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Average speed of freight train over Indian Railways

By on February 9, 2017


  1. The average speed of freight train is steady and unchanging for the last 20 years as per the published figures of Indian Railway. It was 22.8, 24.1, 25.6, 23.4 and 23.8 in the Year 1990-91, 2000-01, 2010-11, 2015-16 and 2016-17 (till Oct.2016).
  2. Had IR reached the plateau of the target average speed? Is there any way to find out whether the average speed will remain at this level only or can it go up, if so, how much and what inputs are required to make it go up? Improving average speed of freight trains improves train operation efficiency in direct proportion and the reason for finding a place in “Vision 2020 of Minister of Railways” stated in budget speech 2017-17.
  3. Introduction of more and more passenger trains with priority of ‘right to path’ is a regular affair every year and unavoidable. Right to path pushes the freight trains and sometime passenger train to loop line for precedence. This operation is called ‘precedence’ of one train over another and such happenings goes up if the passenger train paths are uniformly distributed around the clock. Each precedence results loss of about 15 minutes in sectional capacity. The damage to mobility is in direct relation to the number of precedence it encounters during its run.
  4. Large many investments and augmentation had been made in traffic facilities, signaling, electrification, doubling, increased horsepower of engine, air brake, increased maximum permissible speed etc. The investments had helped in increasing the throughput due to increase in the number of trains run and load per train. This has not improved the average speed of freight train, however kept it steady.

Proposed Idea

The proposed idea is

  1. “To manage the damaging effect of speed differential by designing ‘speed corridors’ distributed round-the-clock so that trains of identical running characteristics shall run in matching corridors”
  2. The implementation of idea does not require any investment but having large many benefits as detailed in the ongoing paragraphs.
  3. The objective of the proposed idea is to reduce the incidences of precedence and to target the average speed of freight train from the present 23.8 to minimum 30 kmph and subsequent potential to achieve a level of 35 kmph.
  4. “It is a simple idea and simplicity is its strength to handle the complicated system.”

Observations/studies available on website 

  1. Shri Debroy Committee has commented on the average speed of passenger trains that higher maximum speeds of trains have not translated into improving average speed. The average speed of a passenger train is determined as per the time table and freight train will certainly be lower than the slow-moving train in the section.
  2. A very interested study was done by a Committee of Executive Directors of Railway Board in the year 2005 for ‘Enhancement of Throughput’ in which, four factors had been derived to enhance to throughput namely (1) Reduction in speed differential between passenger and good trains (2) Augmenting horse power to trailing load ratios (3) Tightening scheduling of passenger trains including stoppages at stations (4) Introduction of high speed turnouts, especially on high density corridors
  3. In order to achieve “MR Vision 2020” to increase average speed of freight train, a task group named ‘Mobility’ constituted and three directives has since been issued to zonal railways namely (a) Mission Raftaar- Right powering of freight trains on Indian Railways on 07.09.2016 (b) Twin Pipe Air Brake System for Freight Stock on 23.08.2016 and (c) higher speed turnout

Comment on the recommendations made by different committee 

  1. Target speed after the implementation of the recommendation has not been worked out.
  2. On tracing the origin of the recommendation, it is observed that these were discussed, deliberated, instructions issued in the past but with no result. This is because (i) The air brake system was introduced with twin brake pipe but did not work due to technical and security issues. This also requires heavy investment of re-fitment of twin pipe, long gestation etc. with no certainty of success in improving average speed.  (ii) Higher horsepower per tonne of load is suggested. There is considerable speed differential between freight and passenger train speed and cannot be resolved by this. Saving due to higher acceleration in improving average speed is not significant to plan for such a heavy investment. There is no assessment of the projected increase in the average speed. This can be evidently proved by checking the difference between the average speed of an empty train as compared to loaded train. (iii) High Speed turnout of 30 kmph has already been introduced on important sections of IR. There is no analysis available about the impact
  3. There was 6% increase in the average speed from 2001 to 2011; but unfortunately, reasons with impact not quantified. Similarly, no analysis done to find reasons for 9% drop in the average speed during 2011-2016. Unless, the real reason for drop and increase in average speed during different period is known, it is feared that the recommendations of Mission Raftaar may end up only in investment in modification of air brake wagons and inducting more locomotive but without any tangible improvement in the average speed.

How the problem would have been avoided at first place?

