Indian Railways’ electrification drive needs a rethink? That’s what leading economist and chairman of Prime Minister’s Economic advisory council, Bibek Debroy has to say. According to a report in IE, Bibek Debroy, in a report titled “Mission 100% Railway Electrification: Need for a strategic re-think?” – submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office – has questioned the returns on investing as much as Rs 1 lakh crore on electrification. Incidentally, electrification of railway network is an ambitious plan of the Railway Ministry – one that is particularly being focused on under Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. The report suggests that Debroy has made a strong recommendation for examination of the project by an expert group. The report has called for future speed of execution and levels of electrification to be guided by findings of the study of the expert group. Debroy has recommended a period of 6 months for this study to be carried out.
Two years back, when Piyush Goyal was the Power Minister, he wanted 100 per cent conversion to electric traction and he suggested the total electrification drive of Indian Railways and also talked about elimination of diesel. The paper by the economist questions the estimated financial gains to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore per year for Railways in terms of savings on fuel bills, and he also calls for further scrutiny of the matter. To give a comprehensive picture, the analysis has mentioned the data provided and the reports commissioned by the government in the past to establish the feasibility of electrification and views from “stakeholders”.
According to the economist’s paper, the ongoing electrification process should not be slowed down, till the time the study is completed and a traction policy is decided by the Railways. This is due to the fact that the electrification levels in India are still sub-optimal, he has reportedly said. The paper adds that the access to funds is very limited to Indian Railways, so it may take a judicious call on whether a hike is immediately needed for the electrification of the railways or it the organsiation better of in putting money into avenues which need priority investments.
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The paper also mentioned that countries like China, Russia and Europe have 33 to 43 per cent of diesel traction in their railways and in North America and Latin America, the railway diesel traction is 99 per cent. It adds that in India, the diesel traction is 50%. Around the globe, 45 per cent locomotives are run on electric while most of them are on diesel.
According to the paper, an estimated amount of Rs 1 lakh crore will be required for the electrification of around 40,000 km of lines, replacing around 5,000 diesel engines with electric ones together. The paper argues over the official calculation that conversion to a total electric network will help the Indian Railways to save Rs 10,000 crore on fuel bills, on a yearly basis. Coming to utility of having two kinds of fuel systems, the diesel engines provide strategic flexibility, mostly in cases of war, crisis, disasters etc. the paper said.
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In addition to all this, the paper states that taking the size, scale and strategic implications of the electrification decision into consideration, it is important to review the pros and cons of the mission, carefully. Also, it is important to ensure that the route towards the electrification of the rail network is based on a firm foundation, the paper concludes.