Railways fascinate me. Professionally, I advocate for a massive expansion of rail networks to address the air pollution and climate crisis. Rail transport is not only highly energy efficient compared to road and air transport, it can also completely shift to renewable energy.
It will, therefore, play a significant role in reducing emissions from the transport sector. The Indian Railways has recognised this potential and has set a target to achieve net zero carbon emission by 2030, the most ambitious climate target set in the country.
Personally, I love long train journeys. Travelling on the Coromandel Express from Howrah to Chennai, Netravati Express from Mangalore to Mumbai (when it ran on metre gauge), and the Rajdhani from Delhi to Mumbai and Kolkata are some of my favourite travel memories. But during all these times, like most people, I took for granted the noise, the open toilets (now stinking bio-toilets), and the waste along the tracks and stations.
But as Indian Railways is expanding, modernising and privatising, environmental issues we overlooked in the past mustn’t be ignored anymore.
Indian Railways is big in every aspect; it runs the fourth largest railway system globally and carries 8 billion passengers and more than a billion tonnes of freight a year. These numbers are projected to increase by 50% over the next 10 years. As it’s already one of the largest consumers of water and energy and generator of waste, its environmental footprint will increase significantly in a business as usual scenario.
While Indian Railways has made significant progress in energy efficiency, renewable energy and cleanliness, there are grave concerns of water and noise pollution and waste management.