A new era in freight transport by railways dawned last month when the 351-km-long New Bhaupur to New Khurja section of the eastern leg of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) was declared open by the Prime Minister.
Reportedly, the 58 BOXN wagon coal rake destined for a thermal power station up north completed the run at an average speed of 70 km/h. Compared to the current average of 25 km/h of freight trains on the 65,000-km network of the Indian Railways, this was a quantum jump in transport by rail that the western and eastern legs of the DFC promise to usher in when fully commissioned in a few years.
Alarm bells had begun to ring in a couple of decades ago when the Indian Railways’ market share of freight transport had dropped from a peak of 70% in the 1950s to just 30%, with road transport luring away the business with faster door-to-door service and guaranteed delivery schedules.
Conceptualised a decade ago, the plan to win back freight business began with the creation of a special purpose vehicle, i.e. the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL), in October 2006. The project was approved for an estimated cost of Rs 28,181 crore and contracts for construction of two major bridges awarded in December 2008.
Two corridors—1,504-km western corridor and 1,856-km eastern corridor—spanning 3,360 km were to be built, along existing track alignments so as to involve least amount of land acquisition, an onerous exercise that could bog down the project with its high cost and attendant problems.