Decarbonising Mass Transportation: IR’s Integrated Approach for Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

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The Government of India has set a target of 33% reduction in emissions intensity as part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with transport being one of the main sectors with significant mitigation potential. One of the most important transport emissions mitigation plans agreed to by the Government of India has been to raise Indian Railways’ share of freight traffic from 35-36% to 45% by 2030. The Railways plays a significant role in contributing to India’s NDC to address climate change through a variety of approaches, including:

  • To increase the railways’ share of total land-based freight movement and transportation from thirty-six per cent at present to nearly forty five per cent by 2030. Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) are currently being developed across India by Indian Railways. The first phase of the project alone is expected to reduce emissions by 457 million tonnes of CO2 over a 30-year tie period.
  • Increase the proportion of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix. Railways to increase and enhance the energy efficiency for both diesel and electric propulsion, allowing the country to reduce GHG emissions.
  • The PAT scheme has been planned to be implemented in the railway sector. Use of 5% biofuel blend in traction diesel fuel. Increase water efficiency by 20% by 2030 and planting trees to boost carbon sink. Pollution control and waste management.
  • Adopting best practices for green buildings, industrial units, and other establishments for resource and infrastructure management in order to promote environmental sustainability in the growth of IR. Participation in the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ IR has established a goal of becoming a ‘Net Zero’ organisation by 2030 through the electrification of all railway tracks.

Indian Railways has taken a number of initiatives to streamline its environmental management operations, with prominent programmes including Energy Efficiency Management, Renewable and Alternative Energy Sources, Water Conservation, Afforestation, Water Management, and Green Certifications.

Some of the major steps taken can be broadly categorised in the following areas:

Net-Zero Carbon Emission: IR has plans to gradually reduce its carbon footprint and achieve Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030. IR will try to lower its carbon footprint primarily by procuring its energy needs from renewable sources. The projected requirement for renewable capacity installation by 2029-30 is around 30 GW. IR has installed 142 MW of rooftop solar capacity and 103.4 MW of wind energy capacity till August 2022.

  • Other efforts for becoming a Net Zero emitter include electrification of its lines, switching from diesel to electric traction, promotion of energy conservation, construction and development of Dedicated Freight Corridors, green certification of railway establishments and so on.
  • IR electrified 851 Route Kilometres (RKMs) during the fiscal year 2022-23 compared to 562 RKMs during the equivalent period of FY 2021-22. It is 51.4% higher than the previous year’s outcomes for the same period. According to the Ministry of Railways, the electrification target for the current financial year is 6500 RKMs.

It is worth noting that the Indian Railways accomplished a record electrification of 6,366 RKMs during 2021-22. Previously, the highest level of electrification was 6,015 RKM (during 2020-21). As of 30 September 2022, 53,098 BG RKM of the IR BG network (including KRCL) had been electrified, accounting for 81.51% of the total BG network.


Issuance of Water Policy 2017 for effective water management: Water Policy 2017 has been disseminated to all Zonal Railways and Production Units for implementation in Railway Stations, Trains, and Railway Colonies, among other places. This is part of the Government of India’s broader aim to reduce water consumption by approx twenty per cent by 2020 as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution. The main goal of this strategy is to promote water use efficiency through better demand and supply management, the installation of water-efficient devices, and the establishment of Water Recycling Plants on railway territory and land.

Creation of Additional Carbon Sinks by Afforestation: Railways, through its various departments, carries out and performs the afforestation work on vacant and unoccupied railway land and between sections. As part of the railways’ commitment to environmental betterment and sustainable development, state forest departments are involved in the plantation of the trees, their maintenance, and disposal. Since 2017, IR has been planting approximately 1 crore trees every year. During the years 2021-22, 72 lakh seedlings had been planted.

Waste Management: Waste to energy/compost/biogas plants/material recovery facilities have been installed at more than two-hundred fifty stations as waste management centres for managing waste. Separate containers for dry and wet waste have been installed for waste categorisation at the sources.

waste management


Green certification/Consent: Around 700 railway stations have been accredited for ISO:14001 environmental management system implementation. Over 545 stations have received consent to operate (CTO) from their respective State Pollution Control Boards. Green accreditation has been granted to 31 railway buildings (including offices, training institutes, hospitals, and schools), 32 stations, and 55 workshops/PUs.

Allocating cost for executing environment-related works: To reduce the environmental impact of activities and to protect the environment, a policy has been announced in May 2016 that provided for a 1% cost allocation in all sanctioned Works for executing environment-related activity.

Cleanliness of Trains & Railway Stations: Cleanliness of trains and railway stations has gained prominence in the last few years, as the number of mechanised cleaning contracts at stations and coaches in trains, rag picking and garbage disposal contracts at stations, and On Board Housekeeping Service (OBHS) contracts has increased substantially.

Environment-friendly Bio–Toilets for Passenger Coaches: Indian Railways (IR), along with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), collaborated to create environment-friendly bio-toilets for passenger trains. The job of installing bio-toilets in all passenger-carrying coaches on Indian Railways has been finished with the installation of 2,58,990 bio-toilets in about 73,110 coaches up to March 2021. In accordance with the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission,’ direct disposal of human waste from trains has thus been eliminated.

bio toilet tank
Bio Toilet Tank

Third-party Audit/Survey including Passenger feedback on Cleanliness: Third-party audit cum survey on major station cleanliness began in 2016 and was repeated in 2017, 2018, and 2019. In 2018, the first-ever third-party audit cum survey on the hygiene of major trains was conducted. Such surveys enable independent evaluation while also instilling an encouraging sense of competition in improving cleanliness in passenger interaction areas.

Standard Bid Document for Housekeeping of Stations and Trains: To increase the effectiveness of housekeeping/cleaning contracts, the Standard Bid Document (SBD) (Aug 2017) and General Conditions of Contract for Services (GCCS) (Feb 2018) have been developed, with a special focus on passenger contact areas.


In the next seven years, Indian Railways, the world’s fourth-largest railway network, intends to become a net zero carbon emitter. The Railways plans to attain this ambitious objective in two stages: Complete transition to electric trains by December 2023, with trains and stations powered mostly by non-renewable sources by that time.

If successful, the move shall assist the country in meeting its nationally determined contribution of cutting carbon emissions by thirty-three per cent by 2030, with transport being an important sector with significant mitigation potential. Simply put, net zero implies reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to as close to zero as possible. Most firms attempting to achieve this rely on carbon offsets, in which they compensate for their emissions by engaging in green initiatives such as reforestation or land restoration drives.

The Indian Railways, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with lowering its emissions. The Union Ministry of Railways announced its ambition to go green in July 2020 and has subsequently iterated and restated the objective multiple times. The most recent announcement was made in September last year, which stated that the goal will be met through an ‘integrated approach’. On the one hand, it is expected to increase railways’ share in freight movement to 45 per cent by 2030, up from 35 per cent now. While on the other hand, it is envisioned to help the railways in expanding their renewable energy generating capabilities.

The agency is also implementing novel ideas, such as investing in battery and EV projects to assure continuous renewable supply and placing solar panels along rail tracks for long-term generation of power.



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