Delayed for years, the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), the largest rail infrastructure project in India, just got a new managing director as it struggles to complete the job by 2019. Anshuman Sharma, a 1984-batch Indian Railway officer from civil engineering cadre and currently the director (project planning) on the DFC Board, has been selected to head the signature project that will create two railway corridors along the western and eastern flanks of the country exclusively for freight operations. In one of his previous postings, Sharma was associated with the Jammu and Kashmir rail link project’s 11-km Pir Panjal tunnel. Sharma’s selection for the top job was cleared by Public Enterprises Selection Board.
According to sources in the Railway Board, a change in the leadership of the project is welcome because the DFC had been struck with massive delays. Adding to the pressure, the Prime Minister’s Office has set an immediate target of commissioning of at least 200 km of DFC by March 2018. With alarm bells ringing in the Railway ministry earlier this year, the DFC toyed with the idea of revising its completion target from 2019 to 2021, sources said. This coincided with an internal assessment by the ministry, which pointed out in detail that several ongoing key civil contracts were not progressing in sync with the official timeline and looked like they were in no position to meet the deadline. The projection did not gel with the overall infrastructure narrative the NDA government wants to weave by 2019 before it faces another General Election.
Railway Board chairman AK Mittal, who is also the chairman of the DFC Board of directors, took a series of steps to pull up the DFC brass in multiple review meetings and asserted that revision of the targets was out of the question, sources said. “It turned out that some contracts had certain cash-flow related issues because of which they were going slow. This was addressed within the boundaries of the existing contracts after the Railway Board’s intervention to expedite the works,” a top source told The Indian Express. Extensive use of the PMO-monitored infrastructure platform ‘Pragati’ to weed out bottlenecks with states and other agencies was also stressed, sources said.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s office too recently reviewed the progress of the project to give it the required push. Following that, the DFC is now supposed to work on a strict timeline abiding by milestones based on commissioning of stretches one by one. Accordingly the 200 kilometer stretch between Rewari and Phulera in Western DFC is likely to get commissioned by March 2018 and the DFC has been asked to work with that target on priority. Next stretch in line for commissioning may be the 343-km Kanpur -Khurja section in Eastern DFC by December 2018.
The Third is likely to be Phulera in Rajasthan to Palanpur in Gujarat on the Western DFC. The overall target is operationalising around 1,200 km of DFC in eastern and western arms combined by June 2019. The Dedicated Freight Corridors will be taking away 70 per cent of freight operations from the current, aged and choked Indian Railway networks thereby freeing up huge capacity for the national transporter in the heaviest traffic routes in the country. The commissioning of the DFC is therefore directly linked to easing congestion, increasing speeds of existing passenger trains, and pumping in a more robust product mix into India’s railway system. Freight trains on the DFC will be running with more powerful engines, achieving average speeds of 70 km per hour from the current 22 km per hour.