[Sansad TV] Perspective: Regulations for Dedicated Freight Corridor

Context

  • With over 80% of the Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) running parallel to passenger lines, a parliamentary panel has raised concerns over the lack of safety rules for the goods-only network.

News: Leniency over regulations of DFCs

  • The Standing Committee on Transport in its report, pointed out that while rules and regulations are defined for passenger trains, no such regulation exists for the Dedicated Freight Corridors.
  • There are many instances where rules were amended by the Ministry of Railways without consulting the commission, even when provisions to such consultations exist.

What are Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs)?

  • The DFC project was first proposed in April 2005 to address the needs of the rapidly developing Indian economy.
  • They were proposed to ensure a more reliable, economical, and faster transportation of goods.
  • These corridors seek to bring a paradigm shift in Railway Freight Operations in the country, thus providing relief to the heavily congested Golden Quadrilateral.

Its conceptualization

  • The inception of DFCs can be understood clearly as one delves into Indian Railways’ freight operations scenario in the past.
  • It was majorly the Golden Quadrilateral, linking the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Howrah and its two diagonals.
  • This comprised 16% of the route, which carried over 52% of passenger traffic and 58% of freight traffic.

Principal components: Eastern and Western DFCs

  1. Eastern DFC: It passes through Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
  2. Western DFC: From JNPT to Dadri via Vadodara-Ahmedabad- Palanpur-Phulera- Rewari, Western DFC will pass through Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Need for DFCs

  • Logistics boost: To resolve the increasing need for road decongestion, accident reduction and ensuring energy security, the DFCs were launched to aid the growth of rail transportation in India.
  • Industrial competitiveness: This will also lead to the construction of industrial corridors and logistic parks along these routes, thereby making the industrial ecosystem more competitive.
  • Optimizing logistics cost: The new corridors will permit the trains to carry higher loads, in a more reliable manner, thereby reducing logistic costs.
  • Speedy movement: These lines are also being built to maximize speeds to 100 km/hour, up from the current average freight speed of 20 km/hour. This will also reduce transit time from freight source to destination.
  • Global successes: China’s new DFCs have been designed with the objective to link hinterland areas with ports, along with the aim to transfer commodities, raw materials, and other critical resources.

Issues with Railways Freight

  • Highways are more feasible: The share of roads in freight transport is more than half in India; while in China, it is only 30%. As more highways are built rapidly, the share of roads in freight transport is increasing.
  • Costly transport: The working of Indian Railways is caught up between making it a self-sufficient organization and serving it as a transport system for the poor.  The passenger fares usually remain static for years.
  • Decline in coal freight: Decreasing dependency on coal with increasing thrust on renewable energy has crippled railway revenue from freights.
  • Lack of finances:  About 94 percent of the system’s revenues are spent on operating costs and social obligations, leaving little to modernize its infrastructure.
  • Delayed movement: Most passenger and freight lines are shared, and, when there is a delay, passenger trains are always prioritized. This makes it impossible to ensure deliveries within a set time.
  • Stuck into monopoly: The Indian railways have lacked investment. There’s been an inability to raise passenger fares because it’s a political ideology that public transport in India needs to be accessible for everyone.
  • Populist developments: Railways sometimes seem to be diverting from core issues of safety and operation and to populist needs aimed at wooing corporate travelers.
  • Regulation issue: The Commission of Railway Safety falls under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and deals with matters pertaining to safety of rail travel and train operations.

Significance of DFCs

  • Decongestion of road: Around 70% of the freight trains currently running on the Indian Railway network are slated to shift to the freight corridors, leaving the paths open for more passenger trains.  
  • Increased NTKM Capacity: NTKM stands for transportation of 1 tonne of goods over 1 km. Goods trains shall be able to run freely on DFC without any restrictions imposed by the movement of passenger trains.
  • Improvised logistics and connectivity: Tracks on DFC are designed to carry heavier loads than most of the Indian Railways. It will connect the existing ports and industrial areas for faster movement of goods.
  • Speed and Punctuality: To begin with, freight trains will run according to a timetable and as fast as express trains.  
  • Employment generation: Thousands of people will get employed in the construction of the corridor and other facilities along the corridor, including logistics parks to handle cargo and townships these corridors.

Way forward

  • DFCs present a significant opportunity for freight logistics in India. What is important is to see how increasingly optimistic traffic projections will be realized.  
  • That depends upon the industrial and trade growth in India and the development of industrial corridors and the feeder network.
  • It would also play a lead role in transforming the railways from a loss-making operation to an efficient and profitable venture.
  • Also, it would be interesting to see the potential all these corridors hold for the regions they pass through.

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