The need for for the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) arose from the fact that two decades of populist Rail Budgets had ended up introducing 5,000 new passenger trains, crowding out the freight, whose average speed had dropped to an abysmal 25kph. As a result, Railways’ share of freight business (70% in 1980-81), dropped to 30%, severely impacting its revenues, profitability and capability to finance growth. A simultaneous growth of national highways found new freight business, especially of the white goods variety, increasingly opting for transport by road, which also had an added advantage of door-to-door delivery.
The capacity of Golden Quadrilateral, which carries 60% of the total rail freight business, needed to be augmented to attract customers with fast, safe and guaranteed on-time delivery.
Projects to augment the 1,278-km-long Ludhiana-Son Nagar with the 587-km extension to Dankuni to meet the growing demand for coal by thermal power plants in the North from collieries in the East, and the 1,504-km-long Delhi (Dadri) to Mumbai (JNPT) to serve the proposed DMIC were the first to take off.
Announced as early as in 2005, a soft loan of JPY 90 billion (Rs 5,100 crore) was provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency for the 1,504-km-long Western Corridor, while the World Bank agreed to a $975 million (Rs 5,850 crore) loan for phase-1 of the 1,865-km-long Eastern Corridor. Later, loans of $1,100 million and $650 million were approved for phase-2 and phase-3, respectively.
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The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd has undertaken the vital task of land acquisition, even though the proposed alignments are parallel to the existing tracks where spare land was available.
In fact, 96% of the 10,587 hectares of land needed has been acquired and the rest is expected to be taken over by July. This excludes the Son Nagar-Dankuni section that is proposed under PPP route, for which only half of 1,176 hectares has been acquired.
A new 100-tonne capacity bottom-discharge gondola-type wagon has been developed by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation for the eastern sector, dedicated to carry coal. Since they have to move empty while returning to collieries, a higher carrying capacity to tare ratio yields greater productivity—against the current 3.2-metre width, the new wagons would be 3.66 metres wide, increasing its capacity.
Axle loads have been hiked from 22.5 tonnes to 25 tonnes, though bridges and formation will be designed for 32 tonnes to take care of a second round of rolling stock upgrade. The Western Corridor will cater to headroom of 7.1 metres, while Eastern Corridor will have it at 5.1 metres, against the current 4.265 metres on electrified routes.
Maximum permissible speeds have been hiked from 75kph to 100kph, and train loads increased from 5,000 tonnes to 13,000 tonnes, requiring high horsepower locomotives. Being dedicated for carrying freight, the stations are spaced 40-km apart, instead of the normal 7-10 km, with loop lines provided to hold 1,500-metre, as against the current 700-metre-long trains.
A major upgrade is in automatic signalling, which will be at spaced at two-km (the norm is one-km), and communication would entirely be on mobile telephony doing away with the current system of cables and emergency sockets along the track.
Mechanised track laying has been adopted not only to achieve higher productivity, but also to obtain superior quality track geometry, while head-hardened rails and flash-butt welds will result in longer life and reduced wear-and-tear of rolling stock.
Also, 83% of civil engineering and 62% of systems contracts have been awarded, and the balance is likely to be covered by early 2018 for the Eastern Corridor, while 100% of both civil and systems contracts have been awarded for Western Corridor.
With 37.4% financial and 39.6% physical progress, there is still a long way for the DFC to establish its vital role as a game-changer for the nation’s economic lifeline.