  1.  On close examination of the inter spacing between two passenger trains varying from 10’ to 60’, there are enough reasons to believe that it is the Railway Time Tabling System responsible for its inability to direct the average speed of the freight train to its optimum level.
  2. No study is ever done to find the damage to mobility of freight trains whenever a new coaching train path is finalized.
  3. Over the period, this has resulted train paths of wide speed range requiring frequent precedence of coaching train over freight and even one coaching train over another.
  4. The target of loading and number of trains run is so important for the management resulting average speed of freight train nowhere in the priority list of management.
  5. No interaction between the time table management committee with the freight operator

What is the solution now?

  1.  The train operation is under the management of Traffic Department. The traffic department has two wings namely Passenger and Freight. There is no meeting point between the two wings. It is proposed that train time table shall be prepared jointly by these two wings.
  2. All new trains shall only be introduced to run in a shadow path of the existing trains only.
  3. Action shall be initiated to shift the running of some of the existing coaching trains by about 10-60 mts to fall in the shadow path of other coaching train. The objective shall be to limit the running of all the passenger trains in 4 to 5 corridors of 60-150 mts. Spread with inter-corridor spacing of 180-300’.
  4. The average speed of passenger train varies from 40 kmph to 90 kmph. In order to handle intra-speed differential of passenger train, two ‘speed corridors’ shall accommodate trains of average speed 40-45 kmph (called C40), another two of 60-65 kmph (C60) and one of 85-90 kmph(C90).

Implementation Plan

  1.  Each Zonal Railway shall count and term each incidence of precedence as ‘unusual’. The average passenger and freight train km run per precedence (Pkm/p or Gkm/p) shall be worked as total passenger or freight train km earned divided by respective number of precedence for each Zonal Railway. This term shall be called as ‘Mobility Index’ of the Zonal Railway.
  2. Each Zonal Railway shall target minimum shifts of 10 passenger train in a shadow path in close coordination with the adjacent Railways. Shift means shifting of running of the existing coaching trains by about 10-60 mts so as to fall in the shadow path of other coaching train. The objective shall be to limit the running of passenger trains in 4 to 5 corridors of 90-150 mts.
  3. To work with the coaching corridors in such a manner that there is no intra-coaching speed differential. This means no precedence of one coaching train over another coaching train. The speed corridor C90 will certainly seek precedence over other corridors whereas between C40 and C60 can be avoided judiciously. This will help in improving Pkm/p.
  4. The C40 speed corridor shall not seek precedence over empty freight trains as the run time is expected to be similar owing to the stoppages of passenger train but not that of freight train.
  5. This action shall improve the mobility index and proportionally the average speed by about 25%

Advantage to Railways

There is no initial investment and addition to operating cost.

The imperative benefits it brings are summarized as follows:

  1. Improving average speed, asset utilization and turnaround of wagons etc.
  2. Improves specific energyand fuel consumption Every stop of a loaded freight train results in extra consumption of 250 units of electrical energy, and thus, a tremendous scope for energy conservation. This will ease the decision making of switching off the locomotive while waiting at a station during passage of coaching corridor.
  3. Reduced maintenance cost due to reduced stress on the rolling stock and infrastructure thus reduced wear and tear.
  4. Reduced manpower cost in terms of working hours of running staff.
  5. Better availability of Maintenance Block by specifying two hours of maintenance just after the passage of the last train of the first day-time speed corridor. The biggest impediment of giving maintenance block is in its uncertainty and can easily be solved.

Road Blocks

There are four road blocks expected namely

  1. Touching the timing of coaching trains is always resisted as there may be a public reaction. But looking back the history of time tabling, there are large many incidence of change in the timings and if the change involved is within 10-60 minutes only, it shall not be a big issue.
  2. The convenience of originating and terminating timings. This was one of the important consideration 25 years ago, but not anymore. Today, the origination and terminating timing of passenger trains are almost around the clock.
  3. There are limitations at the terminals for platform and maintenance facilities. This is one of the important issue but over the period, IR has improved terminal facilities and the road block can be resolved on case to case basis.
  4. Speed Corridor decided by one Zonal Railway may not suite the adjacent Zonal Railways. Initial target shall be of shifting of 10 trains only. In order to ensure non-conflicting speed corridors over IR network, a system of National and Zonal corridor shall be introduced for long term benefits. Designing such corridor is quite simple and will be covered if the present idea finds it way in the system.
  5. Indirect punctuality losses may go up. In the revised system, the emphasis shall now shift to monitor punctuality of each coaching corridor. Effort to run a coaching corridor punctual is a simplified version of tackling punctuality.

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