It is not without reason that trains of the Indian railways find their way in Monisha Rajesh’s book Around India in 80 Trains. In 1991, Monisha’s family uprooted from Sheffield to Madras in the hope of making India their home. Two years later, fed up with soap-eating rats, stolen human hearts and the creepy colonel across the road, they returned to England with a bitter taste in their mouths. Twenty years later, Monisha came back. Taking a page out of Jules Verne’s classic tale, Around the World in 80 Days, she embarked on a 40,000km adventure around India in 80 trains. Travelling a distance equivalent to the circumference of the Earth, she lifted the veil on a country that had become a stranger to her.

Monisha explains, “My fondest memories of living in India featured the night train I would take from Madras to Madurai to visit my brother at his hill-station boarding school… This was set to be a once-in-a-lifetime journey, so I indulged the whimsical: I wanted to try the famous kebabs at Karim’s in Delhi, dig my feet into the wet sand in Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet. I wanted to touch the cool temple walls in Thanjavur and taste tea in Assam. As I pinned my map, I saw that every one of these locations was connected by the railway”.

As one of the largest civilian employers in the world, featuring luxury trains, toy trains, Mumbai’s infamous commuter trains and even a hospital on wheels, Indian Railways had more than a few stories to tell.

Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest rail networks, spread over 67,415 route Km. IR is the lifeline of the country carrying nearly 23 million passengers every day making it the largest passenger carrying system in the world.

It is also the 4 largest freight transporters in the world moving 1,225 million tonnes of freight annually, as it traverses the length and breadth of the country.

Rail-based transport is the most environment friendly mass transport system due to the inherent gains it provides in terms of energy efficiency and resource optimisation. Railways are about 12 times more efficient in freight traffic and 3 times more efficient in passenger traffic as compared to road transport.

As the Indian economy transitions, with economic growth and sustainable development as twin goals, mobility is bound to play a key role. It has been estimated that for the sustainable development of Indian Economy, the inter-modal share of freight traffic by rail should also go up from the current share of 36% to 45% by 2030.

It is heartening to see that Indian Railways is gearing up for a massive growth to achieve such increase in inter-modal share by augmentation of its network and rolling stock fleet along with increase in productivity.

In its endeavours to be a low carbon mass transport system, Indian Railways is taking initiatives for a green environment. By setting up the Environment Directorate in the Railway Board to coordinate all environment management initiatives across the Indian Railways, the country’s lifeline has taken steps to streamline its initiatives with regards to environmental management, with some notable initiatives including Energy Efficiency, Renewable and Alternate sources of Energy, Water Conservation, Afforestation, Waste Management and Green Certifications.

In India, with the population of over 1.3 billion people spread over a vast geography, the transport sector will continue to remain a critical enabler in the development as it accounts for more than half of India’s total petroleum consumption and more than 25% of the overall energy needs. It accounts for about 13% of the total GHG emissions. Given the relative advantage of the efficiency of rail-based transport, increasing the share of rail for both passenger movement (regional, sub-urban and urban) and freight movement is vital for increasing the energy efficiency of the transport sector thereby, reducing the GHG emissions of the country.

Given the massive scale of its operation, it is not surprising that the Indian Railways has a growing appetite for the consumption of electricity. It consumes nearly 20 billion kWh of electricity annually, comprising around 2 % of the country’s total power consumption. With rail traffic projected to register an increasing growth in the coming years, it is estimated that the demand for electricity by the Indian Railways will go up over the next decade.

Indian Railways has taken a series of timely measures to cut down its energy consumption and rationalise its energy procurement process by implementing several energy conservation measures, procurement of power under Open Access and harnessing Renewable Energy:

