With the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study team stressing that the Western corridor of the dedicated rail freight corridor be electrified, the spotlight has now shifted to the key issue of whether double-stack international-standard size containers can be run on electrified routes. And, if so, is it an economically viable option?
One of the reasons why Indian Railways wants the Western corridor to be on diesel traction is to ensure movement of double-stack containers on this route that would primarily serve container traffic moving from the Western ports to the Northern hinterland.
With electric traction, the overhead wires impose height restrictions and thus international-standard size double-stack container trains cannot be moved, say experts in this sector.
Scene in CHINA
However, the JICA study team points out that double-stack containers are already being run on electric traction routes in China. “The Chinese Railways are already running double-stack containers under the overhead electric wire by using well wagons,” Mr Patsuya Masuzawa PE, Deputy Team Leader, Project Management Unit, JICA study team, told Business Line recently in an interaction on the sidelines of a stakeholders meeting in New Delhi. The container wagons prevalent in India for both single and double-stack movement are flat wagons and not well wagons.
Moreover, officials from Indian Railways closely associated with double-stack container movement say that wherever double-stack containers are moved under wire, the height of the containers is reduced to fit under the wire.
“In such cases, the container height is less than the standard height of ISO containers used internationally,” Mr Naresh Kumar, Vice-President-Technical, Pipavav Rail Corporation Ltd (PRCL), told Business Line. PRCL had conducted the feasibility study and pilot runs of ISO standard size double-stack container trains in the Jaipur-Pipavav route of Indian Railways.
The ISO standard-sized containers used internationally for trade purposes have two heights — 8 ft 5 inches and 9 ft 5 inches. “We had contacted the Chinese Railway for details on their double-stack container operations under electric wire. At present, they use a mix of lower height (8 ft) and smaller ISO standard size (with 8 ft 5 inches height) containers. In future, after increasing the height of their overhead wire, they plan to run one 8 ft 5 inches container and another 9 ft 5 inches container,” Mr Kumar said. But still, they cannot run two containers with 9 ft 5 inches height under the wire, he added.
In terms of throughput, flat wagons are better placed than well wagons. “Each rake can either accommodate 32 well wagons (128 twenty feet equivalent unit containers) or 45 flat wagons (180 twenty feet equivalent unit containers),” said Mr Kumar.Moreover, Indian Railways does not have any well wagon in its fleet, nor does it have any design for it. Thus, the cost of well wagon will be substantially higher than flat wagon.
“According to our studies, for moving the same number of containers, double-stack containers with well wagon on electric traction will require Rs 3,024.5 crore extra expenditure on rolling stock,” Mr Kumar said.
container train operators
The container wagons are purchased by container train operators (and not Indian Railways) that include the incumbent Concor and 14 other new players. It is important to take their views into account, given that well wagons are not in use in the country.
JICA has also raised doubts on the speed at which flat wagons can move with double-stack containers. “However, RDSO, the research arm of Indian Railways, has said that that it is safe to move double-stack containers on flat wagons with speeds of 100 km per hour,” Mr Kumar said.