NEW DELHI: Railways Minister D V Sadananda Gowda is pushing to make the Indian Railways go green. For the first time in India, solar energy will be used to power the trains and about 30 coaches of DEMUs (Diesel Electric Multiple Units) deployed as local trains around Delhi will be fitted with solar panels. The `7-crore pilot project will test if solar power can be used for train-lighting and meeting the auxiliary power needs. The project is not just environment-friendly but, if successful, can be a game-changer for the loss-making mass carrier.
The project has been initiated by the Indian Railways Originations for Alternate Fuels (IROAL) headed by Chief Administrative Officer Ashwani Lohani, popularly known as ‘Mr Turnaround’ in official circles. IROAL is in the process of coming out with a tender inviting private companies to come forward to “install solar panels atop rail coaches and use the solar energy to run fans and electricity in trains”.
The railways expects that within six months, the trains with rooftop solar panel will start plying on Delhi-Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-Haryana routes. These 30 compartments would either be used individually in trains or an entire train comprising them.
The clear motive of the project is to cut down on railways fuel bill, which is the second largest component of expenditure after the employee salaries for the cash-strapped government behemoth used by over 1.3 crore people every day. In 2013-14, from the `1.27 lakh crore of Indian Railway’s expenditure, around over 22 per cent (`28,500 crore) were spent on fuel.
A senior railways ministry official said, “The project would run for a minimum of 6-12 months. We would note the positives and negatives of the project to decide if it can be taken on a bigger scale. If successful, it can be a game-changer for railways which is in the red at present. It would also help us in doing our bit for the environment.”
Besides, it will also save energy. “Less power and fuel needed for railways would obviously be beneficial for everyone and cut on railways’ huge fuel expenditure every year,” the official further added.
According to the IROAL, the idea behind using alternate fuels in railways is to emerge as a world-class organisation in setting standards—development, research and execution in fuel- and energy-efficient and eco-friendly technologies—primarily for assimilation in the railways.
Indian Railways has been focussing on alternate source of fuels big time with trials already on to use CNG, biodiesel and LNG among others. CNG is being used in local trains which originate from Delhi. The dual fuel concept of using CNG and diesel has also helped in saving fuel and money.
Lohani, who is heading the IROAL at present, is a no-nonsense officer. He has been credited for world-class Madhya Pradesh tourism campaign that changed the picture of tourism sector in the state.
He was also responsible for changing the face of Indian Tourism Development Corporation and bringing it in profit. A successful implementation of the solar panel project on trains could mean another feather in Lohani’s cap.
India has a huge solar potential with availability of good amount of sunlight available for major part of the day round the year and harnessing solar power to power Indian Railways is more feasible and cost-effective.