INDIAN Railways' Research Design & Standards Organisation is to carry out testing of locomotives fuelled by biodiesel. Plans to sign a memorandum of understanding with Indian Oil Corp were announced in December, paving the way for a research programme using stationary locos at the RDSO test centre inBenares. Only minor mechanical changes to the locos will be needed.

If the tests are successful, IR hopes to put biodiesel-powered trains into revenue service in around four years. A complete changeover would save IR up to Rs6bn from its Rs30bn fuel bill. At present the railway accounts for 4% of India's total diesel fuel consumption.

The biodiesel is produced by blending diesel with oil extracted from jatropha curcas. This is a hard, inedible wheat which grows in semi-arid conditions. A pilot planting project to be administered by the Agriculture Ministry is already being planned for 500ha of railway-owned land in the Bhavnagar division.