India’s railways is the world’s largest rail network and, according to a report cited by Climate Home, consumes more electricity than the whole of Sri Lanka.
It’s no surprise then that Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu was quoted recently as saying that “identifying a cost-effective energy system with least environmental impact is essential.”
Under the Paris climate agreement, India pledged to reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 35% by 2030. Since then, the Indian government has been pushing to green the country’s vast railway network by installing 1,000 megawatts of solar energy and working towards having at least 10% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020 as set out in its Vision 2020 strategy.
Despite a plethora of obstacles, including, but not confined to, delays in the tendering process for new projects, maintenance issues, difficulties in managing performance of devices and regulations of prohibiting cross-border transport of power, India has already taken some grand steps towards achieving these ambitious goals.
Here are just some of the achievements gained so far towards a greener Indian Railways:
Solar power tariffs have plummeted in India in recent months. The Economic Times recently reported that solar tariffs had fallen well below those of power from thermal plants using new coal, suggesting that renewable energy sources could very well be on their way to becoming a cheaper alternative to coal overall in the near future.
The solar generation potential for India’s railways is enormous and the government has plans to install 500MW of solar power from roof-top solar installations on railway stations, administrative buildings and vacant land.
According to Climate Home, 7,000 stations have been targeted for solar panels so far, 90% of which are smaller rural stations where solar energy could be a game-changer as grid-connected panels are not always viable. It is also thought that the benefits could be wider-reaching as any excess solar energy has the potential to be sold to local business and residents.
Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh has one of 300 railway stations where work to green the railways has begun. From August 1 2017, a 1 megawatt solar roof-top will power LEDs for the platforms, two locomotive sheds, a hospital, and numerous offices and smalls shops. Besides lowering carbon emissions, the pioneering project is expected to save the station as much as Rs 20 lakh every year compared to running on grid electricity.
Stated by the Indian Express, India is making efforts to equip all trains with bio-toilets by 2019. In recent years, Indian Railways and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have partnered to develop environment-friendly bio-toilets for its passenger coaches where human waste is collected in tanks below the toilets and decomposed by a consortium of bacteria, as opposed to being released directly onto the tracks.
At last count, the railway network had almost 49,000 bio-toilets in over 900 operational trains across India. Last year, the 141-km-long Okha-Kanalus route and the 34-km-long Porbandar-Wansjaliya sections in Gujarat became waste disposal-free when all trains passing through these lines became equipped with bio-toilets. 10 passenger trains consisting of 286 coaches moving over the 114-km long Rameswaram-Manamadurai section of Tamil Nadu were also provided with bio-toilets.
As many as 2,428 rainwater harvesting systems have been installed by the railways at different locations, including station buildings across the country. In place of steel sleepers on steel bridges, environmentally friendly composite sleepers made of recycled plastic waste are being used over all girder bridges to collect rainwater, which is mainly used for maintenance of wagons/coaches and cleaning of stations.
Indian Railways has a target of planting a total of 5 crore trees across along the track and rail land across the country. In 2016, the Forest Department of Haryana & Punjab along with the Union Ministry of Railways signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for planting around 5 lakh trees alongside railway track land. The Haryana government also decided to team up with the railways to take up an afforestation drive on vacant land along the railway lines in the state.