Executive Summary

By the year 2035, the Indians will outnumber the Chinese. With an expected population of more than 1.50 billion the demands on India’s the transport sector will increase considerably. India’s trajectory of growth in the coming years depends significantly on how far technological innovations can strengthen its transport infrastructure and services, notwithstanding the fact that in the past India’s transport sector has trailed India’s economic growth. Functioning as the arteries of the nation, the various modes of transport – road, railways, water and air – are tasked with providing good physical connectivity as well as quick and smooth movement of goods. For all practical purposes, a sustainable transport system must offer mobility and approachability to the people in the country as well as a safe, minimally wasteful and quick passage of goods from the supplier to the consumer in a risk-free and eco-friendly way.

Comparatively, each of the four modes of transport has their pluses and minuses. Roadways are the most extensively laid and most immediately available as also the most the most energy wasting and carbon emitting. Railways are the most economical and preferred in long distances but are, technologically, the most in need of up gradation. Airways, although expensive, provide the fastest and technologically the most superior mode of transport. Waterways carry the bulk of the international trade with minimal carbon footprint, however are relatively undeveloped for internal movement of goods and travel in India.


The bulk of domestic freight and passenger traffic is carried by Indians roads. Spanning over 5.23 million kilometers, Indian roadways have been able to traverse into hitherto unreachable areas carrying 65 per cent of domestic freight and 87 per cent of passengers. Road mobility in India has risen from around 3400 billion passenger-km in 2004-05 to over 8000 billion passenger-km in 2012-13 and is touching to a figure of 11000 currently. The number of registered vehicles in India is constantly rising, ramping up the pressure on the fragile road infrastructure. At the end of 2013, the number of registered vehicles in India was 182 million. This figure is expected to grow three-fold by 2035. Consequently, road congestion, air and noise pollution, travel safety, lack of skilled manpower, poor or lack of infrastructure are some of the challenges which confront the roadways sector.

The intervention of technology in the road transportation sector can help in easing the pressures on each of the problem areas listed above. In order to ease out congestion issues, Intelligent Transport Systems need to be invested in. Technologies for traffic management, freight information systems, electronic toll collections, vehicle to infrastructure communication, intelligent speed management, incident detection and GPS and navigation systems are increasingly available. Intermodal transportation mechanisms are in dire need to be smoothened. With emission norms being gradually standardized and implemented in vehicles, technology solutions for emission reduction span from engine downsizing to alternative combustion to alternative fuels. While in the short term, shifting from petroleum products to natural gas seems desirable, in the long run biofuels (preferably 3rd generation), synthetic fuels, fuel cell vehicles, use of solar powered vehicle would serve as sustainable alternatives. Shifting to electric and hybrid electric vehicles would also aid in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. Besides all these, fuel efficiency would also benefit from innovation in vehicle design as well as through the use of advanced friction reduction light weight materials.

With only one per cent of the number of global vehicles, India contributes to 10 per cent of deaths in road accidents worldwide annually. The report also calls for a safety roadmap with focus of technologies in both vehicle and road designs that augment travel safety. Meanwhile, investments in better road infrastructure would automatically help in reducing congestion and pollution and increasing efficiency. However, since it will not be possible to homogenize the quality of road across the breadth of the country, road maintenance will have to be prioritized according to considerations of the relative costs and benefits of primary, secondary and tertiary road networks. Further, a strong vehicle inspection and certification is required to improve the condition of the in-use vehicle fleet. Finally, this report lays emphasis on five I’s for transport – Integrated, Intermodal, Inclusive, Innovative and Intelligent – for a sustainable, clean, safe, inclusive, smart and integrated mobility system.


Aptly considered the lifeline of India, railways remains the preferred mode of transport of the common man in India. Compared with road transport, it is inexpensive, fuel efficient and environment friendly. With a total route of almost 65,000 kms, India boasts of the second largest rail network in the world. However, railway is also technologically one of the least developed modes of transport in India. In the 66 years of independence, only 21.5 per cent of new route kms have been added and the maximum commercial speed has only increased from 80-100 km/h to 140 km/h (while average speed is much lower at 110 km/h). This starkly contrasts with the global picture where commercial speeds in excess of 300 km/h have been consistently maintained by trains in Germany, China, France, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Japan, Italy, Belgium and the UK. The technological gap between India and the developed world is also considerable in heavy and long freight operations, axle load capacity, Payload to Tare Weight ratio of wagons, braking systems, intelligent adhesive control systems, signaling and traffic management, and passenger comfort.

