gauge network. To address this concern, an additional connectivity of 365 kms was commissioned in 2020 and is currently under construction. Electricity used for powering these locomotives is sourced from renewable sources such as solar, wind and biogas.
The Indian Railways has established several programmes to harness the potential of solar energy through rooftop solar panel installations on railway stations, administration buildings and railway ticketing offices. To date, 100 mega-watt (MW) of solar panels have been commissioned and installed on rooftops of various buildings including 900 railway stations across the country. An additional capacity of 400 MW of solar energy has been commissioned and is currently under different stages of execution. The Ministry of Railways has set December 2022 as the target for completion of these solar plants.
In addition, the Indian Railways is supplementing solar efforts from land-based solar installations for running trains in the country. The Ministry of Railways has set up Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL), a joint venture of the Indian Railways (49% equity) and Rites Limited (51% equity), for taking up these land-based solar projects. The ministry has allocated 51,000 hectares of land for installing solar plants with an energy potential of 20 giga-watt (GW). Solar power generated from these plants will be transmitted directly to the state power grid for consumption. Another similar project of 1.7 MW in Bina, Madhya Pradesh, has been installed in collaboration with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).
The Indian Railways is also implementing programmes to harness the potential of wind energy. It has installed wind-based power plants with an energy potential of 26 MW in Rajasthan, 21 MW in Tamil Nadu and 57 MW in Maharashtra. In addition, it has set a target of setting up wind energy plants with an energy potential of 200 MW by 2023 in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
The railways has also implemented several green initiatives aimed at increasing efficient use of energy. One such initiative is 100% use of LED light illumination of railway buildings and train stations. It has also acquired green certification from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for 7 production units, 39 workshops, 6 diesel sheds, 2 warehouses, 14 train stations and 21 campuses. These include 20 platinum, 30 gold and 26 silver ratings. Green certification mainly covers assessment of parameters having a direct impact on the environment, such as energy-conservation measures, use of renewable energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction, water conservation, waste management, material conservation and recycling.
An additional 718 train stations have been certified under the ISO 14001 standard by the Environment Management System (EMS). The railways has also fitted 69,000 train coaches with >24,400 bio toilets. Additionally, the railways has converted 505 trains to head-on generations systems, resulting in fuel savings to the north of Rs. 450 crore (US $ 62 million) per annum or 70 million litres of diesel per annum. The railways has been monitoring progress of these initiatives and energy efficiency studies of these green initiatives have recorded a 15% improvement in energy use.
Overall, efforts taken by the Indian Railways towards transforming it into one of the largest green railways network in the world are beginning to bear fruit. At the current pace of adoption and implementation of green initiatives, the railways is expected to meet its target on becoming a net zero carbon emitter by 2030.