  • 100% LED replacement done in all railway stations (more than 8,000) and all railway installations & buildings (more than 20,000). 100% LED across Railway installations will reduce about 10% of total energy being utilized on its non-traction thus leading to savings of about 240 million units of electricity i.e. savings of Rs 180 Cr. per annum.
  • One time LED provision done in all residential quarters (about 5 lakhs quarters) has been done.
  • 500 Mega Watt (MW) solar plants on roof top of Railway buildings through developers with 25 years PPA by Railways, which will be used for meeting non-traction power supply loads at Railway Stations etc.
  • About 500 MW on land-based system for meeting Traction and Non-Traction requirements.
  • Working on the utilization of its unused vacant Land parcels for setting up of Land Based Solar Plants for its traction power requirement as ‘Green mode of transportation’ and become a ‘Net Zero Carbon Emission Railway’ by 2030. The plants will be set up on unused vacant land.
  • There is about 51,000 hectare of Railway land which has a potential of installing 20 GW land based solar plants. The Solar power so generated will be fed to CTU/STU Grid or directly to 25 kV AC traction system.
  • Out of 200 MW target of IR, 103.4 MW wind-based power plants have already been installed. Wind based power plants of 10.5 MW (for non-Traction) and 10.5 MW (for Traction) capacity in Tamil Nadu, 26 MW (for traction) capacity in Rajasthan, 6 MW (for non-traction) and 50.4 MW (for traction) capacity in Maharashtra have been installed.
  • 23 Railway stations have been made “Net Zero” carbon emission Stations, which are meeting their energy needs completely either through Solar or by Wind. Railways are making extensive efforts in this direction to make more and more stations 100% green powered stations.
  • Water Recycling Plants (WRP) are being provided at major consumption centre locations (stations /sheds etc) where there is heavy demand for water and provision of same is economically justified.
  • 20 Automatic Coach Washing Plants (ACWP) have been installed over Indian Railways. These automatic coach washing plants are provided with water recycling plants and thus reduce water consumption during exterior cleaning of coaches.
  • To minimize water wastage, Zonal Railways have been asked to conduct water audit at major water consumption centres through third party for quality as well as quantity and to take up Works of water recycling plants based on the report of water audit.
  • To promote water conservation, Indian Railways have been providing Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) at various locations as per extant policy.
  • Afforestation on vacant railway land in between sections is carried out by Railway departmentally and with a view to safeguard Railway land against unauthorized occupation. In pursuance of Railways’ commitment towards environmental improvement and sustainable development, Forest Departments of the States are being involved in plantation as well as maintenance and disposal of trees, thus bringing in their expertise in afforestation.
  • Railways has taken the initiative of undertaking Green Rating Certification for different types of Railway establishments, including the industrial units. Such certification mainly covers assessment of parameters having direct bearing on environment, such as, energy conservation measures, use of renewable energy, impact on GHG emission, water conservation, solid and liquid waste management, green cover etc.
  • Green Buildings are an effort to reduce the negative impact of buildings on the environment during its construction and use. The aim of green building is to minimize demand on non-renewable resources, maximize the utilization efficiency of resources, and maximize the reuse, recycling and utilization of renewable resources.
  • In their commitment to provide hygienic environment to passengers and to keep station premises/tracks clean, have developed environment-friendly Bio-toilets for its passenger coaches. The technology has been developed jointly by Indian Railways (IR) and Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO). This environment friendly, low cost and robust technology is the first of its kind in Railway Systems in the world. The efficacy of the bacteria used in this system has been tested by DRDO in extreme climates and conditions like those at Siachen Glacier. The anaerobic bacteria used in the bio-digester are hardy enough to survive extreme cold and heat and also survive when subjected to commonly available disinfectants. As stationary application, the technology is being used by Indian Army deputed at high altitude in Himalaya region.
  • In these bio-toilets, the waste retention tanks are fitted below the coach floor underneath the lavatories and the human waste, discharged/collected into them, is acted upon by a colony of anaerobic bacteria that convert human waste mainly into water and biogases (mainly Methane CH & Carbon Dioxide CO). The gases escape into the atmosphere and wastewater 4 2 is discharged after disinfection onto the track. Raw human waste thus does not fall on the railway tracks, and this keeps station premises / tracks clean.
  • With an aim to provide clean and efficient toilets and to reduce the water consumption in toilets, Indian Railways has adopted Bio-Vacuum toilets. This has aircraft type vacuum toilet on the passenger interface and bio-digester tank is fitted beneath the toilet area on the coach. The faecal matter gets digested in the bio-tanks on board.

At a time when the world is reeling from the global problem of environmental degradation and climate change, it is pertinent now, more than ever to aggressively work towards Sustainable Development. Indian Railways, with its objective of becoming the world’s largest green railway network, is now moving towards “net-zero carbon emission” before the year 2030.

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