"The Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) will be the most technological advanced system of the Indian Railways. Implementation of the DFC will enable India to become the largest heavy-haul freight operation country. in the world"
The rail freight industry is big business in India, transporting 1.1m tonnes of materials and goods on an annual basis. Impressively, the country carries that huge quantity while sharing the tracks with the largest passenger rail network in the world in terms of rider numbers. The primary operator of freight in India, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), is undertaking a series of upgrades to futureproof the network for the next generation which, if Indian Railways' plans to open fresh connections with Iran and Turkey are anything to go by, could also involve transcontinental, cross-border freight.
From the DFCCIL, Ajit Kumar Mishra joins SmartRail World for this week’s 5 Minutes With… Anjit has worked on India rail network his whole career since beginning with Indian Railways before making the switch to freight in 2015. Now chief project manager at DFCCIL, Ajit explains to Dave Songer why India’s rail network is so important to him, the challenges the freight industry in India faces and how a train journey in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh help him unwind.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks for taking part, Ajit. You’ve worked in rail for nearly 20 years now, with the last six of that on freight. What are the main differences between the two?
Ajit Kumar Mishra (AKM): The passenger and freight segments pose different challenges on technological and economical dimensions. While the passenger sector requires more tech-savvy inputs and focus on passenger amenities, freight requires sturdy and bulk movement. In India presently, both freight and passenger rail run on the same network which poses serious capacity and operational constraints. Freight operation is a profit making segment of Indian Railway and is a major driver to the country’s overall economy. The operational constraints puts the freight operation on second priority, vis-a-vis passenger operations.
(DS): What led you to the rail industry, and what do you most enjoy about working in it?
(AKM): The long trains, whistling engines and huge rail infrastructure allured me since childhood. I had the chance to read many interesting stories and travelogues, which kept on unfolding secrets of railways in India, so when I had a chance to select the department after I took public service examinations, joining Railways was my natural first choice. I have travelled with Indian Railways over my life – it fulfils a personal passion of mine but it also performs a hugely important and professional service.
(DS): What does your current position entail?
(AKM): I currently work as chief project manager of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project which is one of most ambitious and strategic decisions of the government of India, augmenting the transport segment in the country.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced in your career?
(AKM): Indian Railways made the decision to run a much higher capacity for freight trains on existing networks, network that basically weren’t designed for such increased loads. Upgrading the existing network for to cater for this increased traffic and higher train loads, monitoring its impact to study the effects of those bigger loads and taking appropriate mitigation measures when required while working as part of track operation team proved to be a real challenge.
(DS): We reported last year about the Rio Tinto, Australian’s fully autonomous train. Are there any plans to introduce autonomous, or partially-autonomous, trains on India’s network? (If not, why not?)
(AKM): India is poised to match this with the technological advances happening across the globe. At the DFC, the communication would be based on state of the art mobile train radio system and signalling systems. The train would be running an end of telemetry system obviating the need for the guard otherwise required with conventional systems. India has also started running driverless automated metro train service and we are upgrading the technology to move towards an automated system.
(DS): To what extent does technology play a role in Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation’s operations?
(AKM): The DFC will be the most technological advanced system of the Indian Railways. Implementation of the DFC will enable India to become the largest heavy-haul freight operation country in the world. These operations will be logic-based, automated systems that will be on par with other countries.
(DS): What do you think will be the biggest changes to freight over the next 10 years?
(AKM): One of the major freight components is the transportation of bulk commodities like coal and ore for thermal power plants. Focus is now shifting to gas-based electricity generation which will reduce the reliance on thermal power plants, thereby reducing the need for freight transportation. Tempering that, however, is the growth in infrastructure which will require a growth in the transport sector, leading to a clear shift in the priority areas for freight transportation.
(DS): What’s your favourite rail journey?
(AKM): My favourite rail journey is on the Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge route that cuts through picturesque hills and valleys. The views from the train are spectacular and shows the incredible engineering that went in to making the line.
(DS): You’re due to speak at SmartRail this year. What are you most looking forward to, and what can the attendees expect you to cover?
(AKM): I am excited to meet the fellow speakers and other illustrious participants, which help me in enriching my experience as a railway man. I’m speaking in the conference on the importance of transport by rail, during which I plan to present how the increased share of freight transportation is both more cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly compared to other modes of transport in the country.
(DS): Thanks so much, Ajit, for sparing your time and giving Indian rail some long overdue exposure. Have a great time at SmartRail.
Last week's 5 minutes with… 5 Minutes With… Laura Wright, head of international policy at the Rail Delivery Group.
Would you like to get involved in 5 minutes with…? This fun, informative feature gives our readership the chance to get to know more about the personalities behind the industry, what it is that inspires them, where they see the industry heading and of course their own favourite rail journey! Get in touch with Dave Songer: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.