With the pace of electrification of the entire Indian Railways network getting accelerated, Siemens is looking at making the most of the opportunity in fuelling mobility and connectivity. With Vande Bharat Express already blazing a trail at 160 kmph, plans are afoot to induct more intercity, suburban and Regional Rapid Transit Services (RRTS) trains, says Tilak Raj Seth, Head of Mobility, Siemens Ltd.
How is technology redefining the railway sector in India?
The government is focused on improving speed and throughput in terms of both infrastructure and moving stock. In the case of the former, it has taken steps to implement the European Train Control System (ETCS) for the protection of trains. This will prove to be a major step in decongesting the railway network as well as adding capacity. The other part of the infrastructure is the electrification of the entire Indian Railways network. Its pace has gone up and there are projects and industries engaged with rail-based stakeholders who are helping Railways in achieving this target at the earliest. On the moving stock side, you now have a train like Vande Bharat Express that moves at 160 kmph and there are plans afoot to induct more intercity, suburban and Regional Rapid Transit Services (RRTS) trains.
From Siemens' perspective, our vision on mobility rests on four pillars. Firstly, it's about enhancing passenger experience through technology. Behind what is visible to you by way of infotainment, punctuality and availability of trains entail big work in the creation of communication backbone, signalling, electrification, overarching maintenance and the like. The second pillar is the availability of stock. At one point in time, the rail authorities were either buying rail equipment product systems or installed services. But now guaranteed availability is of equal importance. Siemens is working through its services group to provide up to 99.95 per cent availability as is the case with Rapid Metro Gurgaon. The third pillar is making infrastructure intelligent. You can obtain data or key performance indicators (KPIs) of various performing assets in a moving locomotive to your operational control centre. We are also working with Northern Railways on a prototype system to detect broken rails. The fourth pillar of our strategy is about making infrastructure sustainable and improving lifecycle costs.
From your perspective, what is the progress on high-speed connectivity?
The first high-speed project by Indian Railways is under implementation on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor. As per the announcement made during the Union Budget for the current financial year, the Railways proposes to upgrade train services on the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata to up to 160 kmph. Of course, there is talk about other high-speed projects. I am aware of the Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru section where the feasibility study was undertaken by the German government. Although high-speed railway projects involve multi-billion-dollar Capex investment, they are required in the country. Overall, the average speed of trains on the Indian Railways network needs to increase.
How do you see the construction of dedicated freight corridors marking a paradigm shift in Railways as a carrier of materials?
Indian Railways today moves over a billion tonnes of originating goods traffic. Since we have mixed traffic on our main sections and Railways is a national carrier, priority is naturally given to passenger traffic. A lesser priority is accorded to freight although it's a key revenue earner. Therefore, it makes sense to separate goods and passenger traffic. The moment the first two dedicated freight corridors from Ludhiana to Dankuni and Dadri to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) are available shortly, the goods traffic will shift there. That is when the real paradigm shift will start as it's a new way of operation. In the Union Budget, it was also announced that Railways will try out operations through other entities on an experimental basis. The priority will be given to Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corp. (IRCTC). But then the availability of a DFC is likely to create demand for more operators.
In an earlier interview with the magazine, you had predicted increased private sector participation in the sector. Where do things stand presently?
In the last Union Budget and also in the Metro Rail Policy announced in 2017 there is a renewed focus on exploring all modes of financing rather than relying only on captive financing by the government. The new metro policy focuses on Public-Private Participation (PPP) as well as monetisation of various assets in the projects so that more infrastructure can be built and more players invited to participate. The same thing has also been announced in the federal budget where the emphasis is on PPP projects. All that is bound to give a boost to private sector participation. For example, Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd and Siemens are investing in the Pune Metro Line-3 project on the Hinjewadi-Shivajinagar stretch. Several similar projects are likely to be taken up in the future.
Another area that Siemens is quite active in, internationally, is light rail transit!
Since we are a country with a resource crunch, light rail transit or as some others here now like to call it "metro light", would not only be able to negotiate through narrow spaces in cities but also carry more people than say a conventional tramcar. That would also meet our economic needs. Our nearly 60 cities with over 1 million population might not be in a position to afford heavy rail metro, nor is that required. To boost economy, such cities might start with other modes of transport like bus rapid transit as happened in Ahmedabad. But eventually, they would need a light metro or metro light. That's a spot that municipal authorities and the industry should be prepared to address.
Over the next decade, what do you see as future areas of growth in India's railway sector for Siemens?
Siemens is practically into everything that India's rail sector needs. We play a big role in aiding the rail authorities in not only building infrastructure but also making it intelligent. To give you an example, the Railways has decided to make its entire network electric, which means there would be a requirement for high-powered electric locomotives. We have already equipped a 9,000-horsepower locomotive which is currently at the prototype stage. As I said earlier, we are engaged with them in detection of broken rails. We wholeheartedly welcome Railways' proposal to implement the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 and have submitted a bid. In metro rail, we are currently doing electrification of eight metro projects out of the 15 that are ongoing and signalling in four others. We would like to engage more with the Indian Railways in its digitalisation endeavour.
- MANISH PANT
"Although high-speed railway projects involve multi-billion-dollar Capex investment, they are required in the country. Overall, the average speed of trains on the Indian Railways network needs to increase."