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1.Track, the problem (Down to Earth)

2.India’s Electric push (Live Mint)

1.Track, the problem (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on problems that are plaguing Indian railways. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Train derailments that indicate faults in tracks, besides other things, have always haunted safety in the Indian Railways.
  • What is worrying is that the frequency of derailment is rising (see ‘It’s a risky ride’, p15). The number of derailments in 2014-15 was 63. This went up to 76 in 2016-17, which means close to seven derailments a month or one derailment every four days.

Where lies the problem?

  • The traffic of both passengers and freight over the Railways network had increased by 1,344 per cent and 1,642 per cent respectively over the past 64 years, the route kilometres had grown by only 23 per cent,” says the 12th Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Safety and Security in Railways.
  • As a result, 40 per cent of the total track sections in the country were operating beyond their “line capacity”, a measure of how many trains a track section can support in a day, says the Railways’ official publication Indian Railways.
  • The increased traffic has also resulted in an unbalanced growth. Train traffic has substantially increased in the Indo-Gangetic plain over the past two decades and, as a result, bulk of the train accidents happen in this high-traffic region.
  • There is a strong relation between the traffic density and track condition. As the density of train increases, the track system is occupied longer and this leads to more wear and tear. High traffic also impacts track maintenance and repair work. The Indian Railways has a system of scheduled inspections and patrolling of track. Tracks are inspected daily on foot by a keyman. Also, senior and junior engineers use trollies and fast trains to check tracks at least once in a fortnight.
  • Senior officials should inspect every two-three months. However, thorough inspections rarely happen because of “large number of vacancies in keyman and due to unauthorised absenteeism”. Moreover, high train density means insufficient time for maintenance.

Other fault lines

  • High traffic has also slowed down the process of replacing old tracks with new. A White Paper on the Indian Railways published in 2015, states that on an average 4,500 kms of track should ideally be renewed annually.
  • The progress of track renewals is constantly coming down since the last six years says the 2016 Parliamentary Committee report. But less than 3,000 km of old track is being replaced every year. Moreover, the ministry has suffered from chronic and significant under investment as well as low internal generation of resources.
  • Expenditure on the Railways as percentage of the transport sector expenditure has reduced from 56 per cent in 7th Five Year Plan to 30 per cent in 11th Plan. Further, the share of the Indian Railways in overall GDP is below 1 per cent.
  • Human error is another major con cern. Between 2013 and 2016, as many as 165 accidents happened due to the failure of railway staff. A major problem is “signal passing at danger”, which happens when a train jumps a stop signal on its own.

What steps have been taken

  • While the Railways has introduced a lot of safety upgradations in the past, a lot more is required. It has replaced regular tracks (13-26 m) with long rail panels (130 to 260 m) to reduce the number of joints, which are susceptible to breaking.
  • It has also introduced Flash Butt Welding process to connect tracks, which has higher strength than the earlier AluminoThermic method. Another major safety step is the introduction of an Online Track Management System where all the data collected through monitoring and inspections are put for easy access within the Railways.

Way ahead

  • The Railways can contain derailments even if it embraces indigenous technologies, several of them developed by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation of the Railways (RDSO). The agency had developed several under the Technology Mission for Railway Safety (TMRS). One of the technologies developed was the Satellite Imaging for Rail Navigation which allows continuous tracking of every train for its location, speed and direction.
  • The technology is currently fitted in just 43 trains, such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto. It should be extended to all trains and the technology can be used for warning trains in case of danger. Similarly, the Anil Kakodar committee, set up in 2012 by the Union Ministry of Railways to review safety standards, suggested that all train coaches be replaced to Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches as they have special couplers that ensure coaches do not collide with each other in case of derailment. Currently, only a few trains such as Rajdhani use LHB coaches.
  • TMRS has also developed a Derailment Detection Device, the first of its kind in the world, which uses a three-axis sensor that informs the driver if the train crosses a prescribed speed. It also has the ability to apply brakes automatically if the train overspeeds. TMRS has also developed corrosion-prevention rails.
  • Sam Pitroda committee recommended the implementation of Train Protection and Warning System, under which if a driver tries to jump a stop signal, then the train can stop automatically. It can also be effective against derailment due to overspeeding.
  • The government took a step in the right direction when it announced the Rs 1 lakh crore Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh in the 2017 Union budget, but it alone will not be sufficient.

