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The study evaluates the long term socio-economic and environmental impact of the biggest railway project executed after independence in India.
In India, like in many other developing countries, road transport is preferred to railways for movement of freight and passengers as it is more penetrative and flexible. However, globally, railways, particularly high speed railways, are being promoted as a more environmentally friendly mode of transport. The Konkan Railway (KR), operational since 1998, was built through the Konkan region (on the western coastal strip of India) to cater to the long standing demand for a railway line. There has been a growing need for sustainable transport infrastructure in India to not only meet pressing developmental imperatives but also help in transitioning to a sustainable and low carbon future. 'When it was first proposed, the KR was embroiled in an environmental controversy with citizen groups voicing concerns about the impact on the ecosystem of the region. The proposed study seeks to evaluate the socio-economic and environmental impact of the KR and assess its contribution to low carbon and sustainable development in India.
The impact evaluation aims to answer the following questions:
- What are the socioeconomic impacts of Konkan Railways?
- What effect has the KR had on urbanisation in the region?
- How has the environment in the region through which the KR passes been affected by the railway line?
- What is the contribution of the KR towards low carbon and sustainable transport development? How cost effective has this contribution been?
- Have the stated project objectives of the KR been achieved, including improvements in connectivity, a reduction in distance and travel time, and projected freight movement?
The KR was built through the Konkan region, a part of western coastal strip of India with the Sahyadri hills on the east, and Arabian Sea on the west. It was built in order to cater to the long standing demand for a railway line through the region which will connect it to the rest of the country. Covering 760 km, the KR became fully operational in 1998. The railway line passes through the Indian states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. . It is the biggest railway construction endeavour in independent India and the first railway service in India to provide an intermodal freight transport service titled the Roll on Roll off (RoRo) service which integrates roads and railways by allowing trucks to piggyback ride on railway flat wagons for a major part of their trip.
Theory of change
Transport infrastructure, it is claimed, fosters economic growth by promoting trade and commerce between different regions of a country. It reduces travel time and improves accessibility. It also has indirect and wider economic effects on household's and firm's economic behaviour, for example by increasing travel among the former and reduction in production costs for the latter. Railway infrastructure can have a bearing on the environment during both its construction and operational phase, through tunneling (blasting), cutting of natural slope and embankment, removal of vegetation cover, demolition or restructuring of existing human settlements, and the modification of drainage.
Nevertheless, railways have the potential to reduce vehicular traffic on roads by carrying a large number of people and large quantities of freight over long distances. This can improve the environment by reducing emissions. It is also plausible that, depending on the initial context, districts, towns or villages show different improvements in outcomes. Districts located closer to a major industrial centre might show better outcomes than those located further.
To measure the socio-economic and environmental impact of the KR, a quasi-experimental design using a difference-in-differences (DID) approach will be applied. An Instrumental Variable 'approach will be used to test the robustness of the DID results. Sub-districts (knows as taluks or tehsils) through which the KR passes will constitute the treatment group. Again, robustness checks will be performed, for example, by using the distance to the railway line or the nearest railway station as a continuous treatment measure and by assessing rural (village) and urban (town or ward) settlements instead of sub-districts. For environmental outcomes, an equivalent approach will be applied using 10 km x 10 km grid boxes instead of sub-districts or settlements as the unit of observation.
The expected direct effects of the KR in terms of avoided and current greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometer or tonne kilometres for the case of freight service (especially RoRo) will be studied in a simpler evaluation framework using a single difference approach.
Additional contextual information will be gathered through a qualitative approach. The coverage of the KR in India's leading newspapers and magazines will be reviewed as well as various expert panel reviews on potential environmental impacts of the KR.