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Status of Train Speeds over Indian Railways

By on June 13, 2013

Travelling Speed has always fascinated Engineers irrespective of  mode of transport and Railways is no  exception. Railways were the first to arrive at the scene of transport but it is the speed by air and convenience of end to end travel  by road which shifted preference away from the Railways. Development of Railways then focused on speed for short distance intercity travel to compete with air, marketing it with comfort, sustainable development and  energy efficiency etc.   Short distance intercity travel means covering the intercity distance within 4-5 hours for business purpose which also led to technological development to break new and new speed frontier. This provided a survival platform for  Railways world over in a competitive mode  of transportation.

Story of Indian Railways had been altogether different. It has been  the most preferred mode of transport for all distances due to affordable fare structure, comfort, sleeper coach, reliability and safety of travel and practically no competition. There is no competition with any mode of transport. Emphasis on Indian Railways progress has been as a mass carrier with no demand for high-speed travel from common man. This can well be appreciated by regular demand for new trains every year from parliamentarians. Announcement of new train and its inauguration later on is an occasion of political showmanship. High speed travel has never been discussed or debated in the parliament. Certainly, high-speed travel  is not a priority area of Railway  development in India at this juncture considering  percentage of people living below the poverty line,  long waiting list throughout the season in all trains, long queues at ticket windows, unreserved coaches filled with 300 passengers.

Even though Indian Railways works in a monopolistic  environment but financial survival without any price hike  for seven years speaks of the in-depth potential  of management skill and professional honesty in  making  transportation demand filled up to a large extent.

What a common man wants?

Hassle free entry into Railway stations and train i.e. parking, porter, no touts, ease in purchasing ticket, entry into train and place to sit depending upon journey time, reaching the destination in time, safety and security during travel are the priority consideration. Speed will never appear anywhere on the horizon of common man thinking unless basic need is fulfilled.

Provide this, then only demand for high-speed will start

Status of Speed over Indian Railways

Permissible speed fitness on track and  rolling stock determines the speed of the section.


The Indian Railway track is predominantly  fit for 110 Kmph with few routes fit for above 110 Kmph i.e. 120 and 130 Kmph for working of trains like Rajdhani  Express. This was so 50 years ago also. Why we could not raise speeds even with the introduction of many a technological advancements, continuous track renewal with revised specification  introduced during the same period? When we have the technology for 130 Kmph, why it is not spread uniformly all over quadrilateral routes? It is because of few accidents of coaching trains which has paralyzed Indian Railways about raising speeds.

Rolling Stock

It is defined as the speed at which the particular stock is fit to work. The speed certificate is issued by RDSO specifying the fitness of the rolling stock. There is such a large number of speed certificate issued for different types of stock over the period that it is difficult for anyone to remember on finger tips. Speed certificate is issued based on the speed at which the rolling stocks show satisfactory riding index during the oscillation  trial. The range of speeds in which different services are plying over Indian Railways is as follows

Coaching Trains: 110-180 Kmph

Passenger Train: 100 Kmph

EMU/MEMU: 105-110kmph

Freight Train: 60-100Kmph It depends on loaded/empty and there are some stock fit for 100 Kmph such as Container and BOXN-HS

Passenger Locomotive: 130-180 Kmph

Freight Locomotive: 100 Kmph

Average speed

It is the average speed which concern everyone, i.e. time taken to cover a distance from start to end. Average speed of coaching train is 50 and 50.1 Kmph during 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively as per Indian Railway Year Book. Average speed of Rajdhani/Duranto type train is around 80-88 Kmph. The average speed of a freight train is calculated based on the total freight kilometer divided by the total time taken. This is an important indices of mobility of the train. The average speed of a freight train over Indian Railways during the last 15 years is as follows.

1990 – 91 22.6 23.1 22.7
2000 – 01 22.4 25.4 24.1
2001 – 02 22.6 25.8 24.4
2002 – 03 22.8 26.2 24.7
2003-04 22.1 24 23.3
2004-05 22.8 24.7 23.8
2005-06 23.3 25 24.2
2006-07 23.9 25.8 24.9
2007-08 24.2 26.3 25.4
2008-09 24.6 26.4 25.7
2009-10 23.6 27.2 25.8
2010 – 11 23.5 27 25.6
2011 – 12 23.3 26 25

The average speed is almost unchanging; and it is the increase in train load which brought in the progressive improvement of loading performance.

Why the average speed is unchanging?

What is the best average speed that can be targeted? From the statistics of yesteryear, it seems that best possible level was attained 10 years ago itself. Many an effort have been made to increase the average speed freight train  as detailed below:

  • Running of Bullet/Crack freight trains having a special feature of extended run by a crew, bypassing one crew changing lobby. The crew is benefitted by giving  bonus kilometrage for long distance running.
  • Timetabling of Freight trains to run freight trains like coaching trains without stopping
  • Over Powering

These efforts have made some impact on a short-term basis but could not give a right direction to overall average speed. The most important reasons identified are

  • Saturation of Sectional Capacity
  • Inadequate powering of trains
  • Introduction of new coaching trains every year
  • Speed Differential causing precedence of one train over another resulting loss of sectional capacity

Mobility of Trains

The potential of the train is determined by the maximum permissible speed on track infrastructure and the rolling stock. The maximum permissible speed of rolling stock comes under two groups namely

Traction Vehicle: 140-160kmph for coaching, 110 kmph EMU, 100 Kmph Freight

Non-Traction Vehicle: 110-160 kmph for coaching, 60-100 kmph freight

Infrastructure: 100-140 Kmph

This is internally generated mobility drag of the order of 12 to 37% in case of coaching, and up to 40% in the case of freight.

