As cargo movement by rail is set to grow exponentially in the near future, the Indian Railways is muscling up for the additional load through a line-up of 615 projects, which are slated to be completed between FY25 and FY28. It plans to invest a few thousand crores of rupees to ramp up freight carrying capacity across its network, in anticipation of handling nearly 3,000 million tonnes (mt) of freight loading by 2027.

Coal makes up nearly 47 per cent of railway cargo. Domestic production of coal touched 893.19 mt in FY23, while imports stood at 237 mt. Nearly 64 per cent (659 mt) of this combined load was hauled by rail.

Strategic corridors 

The upcoming 615 projects fall under three categories —132 super-critical projects under phase 1, to be completed by FY25; 184 super-critical projects under phase 2, to be completed in FY27; and 299 critical projects, to be completed in FY28.

The nature of the projects ranges from track enhancement — which constitutes the bulk of the work — to yard remodelling, traffic facilities, and automatic signalling.

“The (Railway) Board may consider the creation of all such strategic corridors to relieve stress on the existing network and prepare the railway infrastructure for a surge in demand. This would assist Indian Railways in assisting the energy sector in meeting the aim of generating 3,000 BU [billion unit] by 2030,” an internal report mentioned.

Tracking progress

Work orders have been issued for the 132 super-critical projects under the first phase, worth over ₹1 lakh crore, according to the report, titled ‘Mission 3000 MT’, prepared by the Traffic Transportation and Business Research Unit of the Railways.

Some of the large-ticket projects underway include the important Pune-Miraj-Londa line (connecting Maharashtra to Karnataka) at over ₹4,000 crore; the Vijayawada–Gudur third line (aimed at decongesting the route); and 182-km track enhancement along the Sambalpur-Titagarh line, among others.

Under the second phase of the super-critical projects, work orders have been sanctioned for 37 projects, totalling over ₹50,000 crore. Some of the major projects here include the expansion of the Koderma-Ranchi section, among others.

Sanction for the remaining projects will depend on the completion of works under phase 1, as also the projected demand for them, a railway official said.

According to railway authorities, nearly 70 of the 299 projects categorised as critical are at various stages of implementation and are cumulatively valued at about ₹1 lakh crore. The rest of the critical projects are awaiting sanction.

Long gestation

According to a former railway official, projects “more often than not run behind schedule”, delaying future plans and demand estimates.

“The projections are based on certain parameters that are not constant. Also, delays in project completion have to be considered. In the long term, the numbers look good. But ground realities are different,” he cautioned, adding that some of the ongoing projects were sanctioned as early as 2003-04.

Another railway official pointed out that project costs “remain dynamic” and, given the long gestation period of the projects and the capital-intensive nature of the industry, costs were likely to go up.

The cost of the projects has been projected on the basis of a thumb rule of ₹20 crore per km for new lines and ₹12 crore per km for multi-tracking projects. The cost of dedicated freight corridor projects is based on a thumb rule of ₹50 crore per km.

“These are future projections and the actual numbers vary, depending on overruns and other factors like delayed sanctioning,” an industry source explained.