Event ReportsPublished on Nov 19, 2009
The Indian railway is the largest passenger rail system in the world, yet it makes up just about 13% of India's transport sector
Mega rail projects an opportunity to slash India's carbon emissions

Against the backdrop of the ongoing climate change conference in Copenhagen, Ms. Anjali Goyal, ED Finance of the Ministry of Railways presented a design for India’s ‘Ultra Low Carbon Mega Rail Projects’at the ORF campus.

The transport sector contributes 22% of the global carbon emissions. As income levels in developing countries increase, the demand for faster travel will increase and many experts predict that passenger mobility is set to increase by three to six times in the next 10 years. Furthermore, expanding middle classes in developing countries will also lead to an increase in the number of cars of the roads. As a result, carbon emissions from the developing world in the transport sector, particularly India and China, are projected to increase and will therefore be an important area of concern in addressing climate change.

The Indian railway is the largest passenger rail system in the world, yet it makes up just about 13% of India’s transport sector. Nearly 87% of India’s transport occurs on roads, and demand for air travel is also increasing. The sale of vehicles in India is also on the rise despite the 2008-09 economic slump. Cars per person in India are projected to touch 382 per thousand persons by 2050 compared to the current rate of 8 per thousand persons.

Since cars carry the least number of people per vehicle (as opposed to airplanes and trains) they have a high level of carbon emissions. High speed trains on the other hand can carry up to 800 people and travel at speeds about 350km/hour. Thus, the emissions from trains are nearly five times less than those from cars.

Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, a Distinguished Fellow at ORF said that the largest abatement possibility (60-70%) lies in two areas: efficiency, and changing the end-use paradigms. These concerns are also being addressed by the Mega rail projects which aim to use several clean-energy technologies, including clean carbon.

The Mega Rail projects being designed by the Indian Railway Ministry aims at providing high speed passenger and freight transport along some of the busiest transit corridors in the country. Planned in partnership with state governments, these trains will improve connectivity to the hinterland.

Dedicated Freight Corridors will make routes more seamless by separating freight from passenger travel. Developed along key import-export corridors of India, the government plans to set up fifteen planned industrial centres with major logistics hubs. As Mr. Mukund Sanwal observed, these projects will serve as an engine of growth not only for industries, but also spur urbanization in many far-flung regions of the country.

There are many complexities involved in the railway sector which make it difficult to formulate and implement policies. One of the largest difficulties is that mode of transport is heavily dependent on personal choice which is affected by several factors including frequency, speed, amenities, and punctuality. Thus, branding and marketing of these new services and creating incentives for users will be of key importance, a point that was reiterated by Mr. Nitin Zamre.

While there are many problems of policy, funding, and inter-ministerial cooperation that remain to be resolved, as Mr. R. S. Das said, the Mega Rail projects being designed by the Railway Ministry are a historic opportunity with great potential of creating a fundamental shift in transport and decarbonization in India.

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