Diamond Jubilee of 25 KV electric traction on IR: how it all started

Sir Fernand Nouvion (in centre) with the locomotive used to inaugurate the first ever section on 25kV

Introduction of 25kV AC traction on Indian Railways enters its 61st year today.

However George Stephenson, the man who invented the steam locomotive had predicted the use of electricity in powering locos during his lifetime.

“I have the credit of being the inventor of locomotive and it is true I have done something to improve the action of steam for that purpose. But I tell you, young man, that the day will come when electricity will be the great motive power of the world” – George Stephenson to a young engineer in 1847.

Choice of Voltage – DC or AC

The seeds for electrification were sown on June 1 ,1904 when W.H White, the then Chief Engineer of Bombay Government suggested electrification of GIPR lines in Mumbai. After intense discussions on the choice of voltage it was decided to go with 1500V DC traction (AC traction was in nascent stage then).

Suburban gets the first electric train

The first electric train on the harbour line section of Bombay suburban (as Mumbai was then called) was flagged off on February 3, 1925 on 1500V DC traction by Sir Leslie Wilson (Locomotive EF/1 #4502 was named after him) the then Governor of Bombay.

After Bombay where?

After the electrification of Bombay suburban lines on 1500V DC(direct current), Indian Railways in 1958, decided to make use of 3000V DC traction on the Howrah-Burdwan main line and Seoraphuli-Tarakeswar branch line of Eastern Railway. This lasted for a limited period of time.

Choice of a traction system is primarily a question of economics. Electric traction with its fixed installations needs high capital investment, but the cost of running and maintaining rolling stock is the lowest.

Advent of 25kV AC traction on IR

Around 1956, a study was carried out by Sir Fernand Nouvion of SNCF, (the man credited with developing 25kV AC traction for France Railways).

Based on the report and extensive deliberations on the choice of retaining 1500V DC or adopting the new voltage system 25kV (or 25000V) AC ( alternating current) , the Railway Board decided to adopt 25kV AC traction. The decision was based on the recommendations of the Traction Advisory Committee headed by PN Murti.

While accepting the recommendation, the Railway Board also approved the appointment of SNCF experts to advise Indian Railways in the execution of the electrification programs and to train Indian engineers on maintenance and operation of the new system.

CORE is formed

To carry out large scale electrification, a central organisation, independent of Zonal Railways was set up in Calcutta. The organisation is now called CORE ( Central Organisation For railway Electrification) has since moved to Allahabad.

With the adoption of 25kV system, IR began rapid electrification of heavy freight routes in Eastern and South Eastern Railways.

Durgapur to Mughalsarai, Asansol to Tatanagar, Kharagpur to Rourkela and Rajkharsawan to Dangoaposi sections were among the first sections to be energised with 25kV AC.

Chakradharpur division the first mover

Chakradharpur division of South Eastern Railway has the distinction for introduction of 25kV electric traction on Indian Railways. IR decided to inaugurate 25kV AC traction over Indian Railways on December 15 1959.

A train was hauled by a BBM-1 class locomotive, bearing serial No. 20250, drawing electric power at 25kV, on a 3-km stretch was run. Rajkharsawan-Dangoaposi section of SER became the first section on IR where 25kV AC traction was used.

IR today

Cut to 2019. AC traction has now spread over 30,000 route kilometers just over half of IR’s route length. Indian Railways has now set an ambitious target for electrification of its entire network by the year 2022.

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About the Author: Sachin Buddhisagar

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