Railways to try anaerobic bacteria and vacuum technology in toilets

Toilets in Indian Railways coaches will soon witness a makeover. The idea is for the conventional open lavatories to be replaced with squeaky clean ‘green toilets’.

For the railways, waste management is a major task, as it handles about 10 million long-distance travellers every day. This year, the railways will install bio-toilets in about 2,500 coaches.

The cost of doing so is expected to be around Rs 500 crore. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has offered to share half the cost of equipping all new railway coaches and retrofitting all existing coaches with bio-toilets built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Indian Railways is also planning trials on vacuum toilets, similar to those used in aircraft. With this, the railways hope to offer an airline-like experience to commuters.

A senior rail official told Business Standard a global tender for 80 vacuum toilets for 40 coach sets, along with ground handling facilities at New Delhi, was under consideration.

A total of 68 bio-toilets based on anaerobic bacteria, imported from the US, and 436 bio-toilets based on anaerobic bacteria and developed indigenously by DRDO are already in operation in nine trains.

In the bio-toilet system, anaerobic bacteria consume the waste material and convert it into water and gas. The water passes through a chlorine tank and is discharged as clean water, while the gas generated evaporates. The technology used has been developed by DRDO, and is not used in any other railway system in the world.

“Based on the outcome of the trials, these bio-toilets will be fitted in the other trains. The timeframe for full implementation will depend on the outcome of the trials,” said the official.

The technology is not without its share of problems. As the bacteria can only decompose human waste, throwing plastic, polythene and napkins in the bio-toilets could affect the working of the system, the official informed.

A committee has been constituted to study the fitment of bio-toilets on existing coaches. The railways have an estimated 50,000 coaches. About 4,000 coaches are produced every year, which could be fitted with bio-toilets.

The other technology being used in the coaches of Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto trains is the controlled discharge toilet system (CDTS). In this, the toilet holds the contents until the train attains a speed of 30 kmph, after which the discharge takes place. The idea is to prevent the toilet from releasing contents at stations. So far, 5,300 CDTS units have been provided in 1,900 coaches, built under transfer of technology imported from Germany. “We are using CDTS technology in which discharge takes place outside the station. But, it only shifts the problem from the station area to an area outside station limits,” admitted a railway official.



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