Beside this, the mobility of trains is getting affected due to  external factors and is of equal concern which results in reduced average speed. This is of the order of 40-50% for coaching as well as  freight trains.

So there exists speed differential inter and intra  freight and coaching.

External factors to drag mobility of trains

Trains running at uniform speed provides streamlined motion. As soon as precedence is planned, drag on mobility starts. The factors are summarized as follows:

  1. Frequent stoppages : Planned for coaching in the time-table but forced on freight train due to precedence.
  2. Speed restrictions due to track defects: Avoidable to some extent with the improvement in the availability  of sufficient track maintenance   block. The financial implication of the block shall be assessed for justifying major input to remove such restrictions particularly those which are less than 50 Kmph.
  3. Precedence : Precedence to one passenger carrying train over the other has to be controlled through     timetable review and minimized for freight trains. There is a capacity loss of approx. 20 Mts. for each    such  incidence of precedence over freight train.
  4. Poor acceleration reserve and low HP/trailing load : This can be improved for coaching trains but difficult for freight trains. Improving HP/Trailing load for few freight trains will not help.

Financial Repercussion of mobility drag

It is difficult to assess financial implication of mobility drag but it is possible to test the indices which shall show improvement over the period for every 10% improvement in average speed. The indices are identified as follows:

  1.  Improvement in average speed, rolling stock asset utilization
  2.  Reduction of running staff hours on train.
  3. Reduction in energy consumption per unit of transport (Energy Consumed per 1000GTKM). This indices will show an immediate improvement.
  4. Reduced wear and tear due to reduction in the number of instances  of acceleration and retardation. Reaction of acceleration and retardation is to be absorbed by track and rolling stock. Assessment in the short-term is difficult

How to address mobility drag?

Is the solution lies with DFC only where we have dedicated track for running all the freight trains at uniform speed thus eliminating speed differential completely.  This is called spatial separation of freight and coaching corridors by duplicating the infrastructure. Cost estimation for different corridors and expected time of completion is very uncertain.

Every one knows that  this is the dream scheme of not only Indian Railways but of Indian Government as well. But what till then?

Standards and Specification play an important role in reducing cost, improving efficiency and utilization of assets. Every engineering function starts with standards and specification for best results.

Peep into any aspect of  Engineering or Managerial function,  it is the Standards and Specification which made the life of common man hassle free.  Why there is no defined standards for “Trains and Time Tabling”?  The absence of this has resulted in inefficient travel.

  • There is no way to assess coaching train demand objectively. This has been left on people representative completely to demand trains which are mainly to fulfill regional political aspirations.
  • Coaching trains are introduced every year in the most haphazard way using the path which increases the mobility drag.  A new train running in a shadow path provides minimum drag on mobility.
  • Introduction of new trains has become an annual ritual providing opportunity for politicians to boast of the number of trains introduced during his period.
  • Unfilled travelling demand across the country continues
  • There were two types of train namely Mail and Express up to 70’s. System of naming a train started with first train being Janta Express.  Train name is user-friendly and commonly used among passenger. Use of  5 digit train number  is only for interface with Railways.
  • Trains naming like Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duranto, Janta, Garib Rath, Sampark etc. introduced but without their definition and specification in public domain. The concept of these trains lost with the change of political regime. What a  joke?
  • A train with average speed more than 60 Kmph were grouped and called Super Fast trains with train number starting with 12…. This was done with the purpose of levying super-fast surcharge, instead standardizing operating speeds.
  • What is pantry car and which trains classify for adding pantry car?
  • Rake composition is not standardized and every train is unique without any possibility of interchanging in case of emergency utilizing spare time at terminals.
  • Special seasonal Trains never finding favor.  Why not run summer or holiday specials  trains are designed to cater for end to end demand and train run non-stop.
  • Freight trains unable to run continuously for more than 60 Km.
  • Maintenance corridor completely missing
  • There is no way the concerns of common man can be streamlined

There is no doubt that standards will help in solving a mobility problem, then why not give a try.

What to do?

  1. The first step in this direction is identification of coaching corridors at National Level and directing all coaching trains to run in coaching corridors to make them run on the shadow path of a negligible speed differential. 

  2. Run freight trains during balance time with uniform average speed of 50 Kmph non-stop for a time of  about 4-5 hrs.

  3. Nominate first two hours for maintenance  after passage of first day  time coaching corridor.


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  1. R Ranjan says:

    To increased cost of IR can only be met by increasing revenue internally and not by getting subsidy or government funding. One way of doing that is to increase fare which can only happen if IR can provide better facility in the form of high speed, ambiance, seating and connectivity for business travel. If IS does not work on high speed passenger train than they can not meet their expenditure by providing lost cost travel facility. Today people are ready to pay for good services then why not work on that.