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Average speed of freight train over Indian Railways

By on February 9, 2017

The Average Speed of Freight Train is available in the Indian Railway Year Book in Chapter “Asset Utilisation” in Table F, named Average freight train speed (Kms./hour). There is no mention of how this speed is calculated. But as the name suggests, it might have been worked out as the total kilometer traveled by the freight train divided by the time taken. 

The trend of the average speed is an indicator of the mobility of freight trains over the Indian Railway network. This indicates the impact of the various measures taken to improve mobility. Below is the trend from 1990 till 2016-17, the period for which the data is available. An effort is made to analyze the impact of the various inputs and their impact on the freight trains’ average speed.

Trend of Average Speed over Indian Railways 

The trend of average speed over Indian Railways is taken from the Year Book of various years, and the trend is summarised as follows:

The average speed of freight trains has been steady and unchanging for the last 20 years, as per the published figures from the Indian Railway. It was 22.8, 24.1, 25.6, 23.4, and 23.8 in 1990-91, 2000-01, 2010-11, 2015-16, and 2016-17 (till Oct.2016).

What does this trend of an unchanging average speed of freight train implies?

  1. Had IR reached the plateau of the target average speed? Is there any way to determine 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 the average speed of freight trains improves train operation efficiency in direct proportion and the reason for finding a place in “Vision 2020 of Ministery of Railways” stated in the budget speech 2016-17.
  2. The introduction of more and more passenger trains with the priority of right to the path is a regular affair every year and unavoidable. Right to path pushes the freight trains and sometimes passenger trains to loop line for precedence. This operation is called the ‘precedence’ of one train over another, and such happenings go 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 directly relates to the number of precedences it encounters during its run.
  3. Many investments and augmentation had been made in traffic facilities, signaling, electrification, doubling, increased horsepower of the engine, air brake, increased maximum permissible speed, etc. The investments had helped increase the throughput due to an increase in the number of trains run and load per train. This has not improved the average speed of freight trains, however, kept it steady.

The lateral idea to improve the average speed of freight trains to go up?

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 idea’s implementation does not require any investment but has 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 trains from the present 23.8 to a minimum of 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 the website by various committees

  1. Shri Debroy Committee has commented on the average speed of passenger trains; higher maximum speeds have not translated into improving average speed. The average speed of a passenger train is determined as per the timetable, and the freight train will certainly be lower than the slow-moving train in the section.
  2. A very interesting study was done by a Committee of Executive Directors of the Railway Board in the year 2005 for ‘Enhancement of Throughput’ in which four factors had been derived to enhance throughput, namely (1) Reduction in speed differential between passenger and good trains (2) Augmenting horsepower 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. To achieve “MR Vision 2020” to increase the average speed of freight trains, a task group named ‘Mobility’ was constituted. Three directives have 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.

Observations on the recommendations made by the different committees 

  1. The target speed after implementing the recommendation has not been worked out.
  2. On tracing the origin of the recommendation, it is observed that these were discussed, deliberated, and 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 a heavy investment in re-fitting twin pipes, long gestation, etc., with no certainty of success in improving average speed.  (ii) Higher horsepower per tonne of the load is suggested. There is a considerable speed differential between freight and passenger train speed, and cannot be resolved by this. Saving time due to higher acceleration in improving average speed cannot be a prudent idea and plan for such a heavy investment. There is no assessment of the projected increase in the average speed. This is evident if one checks the average speed of empty and loaded freight trains and can find no significant difference.  (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 a 6% increase in the average speed from 2001 to 2011, but unfortunately, the reasons for  this improvement are unavailable.  Similarly, no analysis is available to find reasons for a 9% drop in the average speed during 2011-2016 even with so many inputs in traffic facility for which the justification is to improve average speed.
  4. Unless the real reason for the drop and increase in average speed during different periods is known, it is feared that the recommendations of Mission Raftaar may only end up investing in the modification of air brake wagons and inducting more locomotive but without any tangible improvement in the average speed.

Where does the problem lies? 