Question– Railways are the lifeline of India but are plagued with gross underinvestment and development. What systemic reforms are needed in this direction?

2.India’s Electric push (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the need for India to switch to electric vehicle driven regime. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The time for a move away from fossil fuels has come. Global weather disasters and the pollution levels of major Indian cities are clear indications that the costs of pollution are beginning to spiral out of control for citizens and economies alike.

Prospects to go electric

  • The climate change disruption holds both opportunities and challenges. Facing the need for a drastically reduced CO2 footprint per capita head on will allow forward-thinking nations to develop new technologies and to establish leading positions in future energy-efficient products and services. Nations that do not live up to their responsibility for global climate protection will not only harm us all but be ultimately left behind from a technology and business perspective.

India’s action

  • India’s announcement and intention to move from fossil fuel-driven vehicles to electric vehicles is positive. Rather than being a late follower in technology development, the government would like to position India’s industry at the forefront of the global quest for clean mobility. This is to be wholeheartedly supported.
  • Over the last 30-40 years, India has developed the capability to engineer and build globally competitive vehicles based on internal combustion engines (ICEs). Via joint ventures, technology licences and technology transfer, Indian manufacturers and suppliers have built full-fledged capabilities in ICEs.
  • Value engineering of these products ensured personal mobility for the Indian middle class at price points that are unmatched globally. Today, about 40-50% of the domestic and export sales of Indian suppliers is tied to ICE. The Indian automotive industry has leveraged its investments in ICEs to build scale and globally competitive manufacturing as well as engineering capability.
  • The industry has created highly skilled, well-paid jobs and generated badly needed export earnings. Significant investments continue, as manufacturers and suppliers are gearing up to meet the BS VI challenge.

Problems ahead

  • A binary transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles entails significant risks. Technology transfer and joint ventures have to be encouraged to ensure indigenization of technology. Customers will benefit from this transfer due to the Indian capability for cost-efficient engineering.
  • Industry must play as much a leading role in electric vehicles as it does today in ICEs to ensure employment, capability building and tax revenue. In addition, localization is crucial to avoid replacement of an oil import bill with a battery import bill. The latter simply switches political dependency from the Gulf states to China.
  • The government needs to support relevant volumes in chosen segments, e.g., via public tenders, incentives or access restrictions. These measures need to be decisive enough to drive significant, visible adoption of electric vehicles in India’s cities. Without a reasonable visibility of volumes, businesses will not invest.
  • Policy clarity is a must. While a number of green technologies can be pursued, the practical reality of the Indian automotive industry is that resources for investment are limited. A focused push on electric vehicles in addition to the BS VI transition already stretches capability limits for many indigenous companies.
  • As the case studies of the US, Germany, France, Japan, Korea and China show, a strong automotive industry creates disproportionate benefits in technology, capability, taxes and employment for the country of origin of manufacturers and suppliers.
  • Such an industrial ecosystem can develop if local lead markets (such as the luxury car market in Germany) as well as an active industrial policy that promotes local champions are present. In the case of India, it is in the country’s interest to champion key Indian manufacturers and their indigenous suppliers. In an environment, where job creation is falling far short of population growth, active development of a high-paying sector is paramount.

Way ahead

  • The need for a transition to electric vehicles in India is undeniable. Indian manufacturers and suppliers have to accept this reality and start working to pivot their product portfolios towards this new environment. They need to rework their strategies and re-allocate investments.
  • Policy consistency is crucial. Long-term investments are required; sudden policy changes that alter business case assumptions can drive companies into ruin. Multinational corporations have technology available off-the-shelf and can relatively easy decide to engage or withdraw from the Indian market, e.g., General Motors. Indian companies are sure to lose out in unstable policy scenarios.
  • Technology risks such as liability issues around battery swapping, unstable battery technology, recycling of batteries and infrastructure requirements need to be assessed in detail. Life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have to be considered when comparing battery electric vehicles with fossil fuel vehicles.
  • GHG emissions during battery production and recycling must be reduced. Given these challenges, businesses need not only high-level directions, but also detailed implementation road maps.

Question– India had taken climate protection pledge at Paris COP, in this regard switching to electric vehicle ecosystem can provide great relief to India. Comment.