Serving over 8 billion passengers annually, the Indian railroad network is one of the largest and most intricate in the world. But moving billions of people over tens of thousands of kilometers of rail every year is no small feat – it requires enormous amounts of energy, even though passenger-mile emissions are much lower than vehicle traffic.
India’s transport sector contributes to 12% of the country’s GHG emissions, with railways accounting for about 4 per cent of that. To reduce overall emissions from transportation, India committed to increase the amount of freight moved by Indian Railways from about 35 per cent in 2015 to 45 per cent by 2030.
The Indian Government has been working on greening the railways, with over half of the network electrified, and a target to electrify the entire network in the next 3-4 years. Electrification would introduce a more centralized, efficient power system in lieu of higher emitting diesel engines.
In July 2020, Indian Railways went even further, announcing that the national transportation system will be a net zero carbon emitter by 2030. This would mean eliminating emissions of 7.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, about the same as two coal power plants.
“Due to economic development and increased consumption, there is an increasing demand on the resources,” said Vinod Kumar Yadav, Chairman of the Railways Board. “We need to take care of the environmental concerns along with the economic development to ensure sustainability. Indian Railways has embarked on a mission to improve energy efficiency and replace fossil fuel sources with renewable energy sources like solar and wind to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.”
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has long supported the Indian Railways’ efforts. In July, UNEP led a capacity building programme for Indian Railways management and staff on sustainability and green economy. The training was conducted under the UNEP-led Partnership for Action on Green Economy with support of the National Academy of Indian Railways.
Over 60 participants joined the week-long training to learn how to incorporate sustainable public procurement, green buildings, waste management, and biodiversity and conservation into green initiatives at Indian Railways. Participants ranged from upper management to entry-level officials and included representatives from training institutes who will become Master Trainers. This is the first time this type of interactive virtual training programme has been deployed for an organization of this size and environmental footprint.
Atul Bagai, Head of UNEP’s India Office, said:
India’s rail network has long been an integral part of the country’s societal fabric. Greening the railways not only is vital to achieve the Government’s climate objectives but is also an important symbol of India’s environmental initiative. UNEP is proud to assist these efforts through trainings like this and other support.
Speaking about the training, Yadav said, “Capacity building of officials across all levels is key for achieving the vision of Indian Railways. I look forward to further collaboration between Indian Railways and UNEP in this endeavor.”
With more people and more freight set to ride the rails as India’s economy grows, it will be more important than ever to ensure that the future of India’s renowned rail network is sustainable.
Emissions from power generation are only one part of the equation. Indian Railways is also looking to make stations and installations green certified. Over 100 water treatment and recycling plants have been established.
And, in a unique development, the railroad operator has fitted long-distance coaches with bio tanks to deal with human waste from passengers. In the tank, waste is digested by bacteria, which release innocuous gases and wastewater that is treated before discharge. Along with reducing effluent and providing health and hygiene benefits, a study carried out by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) found that these bio tanks may prevent emissions of up to 155 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.