The status of indigenous technologies in this sector is still relatively undeveloped. Hence, reliance on foreign technologies is imminent. Unlike some of the more sensitive areas like defence and space, railways technologies are available for sourcing from outside and technological partnerships with the best in the world are possible. However, high costs may be a prohibitive factor. A rational strategy would be to import technology initially followed by indigenous development for long term sustenance.

One of the major problem areas in the sector is the non-availability of separate tracks for passengers and freight. Having dedicated tracks for each of these functions would increase the speed and efficiency of the railways immensely. Besides, short term, medium term and long term goals with regard to the issue areas mentioned above have been identified in the report to help strategize the technological leap that India railways so badly needs.

Finally, fuel efficiency and emission control ought to go up in priority. Electric locomotives and other equipments must be designed to minimize energy waste and maximize regenerative capacity. Smart railway energy grids and piezo-electric power derived from floors of station area made of piezo-electric crystals need to be developed to better utilize energy. Moreover, alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel cells and other renewable sources of energy must become the focus of research and development activities. The report also focuses on the futuristic train technologies which include high speed bullet trains, magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, evacuated tube transport (Hyper loop).

Water transport is the most economical and environmental friendly of all the modes of transport. The value of fuel consumed by water transport is 30 per cent of the fuel consumed by road and the emissions are one sixth of that by road and 50 per cent of that by railways. Consequently, over 90 per cent of the volume and 70 per cent of the value of global trade is transported through waterways. For India, with over 7500 km of coastline alongwith 13 major and 200 minor & intermediate ports and 14,500 km of navigable rivers and canals, water transport is a very conducive mode for both passenger and freight transport. In 2012, India’s maritime trade was US$794 billion. However in terms of relative output India’s share of maritime trade is declining. In 1950’s, maritime trade accounted for over 90 per cent of total India’s international trade. It reduced to 30 per cent in the 1990s and only 8 per cent currently. India’s international trade has declined from over 90 percent in the 1950s, to 30 percent in the early 90s, to less than 9 percent presently. The share of inland shipping is a meager 1percent, while coastal shipping constitutes 7 percent of the total domestic cargo movement in India. This pales in comparison to 57 per cent and 34 per cent by roads and railways respectively. But the increasing delays in transporting goods due to high road and rail congestion is going to force the adoption of waterways as a preferred mode of transport and will provide impetus to the growth of coastal and inland shipping network in India in the future.

There are number of factors, contributed to the relative slow growth of the maritime dimension of India’s trade. First, India’s shipping industry has not caught up with India’s burgeoning trade. Slow growth of tonnage in India has led to gradual decline in share of Indian companies. Thus, India’s trade remains heavily dependent on foreign shipping companies for transportation needs. Second, India has not had an integrated transport policy to promote inter-modal coordination leading to sub-optimal use of resources and their allocation to different sectors of transport. Third, although India’s overall share in global shipbuilding industry was miniscule, India had made good progress in shipbuilding in the 10th plan (2002-2007) by increasing its global share in commercial shipbuilding from 0.12 per cent to 1.3 per cent. Fourth, India lacks adequate port infrastructure to accommodate large size vessels. Moreover, India does not have any transshipment hub ports in the country and thus is dependent on feeder services from international hub ports in other countries for its cargo and goods. Consequently, not only does India miss on potential revenue from transshipment hubs, but it also ends up paying more charges for additional handling.

