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New technology adds zing to Indian Railways

March 04, 2020 17:09 IST

Globally, London’s Tube and French railway networks are already using this technology in their corrosion-prone areas.

In a bid to strengthen safety and performance, mainly in the corrosion-prone coastal regions, the Railway Board has given the go-ahead for using zinc-coated rails.

According to a source close to the development, the requirement will be for about 1,000 track kilometres or approximately 120,000 tonnes of zinc every year.


The ideal life of rails is about 12 years but because of corrosion issues, rails need to be replaced every two years, said officials.

The railway research arm - Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) - has issued specification for zinc aluminum metalisation coating.

These specifications were prepared after consulting the International Zinc Association (IZA) and other industry stakeholders, said an official.

Zinc is used to coat steel to reduce corrosion, even when a scratch or cut exposes steel to air or moisture.

“Due to corrosion, the railways incurs huge losses annually. Also, corrosion poses a threat to passenger safety and impacts daily travel since a train’s speed is reduced. This affects efficiency,” Rahul Sharma, director at IZA, told Business Standard.

According to the annual report of railways for FY19, there were 59 consequential train accidents in the year 2018-19 compared to 72 accidents in 2017-18.

Train accidents for a million train kilometres, an important index of safety, has come down to 0.05 during the year 2018-19 as compared to 0.06 in 2017-18, said the railways.

Globally, London’s Tube and French railway networks are already using this technology in their corrosion-prone areas.

Following the global example, the Indian Railways, too, is focusing on adopting the new technology.

The railway track renewal has gathered pace in the last few years.

In 2018-19, 4,181 km of track was renewed while 3,872 km rail tracks have been laid till January 2020 against a target of 3,900 km for 2019-20.

While the Railways had earlier procured rails from SAIL only, now both the state-owned company and Jindal Steel & Power supply rails.

“The railways have placed a 2,000-tonne zinc coated rails order with SAIL.

"It also plans to install this facility in one of its workshops in Sabarmati (near Ahmedabad) which will be the hub for the bullet train’s maintenance yard,” said Sharma.

Currently, SAIL is producing the new specification rails at its Bhilai plant in Chhattisgarh.

Use of zinc coat does not increase the cost substantially.

“While the IZA is supplying this technology to the railways for free, the cost involved in making the new zinc-coated rails is less than 10 per cent of the cost of steel used by railways to make rails,” said Sharma.

IZA, being associated with the World Bank and Unicef, does not face dearth of funding and extensively invests in research and development (R&D) to bring new technologies to the industry.

The association also does not have a cap on its annual R&D budget.

Photograph: PTI Photo

Aditi Divekar & Shine Jacob in Mumbai