  1.  On close examination of the interspacing between two passenger trains, it varies from 10 minutes ’ to 60 minutes. It makes the request start and stops of freight rain if pushed when the passenger train is following after 60 minutes. This makes it certain that Railway Time Tabling System is 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 the mobility of freight trains whenever a new coaching train path is finalized.
  3. Over the period, this has resulted in train paths of wide speed range requiring frequent precedence of coaching train over freight. The speed potential between two types of coaching trains has also resulted in the precedence of one coaching train over another.
  4. The target of loading and the number of trains run is so important objective and target for the management resulting average speed of freight trains being nowhere in the management’s priority list.
  5. No interaction between the timetable management committee with the freight operator

What is the solution now?

  1.  The train operation is under the management of the 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 the train timetable 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.
  3. The action shall be initiated to shift the running of some of the existing coaching trains by about 10-60 min to fall in the shadow path of another coaching train. The objective shall be to limit the running of all the passenger trains in 4 to 5 corridors of 60-150 min spread with the inter-corridor spacing of 180-300’.
  4. The average speed of passenger trains varies from 40 kmph to 90 kmph. To handle the intra-speed differential of a passenger train, two ‘speed corridors’ shall accommodate trains of the average speed of 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 the total passenger, or freight train km earned divided by the 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 trains in a shadow path in close coordination with the adjacent Railways. The shift means shifting of running of the existing coaching trains by about 10-60 min to fall in the shadow path of another coaching train. The objective shall be to limit passenger trains running in 4 to 5 corridors of 90-150 min.
  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 trains.
  5. This action shall improve the mobility index and proportionally the average speed by about 25%

Advantage to Railways

There is no initial investment or addition to operating costs.

The imperative benefits it brings are summarized as follows:

  1. Improving average speed, asset utilization, and turnaround of wagons, etc.
  2. Improves specific energy and fuel consumption Every stop of a loaded freight train generates 250 units of electrical energy, and thus, the tremendous scope for energy conservation. This will ease the decision-making of switching off the locomotive while waiting at a station during the passage of the coaching corridor.
  3. Reduced maintenance cost due to reduced stress on the rolling stock and infrastructure, thus reducing 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 to giving maintenance block is its uncertainty which can easily be solved.

Road Blocks

There are four roadblocks expected, namely.

  1. Touching the timing of coaching trains is always resisted as there may be a public reaction. But looking back at the history of timetabling, there are many incidences 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 considerations 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 issues, but IR has improved terminal facilities over the period, and the roadblock can be resolved on a case-to-case basis.
  4. Speed Corridor decided by one Zonal Railway may not suit the adjacent Zonal Railways. The initial target shall be to shift ten trains only. To ensure non-conflicting speed corridors over IR network, a system of National and Zonal corridors shall be introduced for long-term benefits. Designing such a corridor is simple and will be covered if the present idea finds its way into the system.
  5. Indirect punctuality losses may go up. In the revised system, the emphasis shall now shift to monitoring the punctuality of each coaching corridor. The effort to run a coaching corridor punctuality is a simplified version of tackling punctuality.

The trend of the average speed from 2017 onwards will continue if the investment results in fruitful results.

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There Are 2 Comments


    The concept of speed corridor is very well explained. But I feel that time table section at zonal head quarters are not yet directed to work in making time tables as per speed corridor.

    Also there mission Raftaar is working only on papers. The speed of goods trains have not yeilded any positive result. Although huge investment plan are made, the effect of such investment will not reach for goods trains. Any positive outcome of such investment will be eaten up by coaching trains.

    The concept of speed corridor is hinting a little towards goods path in time table. Although it is never implemented but it needs to be think about.

    As per figures published in Statistical publication of railways, it is between 22 to 25kmph as given above. Where as if we fetch the figure from FOIS, it gives figures each section wise, up/dn line wise and the FOIS figures is much lesser than the figures above.

  2. In my opinion, the sphere of railways has progressed so much. Now, we have insane speed. I am also happy that India makes some success.