Image Courtesy: The Railway Gazette
The railway sector in India post-independence became the backbone of the Indian economy, before losing out to the road and aviation sector posing threat to the passenger segment and the freight segment. The current share of the passenger and freight segment in the transport market stands at 22% in the passenger transport market and 40% in the freight transport market. The freight transport market over the year has declined massively due to the low average speed of freight trains at 25 kmph and longer delivery time frame as both passenger and freight trains use the same infrastructure with passenger trains being given greater priority over freight trains despite a greater chunk of the revenue generated by the freight segment to a tune of 75%. To help improve train speeds and train lengths to increase the loading capacity of the freight trains, the dedicated freight corridors become important with exclusive infrastructure being created for seamless freight operations and promoting long-haul freight operations. The dedicated freight corridor is not only an epitome of changing the way freight is transported, but it is also symbolic of massive advancements in technology instrumental to India’s railway modernisation project and a step towards decongesting the existing network by shifting 70 per cent of freight movement via the corridor, thus offering more room for expansion of passenger trains.
The Dedicated Freight Corridor is a project that has been conceptualised over a while when it was first mooted in 2004. This was also the time when Australia was the first country to operate a long-haul freight train between Port Augusta and Adelaide. Amongst other countries that operated long-haul freight trains include China, the United States of America, Africa to mention a few. The proposal just like other policymaking processes the proposal too met with apprehensions and failed to materialise until 2009 with the foundation stone laid by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The project draws a parallel from the Golden Quadrilateral project that connects the four major metropolitan cities. The Eastern DFC is 1,337 kms and is from Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal while on the other hand, the Western Corridor is 1,506 kms from Dadri in Haryana to JNPT in Maharashtra. The project is financed in a 2:1 debt-equity ratio.
The Dedicated Freight Corridor project is being looked upon as ecologically sustainable as it would contribute to a reduction of 67 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2041-42. The project has been actively receiving financial assistance from the World Bank and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. The World Bank is providing financial assistance for the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor Project, while the Japanese International Cooperation Agency has been actively involved in the funding of the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor and helping India purchase high-powered electric locomotives for a total amount of 6000 crores.
The Relevance of Dedicated Freight Corridor: A National Security Perspective
The trials by the Indian Army had come amidst the brewing border tensions with China, especially after the Galwan episode, which has attracted the attention of the government to expedite the mega infrastructure projects in the border areas. The roads and railways expansion in the Northeast part of the country is a strategic move for greater and faster mobilisation for Indian Army troops. Dedicated Freight Corridor is a feather in the cap as the huge corridor with wider capacity and speed will help the armed forces to mobilise their equipment and increase their deployment in the border regions, which will give India an upper hand in the diplomatic and military relations.
The DFC has a pan India network, which will leverage the movement of emergency supplies even to the areas which are hit with a natural calamity. DFC has strategic importance in the border areas with China, like in the North-East part of the country because China's infrastructural development in border areas of Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh growing dependency on its imports could threaten India’s sovereignty in the near future. The recent exercise by the army to run fully loaded army trains on Dedicated Freight Corridor is symbolic of their efforts to ensure preparedness with modalities to develop infrastructure on certain locations to validate the movement of defence-owned rolling stock and achieve synergy amongst various ministries and departments and optimisation of national resources.
Dedicated Freight Corridor and its Long-Term Relevance
The Dedicated Freight Corridor despite the primary challenges engulfed by apprehensions has acquired an important form in the quest for boosting the country’s economy and its national security. The Dedicated Freight Corridor is essential to boosting other sectors of the economy such as the agriculture and manufacturing sector by speeding the transport of important logistics. The DFC is a pan-India network, which will leverage the movement of emergency supplies even to the areas which are hit with a natural calamity. DFC has strategic importance in the border areas like the North East as China's infrastructural development in border areas of Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh growing dependency on its imports could threaten India’s sovereignty in the near future. With the changing economic and diplomatic scenario, the relevance of the Dedicated Freight Corridor will further strengthen.
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