Railways to convert diesel locomotives to electric, says Piyush Goyal

The Indian Railways will convert the existing diesel locomotives to electric locomotives, while the diesel locomotives that General Electric (GE) will come out with will be used in border areas as a backup. 

"We are looking at electrification in a big way. That is going to save us nearly $2 billion a year which otherwise I will have to charge to passengers of the country," Union railway minister Piyush Goyal said addressing a FICCI summit in Delhi today. 

He added the Railways is looking for conversion of existing diesel locomotives to electric ones at a cheaper cost, compared to refurbishment.  "The engines given by Nalin Jain (president and chief executive officer, international of GE Transportation) can be used as back up across the country in border areas, for maintenance purposes whenever electrification needs to be repaired or set up. So we will have engines which are super-efficient as back up," Goyal said. Jain was also present at the summit.

The minister's comment is coming at a time when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that GE's plan to come up with a diesel locomotive manufacturing unit at Marhowra in Bihar was not “in sync with the overall strategic vision of Railways”.

The report stated the Railways themselves had decided to significantly reduce in-house production of diesel locomotives at Varanasi from 2019-20. Hence, setting up a new infrastructure for production of diesel locomotives and incurring a huge liability of Rs 171.26 billion was not in sync with the Railways’ strategic vision. 

Earlier, Goyal's comment on converting the GE plant to electric, to achieve 100 per cent electrification of railways, had triggered a controversy. "Look at the huge impact it will have on the carbon footprint of the country. When you have one type of system, the cost of maintenance, spares and training of employees will also come down," the minister added. 

The Railways had entered into a contract with GE to supply 1,000 fuel-efficient Evolution series locomotives in November 2015. The $2.5-billion contract was for 11 years. The deal, involving an investment of $200 million by GE, is expected to create at least 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, with 30 per cent of the workforce being women.

In line with the government’s Make in India push, the company is importing only 40 locomotives, as against the 100 it had planned under the contract with the Railways. 

The Indian Railways plans to complete electrification of its broad-gauge routes by 2021. It will also run freight trains in dedicated freight corridors on electricity. Even if the Railways do not go for 100 per cent electrification, it is expected that most of the high-traffic routes would be electrified and the need for diesel traction would remain only for low-traffic routes.