The world has only recently woken up to the future scarcity of fossil fuel. The declining trend in oil discovery has made everybody realise that we are nearing the peak of oil production and it is necessary to switch to alternative fuel in the very near future.
Coupled with the scarcity of oil is the realisation of the greenhouse effect which is the cause of global warming with all its undesirable consequences. The transport sector is one of the main consumers of fossil fuel and thereby, one of the major sources of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emission. It is well established that the railway system is among those systems that produce the least amount of GHGs per unit of transport. In India, this is more pronounced due to the overcrowding of trains.
Electrification in Indian Railways
One of the striking aspects of energy consumption in the transport sector is that it is the only sector in which the energy itself is mobile during consumption as it doesn’t get delivered for use at a fixed location. For this reason, energy for transport is dominated by petroleum which is widely available and from which easily transportable liquid fuels of high energy density such as gasoline and diesel are made. Making a vehicle run under the wire, thus looks an unremunerative effort at the first glance. But now, the realisation has dawned on transport planners that electrification is not only necessary but also vital for human survival.
[Variation of wind] Spread over a network of 64,015 route kilometers of track and with over 7,000 stations on which more than 18,000 trains ply carrying more than 18.9 million passengers, and hauling about 2.3 million tonnes of freight everyday, the Indian Railways is one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world. It has a major share of the bulk freight and long distance passenger traffic in the country. Nicknamed the ‘lifeline of India’, it plays a significant role in city and inter-state travel. But to play this role it consumes energy, and a tremendous amount of energy at that! The energy is available to the Railways for consumption in two forms – ‘Fossil fuel’ and ‘Electricity’, and the energy consumption itself is classified under two different heads – ‘Traction’ (for running trains) and ‘Non-traction’. Railway planners have historically been aware of the importance of energy conservation as the energy bill has been a major item in the expenditure statement.
The Indian Railways had visionary planners. They had realised many years ago that easy availability of fossil fuel would not last forever. It is worth noting that the IR is among the very few developing countries that had started electrification decades ago. Electric traction on IR dates back to 1925 when 1500 Volts DC traction was first introduced. It was subsequently extended by installing 3000 Volts DC system. In 1957, IR introduced electrification on single-phase 25KV system for all future schemes. The pace of electrification has been relentless after that.
Presently, double line in Golden Quadrilateral has been fully electrified. The remaining portions of the quadrilateral are being doubled and electrified simultaneously. The target now is 1000 route kilometres of electrification a year. All major trunk routes are in various states of electrification. It is reasonably estimated that above 65% of goods traffic and around 50% of passenger traffic in Broad Gauge in IR moves under wire.
Energy Saving in Indian Railways
The electrification of IR has resulted in energy saving as was visualised in the early years of electrification. Incremental traffic growth is now projected to be around 8% but this will be achieved with only 5.5% growth in the electricity demand and 1.5% growth in diesel fuel despite the increase in traffic density and speed.
Energy conservation measures: IR consumes around 12 billion kwh of electrical energy for traction purpose and another 2.3 billion kwh of electrical energy for non-traction purpose. The non-traction energy is mainly for workshops, production units, stations and household use. IR is using a two-pronged strategy towards energy saving. By using energy efficient rolling stock, the growth of the traction energy is diluted and by taking energy conservation steps, the non-traction consumption is rolled back. These measures are now being discussed.