Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a 351-km section between Khurja and Bhaupur in Uttar Pradesh for commercial operations of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) on Tuesday. He also dedicated to the nation a state-of-the-art Operation Control Centre in Prayagraj.
The total 2,843-km project — billed as the largest rail infrastructure being built in independent India — has been in the making since 2006 with little movement on the ground. It is finally ready to take off, albeit in phases.
What is the DFC?
The DFC consists of two arms. The section launched on Tuesday is part of the 1,839-km Eastern DFC that starts at Sohnewal (Ludhiana) in Punjab and ends at Dankuni in West Bengal. The other arm is the around 1,500-km Western DFC from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to JNPT in Mumbai, touching all major ports along the way.
The 351-km section stretches between Khurja, the 12th stop after Sohnewal in the North, to New Bhaupur, near Kanpur. Other stretches are Sohnewal to Khurja (365 km), Bhaupur to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay (Mughalsarai) (400 km), then to Sonnagar in West Bengal (137 km), then to Dankuni via Gomoh in Jharkhand (538 km).
There is also a section under construction between Dadri and Khurja to connect the Eastern and Western arms.
Why is it important?
Around 70% of the freight trains currently running on the Indian Railway network are slated to shift to the freight corridors, leaving the paths open for more passenger trains.
Built at a cost of Rs 5,750 crore through a loan from World Bank (which is funding a majority of the EDFC; the WDFC is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency), the new stations in this section are Bhaupur, Kanchausi, Achalda, Ekdil, Bhadan, Makhanpur, Tundla, Hathras, Daudkan and Khurja. This section passes through Kanpur Dehat, Auraiya, Etawah, Firozabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Bulandshahr districts in Uttar Pradesh.
This is like building an entire railway network from scratch, independent of Indian Railways. All the installations are new. Including the stations, and that’s why the names of a majority of its stations are prefixed with ‘New’, such as New Bhaupur, New Khurja etc.
Tracks on DFC are designed to carry heavier loads than most of Indian Railways. DFC will get track access charge from the parent Indian Railways, and also generate its own freight business.
What trains will use the new section?
Freight trains plying on this section from now on will help decongest the existing Kanpur-Delhi main line of Indian Railways, which currently handles trains at 150% of its line capacity. This section currently has over 50 passenger trains and around 60 goods trains jostling for paths daily. The new section means on the Indian Railway main line, more passenger trains can be pumped in and those trains can, in turn, achieve better punctuality.
Foodgrain and fertilisers from the northern region are transported to the eastern and Northeast regions. From East and Northeast, coal, iron ore, jute and petroleum products are transported North and West.
What else will change?
There are certain firsts for this section. For instance, 68 existing level crossings have been eliminated to augment speed, the only major section on Indian Railways that is free from any permanent or temporary speed restrictions. This in a way sets the bar for rest of the DFC to also make stretches free from speed restrictions, or “cautions” as they are termed in Railways.
Freight trains usually suffer from unpredictable running times and low speeds of around 25 km per hour. But on this new section they can run at 50-60 kph.
This section will also catch the freight traffic originating from key centres such as Kanpur Dehat, Aurayia, Etawah, Firozabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Bulandshahr. The existing industrial areas of Aligarh, Khuja, Firozabad, Agra and Bhaupur will become major growth centres of the area, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation projects in its business development plan.
These areas are agriculture hubs producing potato, paddy and maize. “The agricultural produce will get a pan-India market because of cheaper and faster DFC connectivity,” a spokesperson for the DFCCIL told The Indian Express.
New Makhanpur (Firozabad) and New Daudkhan (Aligarh) will be opened as common user terminals aimed at local farmers in sending their produce to the larger markets.
What about the rest of the DFC?
More sections will keep getting commissioned in the coming months.
There is 61% progress in the Bhaupur to Deen Dayal Upadhyay section, and 180 km of the 402 km will be complete by December 21, year while 22 km will be done by June 2022. Thereafter the stretch to Sonnagar will see 100 km completed by March next year.
The 401-km Khurja to Sanhewal section has had only 39% progress. It will be done by June 2022.
A 46-km link between Khurja (Eastern) and Dadri (Western) will be ready by March 2021. By December 2021, Kanpur-Khurja area will get connected to the western ports of Kandla, Mundra, and Pipava, via the 127-km Dadri-Rewari section in the Western arm, its target advanced by several months.
In the Western DFC, the section between Rewari (Haryana) and Madar (Rajasthan) has been completed. The subsequent sections are up to Palanpur in Gujarat (to be done in the next three months), then to Makarpura (by March 2022) and finally to JNPT (June 2022).
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