Leveraging pan-India reach of Indian Railways, the fourth largest railway network in the world by size, with route length of 67,415 km covering 7,349 stations, to transport Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) by rail could be a viable option to connect LNG Import Terminals to demand centers.

With a single train able to carry a volume of LNG equivalent to what 300 Trucks equipped with special cryogenic containers, every gas starved Power or Fertilizer plant, many CGD and Industrial sectors can arrive at a gas-based future and become importers themselves. Most of them are already utilizing Railway networks with even captive lines and yards or are near to Railway lines.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), issued a final rule permitting bulk transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail in specialized DOT-113 rail tank cars.

LNG Transportation by Rail can make the gas business leapfrog to a gas-based future in short rather than in an uncertain longer term. The slow and uncertain pace of reforms, infra bottlenecks, privatization and monetization of transportation and storage assets, rationalization of tariffs, de- bundling, which are holding up massive development of pipeline infrastructure and it’s common carrier access can easily be overtaken by diverting attention to creating massive Railway carrying capacity of LNG.

Connectivity of LNG Regasification terminals to the demand centers by Rail will also get a direct boost making every major user an importer and /or trader.

Often, LNG is regasified and transported to demand centers through pipelines. Installing pipelines, however, entails significant costs, as well as time to acquire land. Transportation by road through trucks equipped with special cryogenic containers has volume and distance challenges.

Transporting LNG by freight train presents a viable third but futuristic option available right away. Indian Railways with its extensive rail network could provide critical supply links to consumer hubs.

Figure 1 Transportation of LNG by rail

While LNG currently is not allowed to be transported by rail in India, railways have historically shipped petroleum and chemicals, including crude oil, ethane, ethylene, and liquid petroleum gases using the extensive Indian Railways freight rail network. Because rail transportation is more economical than highway transportation for large quantities over great distances, railroads could be more cost-effective than trucks in circumstances where pipeline service is not sufficient.

As per the final rule issued by federal regulators in the USA, transporting LNG by freight train would start with single-car shipments, progress to multi-car shipments and ultimately unit trains, with 20 or more cars. The unit trains can carry about 3 million gallons of LNG, or about the equivalent of what 300 trucks could carry.

Considering future road map, the Govt should identify various traffic originating (LNG Supply Hubs) and terminating points (Consumption hubs) including Power Plants, Fertilizer Plants, CGD Areas, smart cities, Industrial Belts, etc.

Most of the demand centers – Fertilizer/ Petrochemical Plants, Power Plants, authorized CGD areas, industrial hubs, etc. – are already well connected to Indian Railways network.

It is important to note that, local companies that have not yet switched their gas supply to natural gas are medium-to-small in business scale, located in low-demand areas, and situated away from existing LNG import terminals or pipelines. However most of them are near railway lines.

For the transportation of LNG by freight train, LNG is loaded into a container mounted on a dedicated trailer truck at the LNG terminal. The container is then carried to the railway station by the trailer truck. At the railway station, the container is unloaded from the trailer truck and loaded onto a freight train. After the container is carried to the destination railway station by train, it is unloaded from the train and loaded onto a trailer truck again to be transported to the destination local gas company.

Another way could be the establishment of small-scale LNG Storage and Regasification Terminal (Mother LNG/L-CNG Station) at destination railway-station near the demand centers. LNG can be unloaded from freight trains and transferred to these mother stations. The gas can be evacuated from these mother stations for industrial, domestic, commercial and transportation uses by trucks or pipelines.

This ‘Roll-on-Roll-off’ model can also be explored to transport LNG by rail, wherein the LNG laden trucks are moved directly onto flatbed rail wagons at a designated siding. The fully loaded trucks are then transported by rail to the destination siding. The crews can then drive their trucks off the wagons and head towards their destinations – demand centers. This helps in saving fuel and turnaround time and is more economical than the cost incurred by road.

Recently, the Indian Railways has approved a trial of ‘Roll-On Roll-Off’ service for goods transporters on the Bengaluru-Solapur route. In a rake, approximately 44 loaded/ empty trucks can be moved.

As part of an effort to upgrade Indian energy infrastructure, the Govt. of India should amend the regulations to treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail tank cars.

While the critics will raise valid concerns on HSE and other related issues this could also be a big ticket opportunity for ongoing privatisation drive of railways where it can involve an entire range of business operators to meet the challenge of cryogenic transportation and storage.

Figure 3 Oil tankers of a train ablaze after derailment near a village in Kishanganj district of Bihar in 2011

Experts have suggested that speed restrictions could be imposed on trains carrying LNG, or that additional routing requirements be fulfilled when scheduling rail shipments of LNG. Given the double-walled construction of cryogenic tankers, the probability of puncture of the inner vessel is anticipated to be lower than a comparable single-walled pressure tanker.

The Government of India has set an ambitious target to increase the share of natural gas in its overall energy basket to 15 per cent by 2030 along with the planned shift to a gas-based economy.

India`s domestic gas demand is expected to see a 66% volume growth over the next five years, primarily driven by sustained weak LNG prices. It is expected to rise from 148 mmscmd in 2018-19 to 250 mmscmd by 2025. The bulk of this incremental domestic gas demand is driven by five sectors: fertilizer (34%), electric power (23%), refining (11%), city gas distribution, including transport (11%), and petrochemical (8%) industries.

The surge in natural gas demand can not only be met through transportation by railways but also this could bring exponential growth both at the user level but also major investment in expansion and greenfield investment to set up more regasification.

The seeding, planting, expansion of the gas demand by the railways will make it a complementary push for the pipelines to eventually catch up and start terminals supplementing the supply.

For more interaction and opportunities contact


Sanjay Kaul, FEI


Founder University of Petroleum Energy UPES, Univ of Tech & Mgmt, ISPe, IESD, Sanmarg, BGCL, PwC O&G, Deloitte Energy Resources