Galvanisation of rail tracks will ensure longer life, safety

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India's rail tracks, spanning 115,000 km, happen to be the world's third largest. The country has built capacity to meet full demand for rails of the and also of various industries, thanks largely to the Plant (BSP) of Limited (SAIL) and partly to (JSPL).

BSP, which makes 260-metre long rails will be in a position to double its length once the universal rail mill and a new welding facility, part of SAIL's modernisation and expansion programme, are commissioned. Every railway minister, including Suresh Prabhu, promises comprehensive modernisation of the network, which has an annual freight carrying capacity of one billion tonnes (bt) and daily passenger carrying capacity of 21 million. What, however, continues to escape the attention of mandarins in Rail Bhavan is the need to lay only galvanised to ensure long life and safety. It is long known that corrosion of old cars, collapsing structures and rail tracks causes losses equivalent to four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Even while this calls for the urgent attention of the government, we have allowed the malaise to continue and suffer big losses.

The (IZA) has done well to write to Prabhu saying "galvanising of railway tracks would not only be a significant initiative towards safety", but would make tracks last much longer. Elaborating the longevity point, director says: "The economic cost due to corrosion of rails is significant. Rails have a life of 800 gross million tonnes, which works out to 12-13 years under Indian traffic conditions. Corrosion, however, reduces its life to nearly half the expected life."

The shorter life of rail resulting from absence of galvanising increases track maintenance workload. More disturbingly, corrosion increasing the pace of rail replacement interferes with normal railway movement causing inconvenience to passengers and freight movers and revenue losses to the organisation. Frequent replacement is one reason why the operating ratio of the railways falls short of its target. The importance of galvanising rail becomes apparent as the country aims at lifting the average speed of trains from 70 km to a level that will cut journey time by at least 20 per cent and raise daily passenger movement capacity to 30 million and annual freight transportation capacity to 1.5 bt.

The government has decided to fast-track the 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train corridor by setting up a separate company to build and operate the project. Technology and funding to the extent of 80 per cent of the estimated project cost of Rs 70,000 crore will be available from Japan. As Sharma points out, running bullet trains will require laying corrosion-free galvanised tracks. Galvanising will add to the cost of rail making. But, its much longer life compared to the rail now in use, which will lead to reduction in replacement work, will strongly recommend the railways transitioning to galvanised rail track laying in phases. The task is big. But, it will be worth the effort. India has perfected rail making, specially the very long ones by way of specialised welding to help trains move faster with greater load.

he country also needs partnerships between producers of zinc, steel and automobiles to make galvanised auto-grade steel, which besides fighting corrosion of car bodies will help the ferrous metal in fighting off competition from aluminium. Sunil Duggal, chief executive officer of Hindustan Zinc, says, "For the sake of environment and reducing cost to the economy due to corrosion, car bodies should be made of galvanised steel." The Indian automobile industry has a share of seven per cent of GDP and 22 per cent of manufacturing GDP. Duggal says even while India hosts the world's sixth largest automobile sector, the car penetration level of 15 units per 1,000 persons is very low compared with developed countries and emerging nations such as Brazil and China. Let New Delhi make galvanised car body compulsory ahead of the inevitable surge in car numbers.

Source: Business Standard

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