The Indian Railways
What if an organization consumed 365 billion litres of water and 18 billion kwh of electricity in a year?
Indian Railways (IR) is the third largest rail network in the world with 66,000 route kilometres. It is a state-owned, single management enterprise, and unlike some of OECD countries, the most preferred long-distance mode of transport for ordinary citizens. 21,000 trains run every day, making IR one of the largest consumers of electricity and fuel in India.
A victim of climate change?
Studies by the Indian Meteorological Department show that increasing pollution and emissions have resulted in an increase in fog and its density during winters in India. Fog frequently result in delays and cancellations of trains and flights. This causes losses to IR, problems with managing changing schedules, and hassles to passengers.
Power shortage is common during Indian summers. This has led to blackouts, when the railway service get interrupted for hours. With increasing temperatures due to global warming, the need for air-conditioning and subsequent demand for electricity would most likely outstrip supply even further. Per a US EPA report, if a nation’s climate becomes warmer by 1.8 degrees F, demand for energy for cooling purposes is projected to go up by 5-20%.
Further, hundreds of miles of railway lines around India’s coasts are becoming increasingly vulnerable to waves, storms, and landslides, which are often attributed to climate pollution. Following such damage, lines usually need to be closed for weeks before normal operations can resume. Both the closure and the restoration of these lines incur significant costs.
A contributor to climate change?
Any transport organization serving 23 million passengers daily is bound to have major impact on the environment. IR accounts for 1.8% of India’s total power consumption. In 2014-15, it consumed 2.78 billion litres of diesel with an annual fuel bill of around 2.2 trillion USD. Most of this diesel is currently produced by burning fossil fuels, which in turn is a major contributor to global warming. IR is also a key consumer of water, consuming 1,000 million liters daily.
Scale of Operations – Opportunity
While the scale of its operations make IR a contributor to climate change, it also offers a massive scope for change. With 8,000 railway stations and over a million acres of land, there are abundant opportunities for sustainable environment practices.
Some of the key steps taken by IR towards energy conservation are:
- Use of Alternative Fuel and Renewable Sources of Energy is being given high priority. An initiative to procure bio-diesel directly for 5% blending with High Speed Diesel Oil would reduce reliance on traditional fossil fuels. Also, pure diesel based motive power systems are proposed to be converted into partially CNG powered vehicles.
- Afforestation is being scaled up through ‘Green India Mission’ by boundary plantation alongside railway tracks and by planting trees on unutilized land.
- Solar Energy is being promoted by installing solar panels on rooftops of major stations. Rail wagons with solar panels on rooftops are already in pilot run while construction is ongoing for the first solar power plant dedicated to IR.
- Major railway stations are being equipped with LED lights, which can cut electricity consumption by up to 70%.
- Electricity generation through waste has also started. Two such plants are being set up in New Delhi and Jaipur on pilot basis.
- Unutilized land is being used to install wind mills, which generates surplus power.
Steps taken towards water conservation are:
- Rain Water Harvesting has now been made mandatory in all new railway projects.
- Water audit is being undertaken to assess annual consumption and plug any wastage thereof.
- To reduce the demand for fresh water, waste water recycling plants are being planned at major water consumption centers. This would also make stations self-sustainable and reduce the water bill.
Despite being a state-owned organization with massive scale and extremely complex operations, the Indian Railways has managed to come up with new and unique applications of its existing resources to combat global warming and climate change. When environment-friendly initiatives get implemented by the regulator itself, the multiplier effect on the general population is significant.
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 Environmental Sustainability – Role of Indian Railways 2015-16 – Indian Railways, Government of India
 Micro-climatic study and trend analysis of fog characteristics at IGI airport New Delhi using hourly data – Jenami RK, India Meteorological Department
 ‘Climate Change and India- Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation’ – Universities Press
 ‘On the Edge’ – Professor Robert Duck, University of Dundee
 Rail Budget 2016-17, Ministry of Railways, Government of India