How the Indian Railways is steaming ahead to achieve a net-zero carbon emission by 2030

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

The Indian Railways has been taking a slew of measures over the last few years to be fully eco friendly - from LED lights to bio-toilets. So, the next time you hop on a train, besides enjoying the wheels whirring, you might get amused by the green initiatives.


With 13,169 passenger trains and 8,479 freight trains, Indian Railways is one of the largest rail networks in the world which serves more than 23 million people. And, this requires a whole lot of energy.

According to the Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (IRIMEE), a passenger train needs 4 to 4.5 litres of oil per 1000 GTKM to run. It is common knowledge that most transportation systems have a negative impact on the environment - from adding to noise pollution, emitting harmful gases to aggravating climate change.

Image credit: Ministry of Railways, Government of India, Facebook.

If we look at the bigger picture, India’s transport sector itself contributes to 12 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions with railways accounting for 4 percent of that. Well, this seems unsurprising, considering the national transporter consumed 115.45 lakh kilo litres of high-speed diesel between 2014-15 and 2018-19, according to the Railway Ministry.

So to take a ride on the green side, the ministry chaired by Piyush Goyal, recently announced that it will work towards making trains net-zero carbon emission by 2030. However, the ministry has been taking a slew of measures since the last few years to make this a reality.

Paving the way for eco-friendly locomotives

Fuelling vehicles using electricity is one of the most effective ways to reduce ecological damage. And, for apparent reasons, electrification has been an integral part of the Railway Ministry’s plan. Between the years 2014 and 2020, the railway network is known to have electrified 18,605 kilometers. This is a drastic improvement when compared to the 3,835 kilometer electrification work in 2009- 14. Hence, it is safe to say that the railway network is a step closer to achieving its goal of 100 percent electrification across all BG (Broad Gauge) routes by December 2023.

Image credit: Atul, Unsplash.

Another effort that is being put in is in the sphere of solar energy. A popular adage echoes - ‘Solar energy is today’s resource for a brighter tomorrow!’

Presently, the Indian Railways is building 100 MegaWatt (MW) solar plants on the roof-tops of several buildings, including 900 stations. And, a few other plants with a total capacity of 400 MW are also underway. Besides this, the transport system is also attempting to produce power from land-based solar installations to run trains.

The eco-friendly bio toilets installed by the Indian Railways. Image credit: Ministry of Railways, Twitter.

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies in the world. It holds immense potential because it can be converted into electricity using the kinetic energy created by air in motion. Wind turbines and energy conversion systems facilitate exactly that. The Indian Railways has already commissioned 103 MW of wind-based power plants. Out of this capacity, 26 MW is in Rajasthan, 21 MW is in Tamil Nadu and 56.4 MW is in Maharashtra.

We all know that LED lights save energy, lowers bill amounts and renders spaces bright. So, in order to reap these benefits, 100 percent LED luminaries were installed on all electrified railway stations except those under gauge conversion as well as most of the service buildings.

In addition to this, the Indian Railways has fitted 69,000 coaches with bio-toilets to leverage benefits such as affordability, ease of maintenance, conserving water and energy.

Green certifications, plantations and more

The national transporter has also started blending 5 percent biodiesel in High Speed Diesel (HSD) for diesel locomotives from 2015 and 20 percent CNG substitution in diesel engines of 23 Diesel Power Cars of DEMU trains.

As a point in fact, the government has been giving out green certifications to the stations that are putting in efforts to achieve sustainable development goals like energy conservation and emission reduction. Till date, 19 stations have received them.

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a blessing in disguise for the railway network. Shivaji Kadam, Deputy Chief Environment and Housekeeping Manager at Central Railway explains further.

“A lot of the work when it comes to implementing these environment-friendly initiatives is moving on fast track right now because of coronavirus. There is hardly any disturbance. Since railway services are not being used much by the people, there is no need to block traffic either,” he notes.

The team of Green Yatra planting saplings near LTT in Mumbai. Image credit: Green Yatra.

When people begin to hop on trains regularly after the pandemic, besides enjoying the clunking and screeching, they will also get to experience the greenery in railway premises. During 2018-2019 around 97.33 lakh saplings were planted alongside railway tracks and at stations. Even on the 2021 World Environment Day, the Indian Railways with the help of Green Yatra, an NGO that works towards sensitizing people about environmental issues, planted 1,000 saplings close to the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai. The Founder of Green Yatra, Pradeep Tripathi talks about the initiative.

“We worked with the Indian Railways to plant a mini-urban forest this year. The team of Green Yatra along with some volunteers planted over 1,000 indigenous saplings on a piece of land which was provided by them. Well, the national transporter seems to be on the right track and if they work consistently, they will be able to realise the zero-carbon emission target by 2030,” Pradeep says.

Some resources and links to help you learn more about the Indian Railway's green initiatives:

  1. Working to become world's largest green railways says Indian Railways

  2. It’s full steam ahead to green India’s railway network