In an effort to feed at least 10% of its energy requirements, the Indian Railways has been vigorously changing its policies since 2010. With its power consumption growing by 5% every year, as it adds more trains and routes, it is the highest single consumer of electricity in the country. Recognising how deep an impact it can make on the environment (and also counting its rising costs on electricity and fuel), the Indian Railways commenced its journey towards a sustainable and economical change.
It plans to reduce at least Rs 3000 to 4000 crores of its power consumption in the coming years.
Railway Stations That Run on the Power of Wind and Sun
About 50 stations in the country are completely dependent on solar power, while 300 have solar or wind harnessing systems. Jaipur, the latest railway station to harness the power of solar energy, will save Rs 7.2 lakh annually on electricity bills. The water supply for the Perugamani station and its adjacent railways quarters is driven by solar powered water pumps since April 2015. In Thiruvananthapuram, railway gate signals are run on solar power. At Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, a solar plant was built to feed electricity for the station. In Birur, Karnataka, a 15kW wind and solar harnessing plant was set up in 2015, which produces about 20,000 units of electricity. Similarly, a 26 MW windmill in Jaisalmer was inaugurated in December 2015.
Trains That Light up without Electricity
To power up trains, the Railways installed solar panels on the top of coaches. Estimates state that installing solar panels on its 63,511 coaches could save the Railways Rs 10.8 crores worth of diesel. In June 2015, the first solar powered coaches ran on the Rewarri-Sitapur, Pathankot-Jogindernagar and Kalka-Shimla lines. The panels powered the lighting requirements of the train.
When the test runs bore good results, in September 2015, the government announced that it would provide subsidies to promote the installation of solar panels on 500 train rooftops.
Managing Human Waste, Naturally
The Indian Railways plans to phase out conventional toilets on all of its train coaches by 2020, and replace them with eco-friendly biodegradable toilet systems. These innovative systems ensure no human waste pollutes the railway tracks. With the help of a certain kind of bacteria, human waste is converted into non-corrosive water and gas, and is released through outlets. As of 2015, nearly 17,000 coaches were fitted with these toilets, and all newly built coaches will have this system integrated into its design. On the Mangalore Express and the Pune-Jammu Tawi Jhelum Express, the Central Railways has also introduced biodegradable waste bags for long distance journeys in its A/C coaches. In his Railway Budget speech this year, Suresh Prabhu said that Railways plan to set up ‘waste to energy’ conversion plants near major coaching terminals to dispose waste in an environment-friendly manner.
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No More Chug-Chugging on Diesel
In 2013, the Railways announced that it had started developing designs for trains that run on LNG, a move that was said to bring about 50% reduction in operating costs.
India has come a long way from steam engines to diesel engines, and on to trains that run on renewable energy.
Currently, there are about 5000 diesel and 4500 electric engines, annually costing about Rs 16,000 crores and Rs 9000 crores respectively. Besides this, the first locomotive to run on dual CNG and diesel was launched in 2015 between Rewari and Rohtak. Later this year, Railways will roll out LNG-based locomotives, and is currently collaborating with foreign firms for its research and design. Bio-diesel, known to be cleaner for the environment, has also been in use since 2014, attributing to 5% of the diesel requirement.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Taking water conservation seriously, the Railways installed rainwater harvesting systems at nearly 50 stations, as a start. These systems are low maintenance, at a nominal cost. In the 2016 Railway Budget speech, Suresh Prabhu said, “We have launched a mission for water conservation. Water recycling plants will be set up at major water consumption centres after conducting water audit. Expansion of water harvesting systems will also continue.” In Mumbai’s Lokmaniya Tilak Terminus, rainwater harvesting yields up to 40% of its water requirement.
Besides these major structural changes, the Railways has also worked on growing plants along railway routes and introducing e-ticketing to save paper. That’s a lot being done to reduce its Rs 13,000 crore power bill!