The Indian Railways Organisation for Alternative Fuels (IROAF) has written to Eastern Railway, asking it to identify 2-3 acres for a bio-diesel plant. The railways proposes to set up four bio-diesel plants across the country at a cost of Rs 120 crore to meet its demand for the green fuel. Each plant is expected to produce 30 tonnes of bio-diesel per day. Indian Railways has already experimented with a combination of high speed diesel (HSD) and bio-diesel in its locomotives and the results have been positive. One ‘green’ locomotive is already operational in Howrah and is used primarily for shunting.
IROAF’s letter comes at a time when environment activist Subhas Datta has taken up cudgels against alleged flouting of pollution norms by the railways. Recently, he wrote to railways minister Dinesh Trivedi, claiming that his ministry is responsible for causing severe pollution across the country. He has also written to the ministry of environment and forests, urging it to set emission norms for the railways.
“The railways has nearly 4,000 diesel locomotives and the numbers keep on increasing every year. Not only do the railways use HSD in the locomotives but also in the generator cars attached to air-conditioned trains like Rajdhani Expresses and Shatabdis. I have seen for myself that these locomotives and generator cars belch out smoke, even when passing through congested areas. As there are no pollution norms for the railways, there is no way to check how much damage is actually done to the environment. Given the fact that nearly two billion litres of HSD is used by the railways every year, the pollution is certainly severe,” Datta said.
According to a railways official, efforts are on to develop a combination of HSD and bio-diesel that will be practical. Experiments have already been carried out with a 20% bio-diesel mixture and these have been successful. However, before a complete switchover is made, ready availability of the green fuel has to be ensured. Datta has claimed that existing bio-diesel plants are facing closure due to non-patronage by the government sector.
Though the railways started tendering processes for procurement of bio-diesel, these weren’t completed. Officials, however, claimed that they haven’t been assured of a steady supply till now for which the IROAF has now decided to set up its own plants.
“We are looking for land but it won’t be an easy task, given the large number of projects that are already on in this part of the country. However, special attention will be paid as this is an important project,” an Eastern Railway official said when asked about the IROAF letter.