Railways winds up green fuel wing

IROAF was set up to promote alternative fuels for the national transporter

The Ministry of Railways has announced the closure of the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternative Fuels (IROAF), an enterprise headquartered in New Delhi, that was exclusively formed to promote green energy by introducing alternative energy, fuel efficient and emission-control technologies across the railway network.

“The Ministry of Railways has decided to close down the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternative Fuels with effect from 7th September, 2021,” a Railway Board order said on Tuesday.

The existing work handled by IROAF — Solar Power and Hydrogen Fuel Cell projects — was transferred to the Principal Chief Electrical Engineer and Chief Administrative Officer, Northern Railway. Placement and transfer of officers and staff would follow, the order said.

In keeping with its mission towards Green Railways, the IROAF had invited bids just last month in August for Hydrogen Fuel Cell-based trains to kickstart the concept of hydrogen mobility in the country along the 89-km Sonipat-Jind sector of Northern Railway. Two diesel electric multiple units and two hybrid locos were planned for conversion to Hydrogen Fuel Cell power movement leading to a savings of ₹2.3 crore annually.

Solar trains

Four years ago, the country’s first solar-powered train was launched where the entire electrical needs of the train like lights, fans and other systems were met by power generated by solar panels fitted atop coaches of a DEMU. Launching the technology developed by IROAF, the then Railway Minister had said it was a “path-breaking leap” towards making the Railways environment friendly.

The IROAF was also working on research and development of projects relating to use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a substitute to high-speed diesel to create a clean environment and reduce cost of transportation. It was also focusing on eco-friendly technologies in the operation, production and maintenance of assets in Indian Railways.

The move to close down IROAF comes at a time when trade unions are protesting the “monetisation” policy of the Union government. The All India Railwaymen Federation president N. Kanniah said the central government had no moral right to monetise assets of Indian Railways and other Public Sector Undertakings.

Amid monetisation push

The decision of the Centre to monetise railway and other government establishment assets for ₹6 lakh crore by leasing them for 35-99 years had created widespread resentment among the employees. Mr. Kanniah said 400 railway stations across the country, including Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore in Southern Railway, 90 Superfast Express trains, four hill train services, including the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and 1,400 km of railway track with overhead electrical equipment were among other infrastructure that were planned for monetisation by way of lease to private sector.

Mr. Kanniah contended the concept of “privatisation” that later took shape as “corporatisation” was now being called “monetisation”. The move would not only lead to an increase in fares and services but withdrawal of facilities like travel concessions given to eligible passengers, he said.

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