With the increasing trend of the international trade activities and also the dependence of India for the import of oil and gas, emission from the maritime sector are bound to increase. Therefore, there is a need to identify the new and advanced technologies to reduce the emissions. The future of maritime transport lies in the development of “greener ships” with zero emission by fully harnessing the technological advancements. Safety and security aspects of maritime transportation will also need to be addressed simultaneously. New benchmarks like Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) have been introduced to make ships about 30 per cent more efficient. On engineering aspects, new technologies for hull and propellers, hull coating, hull air lubrication system, use of hybrid lightweight material for ship construction and improvement of propeller efficiency are being developed. Moreover, alternate fuels such as bio-fuels, LNG, solar energy, wind energy and fuel cells are exciting areas of research on which India must invest in the medium to long term. Having successfully launched a nuclear submarine, Arihant, India could make use of nuclear fuel, especially in the short to medium term. Using shore electricity when the ship is in port offers huge potential for emission reduction. Navigation technology is another area where India has shown potential, especially with the Indian Regional Navigational Research Satellite System (IRNSS). Other key futuristic technology includes hydrogen as an alternative fuel, use of nanotechnology, 3-D navigation charts and shipping across the Arctic.

Air Transport is one of the most technology intensive industry and have transformed the human aspirations of mobility and made this world truly flat by destroying distances. Air transport has consistently exhibited high level of growth in India over the last decade. Between 2006-07 and 2015-2016, passenger traffic grew by a CAGR of 10 per cent. Significantly, the figures for passenger traffic are expected to undergo a threefold leap from 150 million passengers in 2011-12 to about 450 million in 2020, catapulting India’s aviation market from 9th to 3rd position within a decade. Growing urbanization, robust middle class, increasing affordability and accessibility of air transport and increased global business connectivity, among other things, have contributed to these salubrious projections. Nevertheless, the challenges that lay ahead of the Indian air transport industry are daunting.

This growing demand for air transport has already lead to congestion in the air transport system at the major airports. Airspace and airport congestion not only lead to economic losses but raises many issues related to environment and safety. Increasing air congestion, carbon emissions and high fuel costs are significant impediments in full fructification of this industry. Further, in India, the increasing numbers of passengers have not brought in profits, resulting in the airline industry suffering from chronic accumulated losses as well as capacity constraints due to limited aviation infrastructure (airspace and airports) to meet the demands of increased traffic. Shortage of skilled workforce, chronic delays in existing projects and riskier post 9/11 security scenario are other issues which the air transport industry and its technology development faces in India.

In the civil aviation sector, India has been excessively dependent on imported technologies. The primary thrust of public sector units like HAL, DRDO, BEL and ISRO has been on developing technologies for defence sector. Consequently, despite there being a dedicated agency in National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL) for developing aerospace technologies, design and aircraft building in the civilian sector, India has remained a laggard in aircraft design and manufacture. However, with the Government’s “Make in India” initiative and opening up the sector for FDI, lot of big industrial houses have entered in the fray. In the last two decades Indian technology companies have made significant progress in providing software engineering services to the global aerospace majors, Indian companies are recognized for their capabilities to meet the very stringent quality requirements of the sector. Almost all the major global aerospace companies have set up engineering and design centers in India, to take advantage of the local talent, and also for the long term business interest. India has embarked upon a serious technology drive to upgrade its Air Navigation Services (ANS) infrastructure and technologies including radar surveillance systems, reduced separation requirements in performance based airspace design. A satellite based augmentation system for GPS signal, GAGAN will eliminate the need for ground based radio navigation aids which are costly, difficult to maintain, and have limited range.

By 2035, India should aim to garner 5 per cent of global share of the aerospace supply chain. The guiding vision should be of a safe, sustainable and scalable air transport system through development of most efficient technologies available. The roadmap for technological priorities strategize in short term, medium term and long term perspectives, which includes the futuristic technologies like include high speed aircraft, cryogenic planes, pilotless aircraft, stealth technology, new materials like composites, avionics, radar, nano-technology, superior control and other futuristic technologies.

The report makes important recommendations in all these regards and impresses upon the need to prioritize development of manufacturing capabilities and integrate them with the global supply chain. Moreover, the success of this vision depends upon creating an adequate pool of right-skilled workforce, access to technologies through global collaboration, supporting private partnership in downstream technologies, looking for viable PPP models or encouraging public entities in the upstream R&D, long term clarity on regulatory and policy fronts, strong certification capabilities, access to cheaper raw materials, and a well developed manufacturing ecosystem capable of supporting such initiatives.

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